- The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's ruling that Union Pacific Railroad Company must heed an arbitration board's ruling and reinstate an engineer it fired for defecating on a train-car connector (Union Pacific Railroad Company v. International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, No. 19-3747 (8th Cir., Feb. 17, 2020)).
- Union Pacific terminated the train engineer after charging him for violating company rules, investigating his misconduct and holding an evidentiary hearing. The engineer's union, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART), appealed the decision, which went to a public law board for review. The board decided the termination was "too harsh" considering the worker's circumstances — psychological and physical health complications and marital problems — and his good record with the company. Union Pacific attempted to vacate the board's decision in federal court, but the district court granted summary judgment for SMART.
- The 8th Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision, ruling that the governing collective bargaining agreement did not restrict an arbitrator's ability to review and change a decision made by Union Pacific.
Despite its decision, the 8th Circuit noted that: "We share the district court's bewilderment at the Board's conclusion that a company cannot fire someone for purposefully defecating on company property."
The National Labor Relations Act gives workers the right to bargain collectively with their employer through a representative, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The bargaining process allows union and employer to create a labor contract that creates certain standards about wages, hours and other terms of employment. "Once a contract is in place, neither party may deviate from its terms without the other party's consent, absent extraordinary circumstances," according to the NLRB.
As for arbitrators, the court notes in its opinion that they "must interpret and apply the applicable CBA." The decisions arbitrators make must be based in the contract — a low bar, the 8th Circuit opined, as "the question is not whether the arbitrator erred, clearly erred, or even grossly erred in interpreting the contract; it is simply ‘whether they interpreted the contract.'"