In two recent arbitration decisions, grievances were denied in part because the action the Employer took was permitted under the “Employer Authority” or “Management Rights” article in the collective bargaining agreement.

In AFSCME, Council 65 and City of Chisholm, the street department employees’ filed a grievance after having their work scheduled changed by two hours. The City Administrator had the street department foreman notify workers two days before the shift change, that employees’ were to come in two hours earlier (prior to the start of the original shift) and leave two hours before the end of the original shift. All employees still worked an 8 hour work day. Arbitrator Gallagher ruled in favor of the Employer. He agreed that Article 4 reserved to management the right of “scheduling work.” Past practice arguments were made by the Union, but were unsuccessful.

In an arbitration between Minnesota Teamsters Public & Law Enforcement Employees’ Union, Local 320 and Chisago County, Arbitrator Bernice Fields ruled in favor of the Employer. The facts in this case involved a restructuring of the Sheriff’s department to accommodate $750,000 in budget cuts. The grievant was a lieutenant in the Sheriff’s department, who was subsequently demoted to sergeant with a cut in pay. All corporal and lieutenant positions were eliminated as part of a department-wide restructuring. A grievance was filed over whether or not the demotion was proper, whether the demotion was in retaliation for protected political/union activities, and whether past practice obligated the Employer to maintain the grievant at the salary of a lieutenant. Arbitrator Fields agreed the Employer Authority rights clause reserved the right to “establish and modify the organizational structure.” Arbitrator Fields stated, “Failure to recognize the Employer’s right to reorganize the work structure when it deems necessary would deny the Employer the ability to remain afloat and competitive in the turbulent financial whitewater that both public and private employers have navigated since 2008.”

All language in a collective bargaining agreement is important, but some of the most valuable language to an employer is the Employer Authority article. Employees care about wages and benefits, but Employers should put a priority on the language that is negotiated.