By Linda Lockhart
Ohio University acted within its authority when it dismissed 21 bargaining unit workers last year, an independent arbitrator has concluded, a decision that effectively ends a grievance procedure.
"The bottom line is that in times of economic downturn, the university is charged with determining the priorities in spending its resources in the interest of the university and its students," arbitrator Floyd D. Weatherspoon wrote in the decision. "Tough decisions have to be made and the university has the authority and the task of making those decisions, within reason."
The decision, recently received by the university, was dated Dec. 16, 2008.
The dispute between AFSCME Local 1699 and the university began in August 2007 after the university issued layoff notices to 16 custodial workers and five zone maintenance specialists, citing budget pressures and the need to channel funds to meet strategic needs. The bargaining unit claimed the university did not experience a lack of funds and therefore should not have laid off employees.
The two parties entered binding arbitration in early 2008.
Both sides presented evidence at an Aug. 5, 2008, arbitration hearing. The ruling described the matter as a contract interpretation case, stating the burden is on the grieving party — in this case the union -- to demonstrate that the action taken by the other party was inconsistent with the labor agreement.
One point of contention by the union was that the university reallocated funds to create new management positions at the same time it engaged in a layoff of bargaining unit employees. But the ruling stated that the collective bargaining agreement gave the university exclusive right to manage its operations, including the right to determine matters relating to the university's overall budget.
"The parties' CBA expressly provides the university with the authority to create and hire new positions," the report stated. "The union must demonstrate that the university's decision was unreasonable, capricious, arbitrary, or discriminatory."
The ruling also found the university provided sufficient evidence that its actions were not arbitrary or unreasonable. Citing the agreement, the report acknowledged that there is a requirement that there be a lack of funds before the university engages in layoffs, but it went on to add that the union does not have input in determining how funds are prioritized or allocated.
That authority explicitly rests with the university, according to the report.
"When it comes to policy, operations and the budget, the union is not in a partnership with the university," the document stated. "The university has the sole and exclusive right to manage its operations and to determine matters of managerial policy, including the university's overall budget priorities," it continued, "provided that the university's decision is not arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory."
In concluding, the reported noted that the university has sufficiently demonstrated that it was faced with budget deficits every fiscal year from 2004 through 2008.
"Also, the university experienced a decline in state support for years. Faced with higher efficiency mandates and budget deficits, the university exercised its option to manage its budget by engaging in layoffs. The university demonstrated that there was a lack of funds."