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Minnesota Nurses Association v. North Memorial Health Care

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 13, 2016

Minnesota Nurses Association, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
North Memorial Health Care; North Memorial Medical Center, Defendants - Appellants

         Submitted February 9, 2016.

          Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis.

         For Minnesota Nurses Association, Plaintiff - Appellee: Christopher Kent Wachtler, Wachter Law Office, Saint Paul, MN.

         For North Memorial Health Care, North Memorial Medical Center, Defendants - Appellants: James Mushat Dawson, Daniel Robert Kelly, Jessica Molyneaux Marsh, Felhaber & Larson, Minneapolis, MN.

         Before SHEPHERD, BEAM, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

         BEAM, Circuit Judge.

         Appellant North Memorial Health Care owns and operates Appellant North Memorial Medical Center (North Memorial or Medical Center), a hospital. North Memorial employs nurses represented by Appellee, Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA or the Union), which employment is governed by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Pursuant to the CBA, North Memorial and MNA referred a grievance to arbitration. Unhappy with the arbitrator's decision, MNA moved the district court[1] to vacate the arbitral award and the district court granted the motion in part. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Article 23 part I of the CBA, in effect at all times relevant to this dispute, provides: " A nurse with thirty (30) calendar years of service at age fifty-five (55) or above will not have a weekend obligation. . . . The above language will apply except where this would deprive patients of needed nursing service." Nurse Lynette Drake, knowing she would soon meet these criteria, submitted a written request to North Memorial that she be afforded the privilege of work-free weekends once she became eligible on May 17, 2013. Drake's scheduling manager denied her request, invoking Article 23(I)'s exception for needed nursing service. Under a procedure set out in the CBA, Drake grieved the denial, North Memorial denied the grievance, and MNA, on behalf of Drake, referred the matter to arbitration. As the issue before us centers on the arbitrator's decision, we describe it here in some detail.

         The CBA defines a grievance as " any controversy arising over the interpretation of or the adherence to the terms and provisions of this Agreement." In a letter to North Memorial included in the exhibits received in evidence by the arbitrator, MNA described the grievance as follows: " The Union alleges that the employer is in violation of Section 23 -- Weekends, and all other applicable areas of the contract. The employer has been and continues to deny Ms. Drake the 30 year-no weekend option as defined in the [CBA]." North Memorial characterized the issue before the arbitrator in a post-hearing brief as follows: " Did the Medical Center violate Section 23(I) when it refused to regularly schedule the Grievant with no weekends?" On the basis of these characterizations, the arbitrator set out the issue before him in the form of two questions: " 1. Did the Medical Center violate Article 23(I) of the Contract when it refused to regularly schedule the Grievant with no weekend work?" ; and " 2. If so, what is the appropriate remedy?"

         After discussing the facts and the positions of each party, the decision set out the controlling rule of law that " absent contract language to the contrary, on matters involving the right of the hospital to schedule work, the hospital should be given broad latitude and the hospital's decision should not be set aside unless found to be arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory." The decision next observed that under Article 23(I) qualified nurses are " not required to work weekends," subject to the exception for needed nursing service. The decision then noted that a witness for MNA described several scheduling methods as proposed alternatives to North Memorial's current method to show " that the 'exception' proviso is not applicable since there were numerous ways that North Memorial could use to provide the Grievant with the no scheduled weekend work benefit and simultaneously ensure that patients are not 'deprived of needed nursing service.'" After analyzing and rejecting as unworkable each of those proposed alternatives, the decision stated,

Based upon the foregoing, none of the " suggestions" proffered by the Union and Grievant allowing the Medical Center to guarantee the Grievant no scheduled weekend work and still meet its core staffing needs when a work schedule was posted from May 17, 2013, to the present date were persuasion [sic]. Thus, during this time period the Employer had the expressed right to invoke the " exception" proviso in Section 23(I) and not grant the Grievant the no scheduled weekend work benefit.

         The decision continued,

Safe patient care should be goal [sic] of the Parties and the Grievant going forward from this date. To accomplish this goal, the Arbitrator agrees with the Medical Center that the Parties need a prospective standard for ...

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