U.S. Court In
Massachusetts Dismisses Nurses Group's Attempt To
"Confirm" Labor Arbitration Award
A federal district court in Massachusetts refused to
consider a nurses organization's attempt to enforce a labor arbitration award,
saying the matter at issue involved a different set of issues that should be
addressed under the grievance procedures specified in the collective bargaining
agreement (CBA) between the parties.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association (plaintiff) is a labor
organization that represents a bargaining unit of registered nurses at North Adams Regional Hospital.
Pursuant to a CBA, the hospital agreed to maintain certain staffing levels in
relation to patient admissions. The nurses filed union grievances that the
hospital violated the CBA by failing to maintain safe and adequate staffing
levels in its medical surgical pediatric unit.
The grievances were submitted to an arbitrator, as required
under the CBA, who agreed the hospital had violated the staffing level
provision and ordered it to cease the violations and pay the nurses time and
one half for shifts where staffing was inadequate.
Subsequently, plaintiff sued the hospital in court seeking
"confirmation" of the labor arbitration award. According to plaintiff, the
hospital was continuing to violate the CBA despite the cease and desist order. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing plaintiff
was circumventing the grievance and arbitration process outlined in the CBA by
attempting to extend the arbitration award to a new, previously unresolved
The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts
granted the motion. The court agreed that a union could in some circumstances
seek "confirmation" of an arbitration award under First Circuit case law, but
held that plaintiff here did not meet the threshold for doing so.
The First Circuit in Derwin v. General
Dynamics Corp., 719 F.2d 484 (1983), set forth a strict standard for allowing
a plaintiff to seek confirmation proceedings "where an arbitral award is both
clearly intended to have a prospective effect and there is no colorable basis
for denying the applicability of the existing award to a dispute at hand."
The court here concluded that a cease and desist order by
its very nature is "clearly intended to have a prospective effect," but found a
"colorable basis" to argue that the dispute pursued presently was new and
materially different from the prior arbitration. Specifically, the court noted
that the arbitrator's award involved only violations concerning the medical
surgical pediatric unit, whereas the complaints at issue here involved other
areas of the hospital.
Thus, the court found a "colorable" argument that there
exists a "material factual difference between the new dispute and the one
decided in [the] prior arbitration" and dismissed plaintiff's complaint.
Massachusetts Nurses Ass'n v. North Adams Reg'l Hosp., No.
05-30145-KPN (D. Mass.
Oct. 24, 2005).