Case Update: Federal Fifth Circuit Reverses Arbitrator in Collective Bargaining Agreement Case

By Riess LeMieux | January 18, 2019

An arbitrator was held to have exceeded his authority when holding that a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between the AFL-CIO union and Southwest Airlines, relating to deadlines for filing grievances, became effective upon execution, as opposed to when the agreement was ratified.  The CBA made no reference to the execution of the CBA as the effective date but, rather, specifically stated that the CBA became effective upon ratification.  Nonetheless, the arbitrator held that the CBA became effective when it was signed.  

Southwest Airlines sought judicial review of the arbitration award, arguing that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by ignoring the CBA’s terms. Upon review to the district court, the court cited the narrow scope of judicial review for labor arbitration awards and declined to overturn the arbitrator’s ruling. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding: “Despite the significant deference that we must pay to arbitrators, this case is an example of when an arbitrator goes too far.” The appellate court ruled that in concluding that the effective date was the date the agreement was signed, the arbitrator “ignored the unambiguous terms of the CBA.”  Southwest Airlines Co. v. Local 555, Transport Workers Union of America AFL-CIO, No. 18-10122 (5th Cir. January 9, 2018).