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Centerpoint Energy Resources Corp. v. Gas Workers Union

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 10, 2019

CenterPoint Energy Resources Corp., doing business as CenterPoint Energy Minnesota Gas, Plaintiff- Appellee,
v.
Gas Workers Union, Local No. 340, affiliated with the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted: February 14, 2018

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

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, MURPHY and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.[*]

          COLLOTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Gas Workers Union, Local No. 340 appeals the district court's order vacating an arbitration award. The award reinstated a union member to his former position without back pay after he was discharged by the company. Because the arbitrator was at least arguably construing the contract between the parties in making the award, the arbitrator's decision should not have been vacated, and we therefore reverse the judgment of the district court.

         I.

         CenterPoint Energy Resources Corporation offers maintenance and repair services for furnaces, air conditioners, and appliances. Mark Ness was employed by CenterPoint as a service technician. The Union is party to a collective bargaining agreement with CenterPoint, and service technicians like Ness are part of the bargaining unit represented by the Union.

         Service technicians are assigned to a geographic service area. They use laptops equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) to receive work orders, to record when they begin and complete a service call, and to input remarks about the work performed. Service technicians are required to keep accurate time records.

         In 2015, a supervisor questioned Ness about alleged discrepancies between Ness's time sheet entries and CenterPoint's GPS records about where Ness was located on four separate dates earlier in the year. CenterPoint ultimately terminated Ness in September 2015 for falsifying his time sheets and neglect of duty. The Union, on behalf of Ness, protested his discharge. After CenterPoint denied the Union's grievance, the Union appealed to arbitration in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement.

         Article 26 of the collective bargaining agreement, entitled "Discipline and Discharge," provides:

The Company has the right to employ or promote in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement, to enforce discipline, to discharge employees for cause, including failure to recognize authority .... Without excluding other causes for discharge, the following shall constitute absolute causes from which there shall be no appeal to negotiation or arbitration between the Company and the Union (except that the question of whether the employee has been guilty of the facts constituting such absolute causes shall be a negotiable controversy) namely:
1. Use of, or being under the influence of, alcohol or nonmedical drugs at any time during the work day.
2. Dishonesty
3. Neglect of ...

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