Superior Court Upholds Attorney Gordon O'Connell's Arbitration Win On Behalf of USW Against Town of Seekonk
On May 20, 2021, the Bristol Count Superior Court upheld an arbitration decision on behalf of USW, Local 9517 against the Town of Seekonk. Pyle Rome attorney Al Gordon O'Connell represented the Union at arbitration and in Court. Since a Court's power to overturn an arbitration award is "extremely limited," the Court's ruling is not surprising, but is certainly reassuring for unions representing municipal employees that state courts will not allow municipal employers to evade their contractual obligations.
The underlying arbitrator's decision in this case reduced the discipline of a Town employee from discharge to a 30-day suspension for carelessness in filling out timesheets. The employee otherwise had a perfectly clean disciplinary record, so the Town's decision to discharge was a shocking abuse of power. Nonetheless, when the arbitrator ruled in the Union's favor, the Town Administrator decided to appeal the case to Superior Court even though the case didn't come anywhere near the grounds necessary to overturn the arbitrator's award. In confirming the award, the Court rejected the Town's argument that the arbitrator exceeded her authority since the power to reduce a disciplinary decision is a traditional power afforded to arbitrators under a labor contract. The Court also rejected the Town's assertion that upholding the award would violate public policy since the Town failed to assert any such policy or explain how the award would violate it.
The lesson from this decision is that the whims of a petty municipal manager should not be allowed to clog the court system with unnecessary litigation that does nothing but delay the inevitable enforcement of an arbitrator's decision. The only real result of this case is that the Town wasted gobs of money on counsel to litigate this case and will now have to pay the employee an extra year of backpay without having gained the benefit of her services for that pay. The Town should be ashamed for this gross waste of municipal resources, which is a far greater loss of money to the Town than was caused by the employee's original carelessness.