Third Circuit Panel Sends Nurses’ Union Labor Dispute to Arbitration

In a Third Circuit opinion authored by Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, the court sent a dispute between the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania and Heritage Valley Health System to arbitration. The dispute arose from a grievance filed by the union, alleging that the health system tapped nurses to work as patient care assistants, violating the agreed-upon nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.

After the grievance was filed, the opinion explained, Heritage refused to arbitrate, arguing that its actions were permitted under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the dispute is not arbitrable under the agreement. The health system argued the dispute must be submitted to a Professional Practice Committee; the union declined and filed suit.

In ruling for the union, the appellate panel first cited a “‘strong federal policy in favor of resolving labor disputes through arbitration'” bolstered by a “presumption of arbitrability” where a contract, like the agreement at issue, contains a broad arbitration clause. The court below, as well as the appellate panel, rejected the health system’s arguments, holding that they contradict the unambiguous plain language of the agreement. The court also rejected the health system’s arguments that the court below failed to consider extrinsic evidence of the intent of the parties.

The court granted the union’s motion for summary judgment and found that the grievance was arbitrable. The union was represented by Feinstein Doyle Payne & Kravec, as well as the Office of Claudia Davidson. The health system was represented by Jackson Lewis.