Modifications in the Uniform Arbitration Act, in force for nearly 60 years in Minnesota, can affect the outcome of litigation related to that form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). The significance of the impact was reflected earlier this year in Education Minnesota Inver Grove Heights Local 1718 v. Ind. Sch. Dist. # 199 (Inver Grove Heights), 2103 WL 1500879 (Minn. App. 2013) (unpublished), which overturned a lower court ruling declining to compel arbitration of a contractual dispute concerning a kindergarten teacher in Inver Grove Heights. The labor union representing the educator sought to arbitrate the failure of the school district to pay extended-day kindergarten teachers the salary prescribed in the collective bargaining agreement, which the lower court ruled was not covered by the grievance-arbitration provision in the contract.
But the court of appeals reversed, pointing to the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act (RUAA), which neither side raised in the case. The RUAA, enacted in 2010, altered the Uniform Act, which was first enacted in 1955. Under the new law, which applies to existing bargaining agreements, any claim for arbitration under a labor union collective bargaining agreement must be “decided by an arbitrator.” This provision trumped the trial court’s analysis and required that the compensation issue be submitted to arbitration.
The case fortifies the role of arbitration in management-labor disputes. Under both the original and the Revised Uniform Arbitration Acts, a court generally must decide, as a threshold matter, if a contested dispute is amenable to arbitration, as the trial court did here, finding that it was not. But the new law provides that where a grievance arises under a collective bargaining agreement, an arbitrator will decide whether an agreement to arbitrate exists or the controversy is subject to an agreement to arbitrate. In these circumstances advocates opposing ADR, usually on the side of management, can still raise arbitrability issues, as well as procedural flaws such as the statute of limitations or other defects and contest the merits of the dispute, but must do so before an arbitrator.
Hellmuth & Johnson, PLLC