The opinion of the court was delivered by: LARIMER
Case-Hoyt, a printing and packaging company, has been plagued with serious financial problems for several years. In response to these problems, the Company permanently laid off twenty-one employees from its Sheetfed Pressroom in 1989. Additional employees were laid off in 1990 from its Web Pressroom. Despite these layoffs, the Company continued to suffer severe financial problems, causing it to close one of its facilities in 1993. Case-Hoyt was then purchased by its present owner in an attempt to save the Company. In the fall of 1993, a restructuring and downsizing plan was implemented. As a result of this plan, Case-Hoyt laid off an additional nineteen employees. It is these 1993 layoffs that are at issue in the instant action.
Article 8, Section 6 of the collective bargaining agreement between the Company and the Union provided that: "Relative ability to do the work shall be the determining factor in deciding which employees shall be laid off in the Department. If abilities are equal, then seniority within the department shall prevail."
Carolyn Cotton, Manager of Human Resources for Case-Hoyt, met with the individual supervisors to discuss the layoff selection process. Cotton told the supervisors that they must judge the "relative ability" of each employee in their department to determine who would be laid off. Cotton explained to the supervisors her understanding of "relative ability." Supervisors were not instructed to use any particular system in determining layoffs, but were to use their independent judgment, after discussions with subordinate supervisory personnel. Ultimately, the following criteria were used in making the 1993 layoff determinations: job skills, attendance, safety records, leadership, team work, and initiative.
The Union filed grievances on behalf of the employees who had been laid off. The Union maintained that the Company violated the collective bargaining agreement by laying off employees with more seniority than those retained. The grievances eventually were submitted to arbitration.
On May 8, 1996, the arbitrator, Jeffrey M. Selchick, Esq., issued an award, finding that the Company had violated the collective bargaining agreement with respect to seventeen of the nineteen employees involved in the arbitration.
The arbitrator ordered these employees reinstated with back pay.
In his decision, the arbitrator analyzed the relevant issues in terms of two separate grievances that had been filed: (1) a grievance on behalf of sixteen employees who were laid off from the Sheetfed Pressroom; and (2) a grievance on behalf of Ed Strader who was laid off from the Pre Press Department.
1. Grievance Involving Employees in the Sheetfed Pressroom
The overriding issue with respect to these employees was the language of Article 8, Section 6 of the collective bargaining agreement: "Relative ability to do the work shall be the determining factor in deciding which employees shall be laid off in the Department. If abilities are equal, then seniority within the department shall prevail."