Labor Law-Arbitration and Award-Judicial Review of Labor Arbitration Awards Which Rely on the Practices of the Parties

Modem collective bargaining agreements typically provide for private arbitration as the means of resolving disputes between employees and management over the interpretation and application of the agreement. In the event the arbitrator’s decision is challenged in court by the adversely-affected party, the question of how much judicial deference should be given to the private ruling becomes of some importance. The Supreme Court has set out guidelines which purport to define the proper role of courts in such disputes-that role being for the most part one of judicial deference to arbitrator’s decisions. Nevertheless, the appropriate scope of judicial review remains unclear. This lack of clarity is especially manifest in the uncertainty that lower courts have displayed in attempting to apply the guidelines to cases in which the arbitration award is based upon the past practices of the parties rather than upon the express terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Some courts, in dealing with such cases, have overstepped the guidelines, perhaps out of a fear that they provide insufficient means for judicial control over the exercise of discretion by arbitrators. This note will suggest a framework for analysis of the judicial role in “past practices” cases and will propose a modification of the guidelines which might reconcile the lower courts’ reluctance to allow arbitrators unbridled discretion with the reluctance of the Supreme Court to sanction judicial interference in the arbitrators’ sphere of competence and authority.