P-Fac seeks injunction to enforce arbitration award

By Ariana Portalatin, Campus Editor

File photo
New P-fac arbitration takes back staff’s classes

A Feb. 6 federal court motion filed by Columbia’s part-time faculty union asks for a preliminary injunction requiring the college to comply with compensation awarded in a Jan. 11 arbitration ruling.

The arbitration, which decided the union’s collective bargaining agreement prevents full-time staff from joining the union, ordered Columbia to no longer assign teaching hours to full-time staff members and to compensate adjunct faculty for the loss of teaching hours and for the costs of arbitration, as reported Feb. 6 by The Chronicle.

“We estimate the college will have to pay at least $500,000 to harmed P-Fac members and are moving to make this a federal judgment,” a Jan. 25 P-Fac email said. “In addition, the college will have to pay P-Fac’s costs for the arbitration.”

As reported Feb. 6 by The Chronicle, P-Fac lawyer Mike Persoon, an attorney at Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan, Ltd., said arbitration is used as a remedy—in accordance with their Collective Bargaining Agreement—for disputes with the college, which agreed to a binding arbitration in exchange for the union avoiding a strike.

“The college has pushed P-Fac to the brink of a strike authorization, which would create significant labor strife and put at risk the education of thousands of students and millions of tuition dollars, all because the college thinks an arbitrator’s decision was ‘in error’– which is of course no basis to overturn the award,” the motion said.

In the motion, filed in the U.S. District court for the Northern District of Illinois, P-Fac said the college was uncooperative and has a tendency to refuse to honor the arbitration process.

“They are not following the award blatantly, openly and notoriously,” Persoon said in a Feb. 15 interview with The Chronicle. “That’s why we had to file an action to confirm the arbitration award. They have filed a petition to vacate the arbitration award, and that’s why I filed a motion for preliminary injunction to require them to abide by the arbitration during the judicial treatment of case.”

According to the Feb. 6 motion, the union is being pushed toward a strike because the college has not followed the ruling.

“P-Fac can go on strike and there is nothing they can do to stop it,” Persoon said. “My guess is that at least half of the courses at Columbia are taught by P-Fac members. Imagine if you wake up tomorrow, and there’s a strike and half of the courses aren’t running; that’d be a big problem for the college.”

The union already approached the college repeatedly regarding the enforcement of the award, according to the motion.

“P-Fac has made repeated overtures to the college to allow for an orderly treatment of the challenge/enforcement action before this court… but the college refused all efforts,” the motion said. “Instead of speeding up review of what was supposed to be final and expeditious arbitration, the college seeks an indefinite stay. But that stay would permit an ongoing and continuous breach of the arbitration award, which included an injunction. For these reasons, and to maintain the integrity of the arbitration process, P-Fac now moves for an injunction.”

The motion from P-Fac stated that the college was likely to defend the motion by arguing the award was “in error” and against public policy, following a decision made by the National Labor Relations Board.

“First, the college will be unable to point to any language in the National Labor Relations Act that the Award is contrary to[…]the college must point to a ‘public policy’ that is ‘well defined and dominant’ to use as the basis to challenge an arbitration,” the motion said.

The motion points to an Aug. 23, 2016 NLRB decision excluding dual-function employees, those who both teach and hold other positions with the college, from the union and P-Fac’s contract.

College spokesperson Anjali Julka said in a Feb. 15 statement on behalf of Terence Smith, the college’s special counsel for labor relations, that the National Labor Relations board decided Feb. 14 to uphold a previous decision to include dual-functioning employees in P-Fac’s contract.

“As such, the college will oppose a recent motion filed by P-Fac to enforce the arbitration award,” the statement from the college said.

Although the P-Fac motion contends the college argues that the arbitrator exceeded his authority in deciding on union representation issues, the arbitrator limited his decision to only cover contractual matters and added that employers and unions both still have the right to seek contract interpretations from outside parties.

“The arbitrator took care to limit his ruling to a contract interpretation and to not infringe on the authority of the Labor Board to make findings as to what may be an appropriate bargaining unit, subject to contract negotiations over permissive subjects of bargaining,” the motion stated. “In doing so, he acted within his authority and fulfilled the role made for him by federal labor law. As such, P-Fac is entitled to have that award confirmed and enforced, and not subjected to an indeterminate stay.”