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State v. Maine State Employees Association

Supreme Court of Maine

October 6, 2016

STATE OF MAINE et al.
v.
MAINE STATE EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, SEIU LOCAL 1989

          Argued: May 4, 2016

         On the briefs:

          Julie McKinley Armstrong, Esq., and Nicholas P. Laskey, Esq., Office of Employee Relations, Augusta, for appellants State of Maine and Department of Health and Human Services

          Anne F. Macri, Esq., Maine State Employees Association, Augusta, for appellee Maine State Employees Association, Service Employees International Union Local 1989

         At oral argument:

          Julie McKinley Armstrong, Esq., for appellants State of Maine and Department of Health and Human Services

          Anne F. Macri, Esq., for appellee Maine State Employees Association, Service Employees International Union Local 1989

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          HJELM, J.

         [¶1] The State of Maine and the Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, the State) appeal from a judgment entered in the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) denying their motion to vacate an arbitration award reinstating Susan Berube to her employment position at DHHS. During the grievance process, which included the arbitration proceeding, Berube was represented by the Maine State Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989. On this appeal, the State argues, inter alia, that the court erred when it concluded that the arbitrator did not exceed her powers by determining that the grievance was arbitrable even though the arbitration request was filed after the deadline established in the Collective Bargaining Agreement as enlarged by agreement of the State and MSEA. We agree, vacate the judgment, and remand with instructions to vacate the arbitration award.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts are undisputed and are drawn from the arbitrators June 2014 interim arbitration award and her January 2015 final arbitration award. See Stanley v. Liberty, 2015 ME 21, ¶ 3, 111 A.3d 663.

         A. Collective Bargaining Agreement

         [¶3] At relevant times during Berubes employment at DHHS, MSEA and the State were parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that covered employees in the professional and technical services bargaining unit, including Berube. Article 33 of the CBA contains the procedures for a four-step employee grievance process. The first three steps consist of an oral grievance to the employees immediate supervisor, a written grievance to a designated agency official, and an appeal to the Chief Counsel Office of Employee Relations. The fourth step-which is at issue here-is arbitration. As the CBA provides,

[i]f the grievance has not been satisfactorily resolved at Step 3, then MSEA-SEIU may submit the grievance to arbitration by submitting a request for arbitration to the Chief Counsel Office of Employee Relations as well as a statement of the grievance specifying the Article, section or clause of the contract alleged to have been violated, along with the concise statement of facts surrounding the issue and the remedial action requested. The request for arbitration shall be received by the Office of Employee Relations through personal service or by mailing by registered or certified mail within fifteen (15) workdays of the receipt of the Step 3 decision.

(Emphasis added.)

         [¶4] Article 33 also contains the following general provisions regarding the grievance procedures:

3.2 All of the time limits contained in this Article may be extended by mutual agreement of the parties and such extensions shall, in order to be effective, be confirmed in writing. The parties may mutually agree to bypass steps of the grievance procedure.
3.3 In no event can a grievance be taken to the next or any succeeding step of this procedure unless the employee and/or his/her representative meets the time limits or extensions thereof.

(Emphasis added.) Section 2.4(c) in Article 33 of the Agreement provides that "[t]he arbitrator shall have no authority to add to, subtract from or modify any ...


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