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Arbitration award over faculty workload affirmed

URIThe University of Rhode Island could not prohibit its part-time faculty members from teaching more than two courses in a semester, a Superior Court judge has determined.

An arbitrator ordered the university to refrain from imposing a two-course limit per semester for part-time professors because it was not part of a collective bargaining agreement with a union.

Judge Jeffrey A. Lanphear confirmed the arbitration award.

“It is clear the arbitrator extensively reviewed the CBA in searching for a provision that could be considered to limit the part-time faculty to two courses per semester,” Lanphear wrote. “The CBA does not mention any limitations on courses that can be taught per semester.”

The nine-page decision is Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education, et al. v. American Association of University Professors, Part-Time Faculty United, Lawyers Weekly No. 61-119-15. The full text of the ruling can be found by clicking here.

The university was represented by Jeffrey S. Michaelson of North Kingstown and Timothy J. Dodd of Providence. Lynette J. Labinger of Providence appeared for the union.

Rescinded assignment

In spring 2013, Kenneth Jolicoeur, a part-time faculty member and a union member, was scheduled to teach two classes. He also received an administrative assignment as a coordinator in the Special Programs Office.

After receiving the assignment, Jolicoeur was informed by URI that the combination of the two courses and administrative assignment would exceed the maximum hours for a part-time professor and offered him a choice of which assignments he wished to keep. He chose to teach the two courses, but the union filed a grievance on his behalf over his non-assignment to the administrative position.

The arbitrator determined that the issue was substantively arbitrable. The arbitrator also decided the merits of the case, finding that the employer violated the CBA by rescinding the special programs contract. Additionally, the arbitrator ordered the employer to refrain from imposing a two-course limit per semester for part-time professors because such a limit was not part of the CBA.

The plaintiffs — URI and the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education — filed a motion to stay the implementation and vacate the arbitration award. The defendant union objected to the motion to vacate and moved to confirm the arbitration award.

Unilateral limit

The university contended that the dispute fell outside the scope of the arbitration clause in the CBA. According to the university, the CBA does not cover administrative work.

The CBA’s arbitration provision provides that “only grievances arising out of the provisions of this contract relating to the application or interpretation or violation thereof may be submitted to arbitration.”

A grievance is defined as “any difference or dispute between the Board and the Association or between the Board and any employee with respect to the interpretation, application, or violation of any of the provisions of the Agreement.”

The arbitrator found that the main issue of the dispute centered around whether Article X of the agreement imposes a two-course limit per semester on part-time professors.

“The arbitrator relied on the language of the CBA and other documents to come to his conclusions,” Lanphear said. “He went through a methodical recitation of the definitions and sections of the CBA to determine what was required for the matter to be arbitrable.”

The judge agreed that “the subject matter arose out of the application or interpretation of the CBA, and therefore, the arbitrator had subjective arbitrability over the matter because the agreement contained ‘clear and unequivocal language’ that it agreed to arbitrate these issues.”

The university argued in the alternative that the arbitrator’s holding — that the employer violated the CBA by imposing the two-course per semester limit — was irrational and manifestly ignored the language of the CBA.

“However, Plaintiffs reference no language in the CBA imposing a two course limit,” the judge said. “Plaintiffs generally assert that evidence of past practice of limiting part time professors to two courses and a previous arbitration that imposed a two course limit should control, but this cannot replace the language of the CBA.”

The arbitrator based his award on the language in the CBA and on past suggested amendments, concluding that, since the CBA imposed no limits on courses taught per semester, the employer unilaterally imposed the limit, the judge noted.

“After reviewing the CBA, this Court finds that the Arbitrator’s Award, which allows Mr. Jolicoeur to teach two courses and take on an administrative position, ‘draws its essence from the contract and is based upon a passably plausible interpretation of the contract,’” Lanphear said. “Therefore, considering the Court’s limited scope or review and presumption of validity, the court must affirm the award.”

 

CASE: Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education, et al. v. American Association of University Professors, Part-Time Faculty United, Lawyers Weekly No. 61-119-15

COURT: Superior Court

ISSUE: Could the University of Rhode Island limit part-time faculty to two course assignments each semester?

DECISION: No, because a collective bargaining agreement with a union contains no such limit

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