National Association of Government Employees, Local R5-188 (Union) and United States, Department of the Air Force, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina (Agency)

[ v59 p696 ]

59 FLRA No. 125

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION
OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
LOCAL R5-188
(Union)

and

UNITED STATES
DEPARTMENT OF THE AIR FORCE
SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE,
NORTH CAROLINA
(Agency)

0-AR-3753

_____

DECISION

February 26, 2004

_____

Before the Authority: Dale Cabaniss, Chairman, and
Carol Waller Pope and Tony Armendariz, Members

I.     Statement of the Case

      This matter is before the Authority on exceptions to an award of Arbitrator Lawrence I. Hammer filed by the Union under § 7122(a) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) and part 2425 of the Authority's Regulations. The Agency filed an opposition to the Union's exceptions.

      The Arbitrator found that the grievance was arbitrable and that the Union violated the parties' agreement by refusing to reimburse the Agency for the money the Agency paid to an arbitrator in a previous grievance whose award was set aside by the Authority in United States Dep't of the Air Force, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., 57 FLRA 847 (2002) (Member Pope dissenting) (Seymour Johnson AFB). For the reasons set forth below, we deny the Union's exceptions.

II.     Background and Arbitrator's Award

      In an initial award, Arbitrator Seltzer sustained a grievance -- the first grievance -- against the Agency and billed the Agency for his services. The Agency deemed the fee excessive and paid Arbitrator Seltzer a lesser amount.

      The Union then filed a second grievance concerning the outstanding balance of Arbitrator Seltzer's bill. The second grievance was submitted to arbitration and heard by Arbitrator Statham. Arbitrator Statham concluded that the Agency was the "losing party" within the meaning of Article 43, Section 4 ("§ 4") of the parties agreement, and ordered the Agency to pay the outstanding balance of Arbitrator Seltzer's bill. [n1] The Agency filed exceptions and the Authority set aside the award, finding that Arbitrator Statham had no authority to resolve the second grievance or to order the Agency to pay Arbitrator Seltzer's fee. See Seymour Johnson AFB, 57 FLRA at 850.

      Subsequently, the Agency sought reimbursement from the Union for the fees the Agency had paid to Arbitrator Statham prior to filing its exceptions. When the Union did not reimburse the Agency, the Agency filed a third grievance, which was unresolved and was submitted to arbitration before Arbitrator Hammer. Because the parties could not agree to a stipulated issue regarding arbitrability, the Arbitrator -- in the award at issue here -- referenced both parties' statements of the issues. The Agency and Union, respectively, framed their arbitrability issues to be: "Is the Employer grievance not procedurally arbitrable because the grievance or arbitration was not timely?" and "Did the Agency timely file a grievance or invoke arbitration?" Award at 3. In addition, because the parties could not agree to a stipulated issue regarding the merits of the grievance, the Arbitrator framed the issue to be: "Did the Union violate Article 43 of the Negotiated Agreement by refusing to reimburse the Agency for the money paid by the Agency to Arbitrator Statham whose decision was set aside by the FLRA?" Id. at 15.

      The Arbitrator rejected the Union's argument that the grievance was not timely filed under Article 42, Section 18 ("§ 18") of the parties' agreement. [n2] The Arbitrator also rejected the Union's argument that the Agency failed to timely invoke arbitration under Article 43, Section 1 ("§ 1") of the parties' agreement. [n3] The Arbitrator found that during the processing of the grievance, "[n]either party appeared to be concerned about the negotiated time frames" and that "the parties appear to have waived [the] time limitations" set forth in their agreement. Award at 14. Accordingly, the Arbitrator concluded that the grievance was arbitrable.

      In resolving the merits of the grievance, the Arbitrator found that the result of the Authority's decision in Seymour Johnson AFB was to reverse the outcome of the second grievance, thereby making the Union the [ v59 p697 ] "losing party" within the meaning of § 4. The Arbitrator determined that, although the parties' agreement does not address the situation where an arbitrator's decision is set aside by the Authority, "there is nothing in the contract's language that precludes the original winner [the Union] who now after the appeal is the loser from reimbursing the ultimate winner [the Agency]." Id. at 18. Accordingly, the Arbitrator concluded that, because the Authority's decision made the Union the "loser," the Union violated § 4 of the parties' agreement by refusing to reimburse the Agency for the money the Agency had paid to Arbitrator Statham. Id. at 20.

III.     Positions of the Parties

A.     Union's Exceptions

      The Union argues that the Arbitrator's determinations that the Agency timely filed the grievance and timely invoked arbitration fail to draw their essence from § 18 and § 1, respectively. The Union further argues that the Arbitrator exceeded his authority by creating an exception to the parties' agreement provisions concerning timely filings.

      In addition, the Union contends that the Arbitrator's conclusion that the Union is the "losing party" and must reimburse the Agency fails to draw its essence from § 4. Specifically, the Union ar