Great moments in labor arbitration

It’s a wonder the citizens of Michigan aren’t more grateful to the United Auto Workers union for its many accomplishments [USA Today, Fox News]:

Chrysler took quick action two years ago after television news reports of workers at its Jefferson North plant in Detroit who were apparently drinking beer or smoking marijuana on lunch breaks against factory policies…. now they’re back on the job, having won an arbitration decision that reinstated them to their union jobs.


  • Labor arbitration decisions are rife with Kafkaesque decisions-some that jump to the fore are Exxon being ordered to reinstate a ship’s officer fired for drinking on duty on another tanker after the Exxon Valdez disaster, Northwest Airlines having to reinstate a pilot fired for being drunk in the cockpit (I always thought the perfect sentence for that arbitrator was for him to have to fly with said pilot), and the slap on the wrist given Latrell Sprewell for choking his coach in a fit of temper. Used to be said “you pays your money and takes your chances with a jury,” but their verdicts can be appealed. Arbitrator’s “decisions” are virtually written in stone when it comes to overturning them.

  • The USA Today story did not indicate if the dopers got full backpay for their time off. I would not be surprised if they got it. UAW arbitrators are totally in the pocket of the union.

  • Arbitrators who hear labor-management grievances must be agreed upon by both parties prior to the hearing. As a practical matter, I’m convinced that arbitrators are sensitive about not having a history of ruling too frequently for one side or the other lest they no longer get hired. Since unions frequently have to file grievances even in cases where even the union leaders don’t believe the complainant’s case has merit, I think that close cases are disproportionately ruled in favor of the union.

  • Many contracts limit the panels to prescribed individuals, or have “permanent” panels of arbitrators, particularly in transportation or government situations. There the arbitrator who doesn’t do right by the unions is frozen out.