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Case appears headed for court? See if union contract requires arbitration instead

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

There’s at least one upside to having a unionized workforce: Employees who have disagreements over pay or benefits generally have to use the arbitration process authorized in the union contract to pursue their claims. Your collective-bargaining agreement can save employers from expensive trips to the federal courts.

Recent case: Larry Evermann worked for BNSF Railway Company and was called to serve on a grand jury. His jury service took up quite a bit of available work time. As a result, he missed out on a special bonus payment negotiated by the union. The bonus was based on savings the railroad gained for running fewer employees on its trains.

Evermann sued, alleging that he had wrongly missed out on the bonus payment because he had to do his civic duty as a grand juror. His claim was based on a state law that barred loss of benefits on account of jury service.

The court refused to consider his case, concluding that he needed to pursue the matter using the arbitration process outlined in his union’s collective-bargaining agreement instead. That took the employer off the hook and got the case out of the federal court system. (Evermann v. BNSF Railway Company, No. 09-1708, 8th Cir., 2010)

Final note: For more on jury service, including information on employer penalties for violating the federal Jury Service Act, see the “Nuts & Bolts” department in the upcoming October issue of Minnesota Employment Law.

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