The Chicago Transit Authority will need to pay a group of its part-time bus drivers more than $7 million after a state appellate panel upheld an arbitrator’s determination the bus drivers’ union was correct in believing the CTA had overworked the drivers, in violation of their collective bargaining agreement.
The Illinois First District Appellate Court, in an unpublished order issued Dec. 6, upheld the decision of a Cook County Circuit Court judge, who had in turn upheld the decision of the arbitrator in the dispute.
Justice P. Scott Neville wrote the order; Justice Michael B. Hyman and Justice Daniel J. Pierce concurred in the decision. The order was issued under Supreme Court Rule 23, which restricts its use as precedent, except under very limited circumstances permitted by the Supreme Court rule.
The root issue was a breach of contract grievance several laid off members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 filed against the CTA on Feb. 24, 2010. The grievance followed a round of layoffs on Feb. 7, 2010, affecting 903 employees, or roughly 14 percent of the CTA employees the union represented. Following the layoffs, the CTA continued using part-time bus drivers for more than the 32 hours per week the union contract allowed, which the union said indicated the layoffs of full-time drivers were not needed as work was available.
After the parties failed to resolve the grievance, arbitrator Raymond McAlpin conducted three evidentiary hearings in early 2012, then accepted briefs and issued a written decision on March 27, 2014, in favor of the union. In that window, however, the layoffs were eliminated and all employees were recalled. The CTA was ordered to provide back pay and benefits for anyone who was improperly laid off from May 24, 2010, through Jan. 27, 2012.
On June 23, 2014, the CTA filed suit in Cook County court to have the arbitration award vacated. The union filed an answer and cross-petition for enforcement. Then both parties filed for summary judgment, leading Cook County Judge Thomas R. Allen to deny the CTA’s motion and grant the union’s. The CTA appealed.
According to Neville’s opinion, “McAlpin's reasoning in the written award shows that he interpreted the language of the CBA,” as opposed to disregarding its clauses. Whereas the CTA had argued for an interpretation of the contract that showed it acted under an accepted “past practice clause,” enabling it to exceed hours for part-time drivers without breaching the contract, McAlpin determined that rather than work with the union to resolve staffing issues, as it had in the past, “the CTA deviated from past practice by imposing by its sole fiat new terms that allow for no limitation whatsoever on its use of” part-timers.
The CTA had argued McAlpin did not address its point, that chronic driver absenteeism had constituted an emergency allowing it to operate outside CBA terms. But the justices determined “McAlpin responded with tactful silence to the CTA's argument about the meaning of ‘emergency.’ The lack of an explicit response does not constitute a reason for disturbing the arbitration award.”
Finally, the CTA argued McAlpin awarded speculative damages, but Neville said the cases cited by the CTA to support that assertion were “only cases that did not arise on review of arbitration awards.”
“McAlpin found that the CTA’s violation of the contract caused employees to lose compensation for hours they could have worked, if the CTA had acted in accord with its contractual obligations. The Union and the CTA stipulated to the calculation of the hours” that led to the award of back pay for all drivers and pension contributions for full-time workers, the appellate justices wrote.
Those figures were 131,182 hours for part-time drivers and 105,248.5 hours for full-time drivers.
While court documents did not reference the actual dollar amount of the arbitration award, Local 241 reported on its website and in other published reports that the arbitrator had ordered the CTA to pay $7.3 million.
Local 241 was represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Jacobs, Burns, Orlove & Hernandez, of Chicago.
The CTA was represented by the firm of Laner Muchin, of Chicago.