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In the lawsuit brought by a group of major league baseball umpires who lost their jobs in 1999 after they joined a mass resignation campaign that backfired, a federal appeals court has upheld an arbitrator’s decision that ordered the reinstatement of nine umpires and denied the reinstatement claims of 10 others. But a dissenting judge said he would have tossed out the entire case on the grounds that the dispute “was never arbitrable in the first place.” The decision in The Major League Umpires Association v. The American League of Professional Baseball Clubs, et al., upholds a series of rulings handed down in December 2001 by U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III. Like Bartle, the appellate court’s majority concluded that the arbitrator’s decision could not be disturbed. “Arbitration awards enjoy a strong presumption of correctness that may be overcome only in certain limited circumstances,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth wrote in an opinion joined by U.S. Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith. In a labor setting, Roth said, an arbitration award should be upheld if it “draws its essence” from the collective bargaining agreement, and should be vacated only if it “demonstrates manifest disregard” for the CBA. But in a brief dissent, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Edward R. Becker said he believed that his colleagues, the lower court and the arbitrator had all erred by taking up an issue that didn’t qualify for arbitration under the terms of the CBA. “The umpires resigned — a mass resignation of a significant portion of the bargaining unit,” Becker wrote. “None of the umpires was terminated or discharged. As I see it, under these circumstances, there was no violation [of the CBA] that could trigger the arbitration clause,” Becker wrote. But Roth concluded the question of arbitrability was a legal question that the arbitrator had the power to decide — and that it was entitled to a presumption of correctness. “Whether, if faced with the initial determination, we would have come to the same decision is immaterial. There is no basis from which to conclude that the arbitrator’s finding of arbitrability fails to draw its essence from the CBA, as it may logically be derived from the text of that agreement,” Roth wrote. A lawyer for the umpires said Wednesday that the decision has the most impact for the 10 who were denied reinstatement because the others have already gone back to work. Attorney Patrick C. Campbell Jr. of Phillips & Campbell said that the ruling is an economic victory for the nine umpires who won reinstatement in arbitration because it confirms their award of back pay. Campbell said three other umpires in the original group of 22 plaintiffs settled their cases and went back to work after Bartle ruled that they were entitled to new arbitration hearings. Still to be decided, Campbell said, is a second lawsuit brought by the out-of-work umpires seeking retirement benefits. Campbell said Senior U.S. District Judge John P. Fullam heard arguments last year, but held his decision pending the outcome of the 3rd Circuit appeal. The lawsuits stemmed from disputes between the MLUA — the former exclusive bargaining agent of major league baseball umpires — and top baseball officials during the 1999 season. At the time, the MLUA claimed that in an effort to wrest control over the umpires from the league presidents, Baseball Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig had implemented new policies that violated the existing collective bargaining agreements between the MLUA and the American and National leagues. In July 1999, in an effort to force the leagues to negotiate with the umpires regarding the MLUA’s concern over the new policies, the MLUA orchestrated the submission of resignation letters by 57 of the 68 umpires to their respective league presidents. But the plan backfired a week later when Selig and the league presidents responded by offering umpiring positions to minor league umpires as replacements for those MLUA members who had tendered their resignations. Within one day, National League President Leonard S. Coleman had extended eight offers and American League President Gene S. Budig had tendered nine offers, all of which were accepted. The MLUA quickly changed its game plan and many of its members rescinded their resignations. By July 26, the American League had filled its regular complement of 32 umpires through a combination of rescissions and minor league hires. Budig then sent letters to the nine remaining American League umpires accepting their resignations effective Sept. 2, 1999. By contrast, the National League was still short of its full staff of umpires when the wave of resignation withdrawals came in. Coleman had hired 13 replacements when 32 umpires asked to get their jobs back, but only 19 positions were open. On July 27, Coleman wrote to 19 umpires to accept them back, but informed 13 others that he had accepted their resignations. That left 22 umpires — nine from the AL and 13 from the NL — without jobs.The MLUA responded by demanding arbitration for the 22 in August 1999, contending that management had violated its agreement. In May 2001, the arbitrator ordered the reinstatement of two AL and seven NL umpires with back pay and benefits. But he declined to do so for seven umpires in the AL and six in the NL. The battle then shifted to federal court, and Bartle concluded in December 2001 that nearly all of the arbitrator’s decisions were unassailable. The arbitrator held that management was entitled to hire permanent replacements due to the concerted but “unprotected” activity of the MLUA. Bartle agreed, saying the leagues “could have been stopped short without most of [their] umpires at the most crucial point of the year, at the end of the regular season and during the post-season playoffs.” Despite the MLUA’s “cry of foul,” Bartle said, the arbitrator “did not commit a manifest error of law” when he denied the grievances of the seven American League umpires because “by the time they had rescinded their resignations on July 27, the American League had already filled its staff complement of thirty-two umpires. No vacancies then existed.” Bartle found that “legal precedent exists for the proposition that a rescission of a prospective resignation is not effective if the employer has relied on the anticipated resignation and changed its position by hiring a replacement before the rescission is submitted.” As a result, Bartle said, the American League “had no obligation to rehire umpires who withdrew their resignations after it had put together a full roster.”Bartle also found the arbitrator was on firm ground when he ordered reinstatement of two AL umpires because one had never truly resigned and the other had rescinded his resignation prior to the league’s filling the vacancies. Turning to the NL umpires, Bartle found that the arbitrator correctly held that the league should have followed a plan of rehiring on the basis of merit and skill and that seven deserved reinstatement because they were found to have merit and skill. Likewise, Bartle found that the arbitrator correctly held that three others were properly rejected for their lack of merit. But Bartle found that the arbitrator erred when he held that three remaining umpires –Paul Nauert, Bruce Dreckman and Sam Holbrook — were not entitled to have their fates decided on the basis of merit because they had less than five years of service.Unlike the case of the more senior umpires, the arbitrator ruled that “the tenure of these three individuals was subject to the unfettered discretion of the League President.” Bartle disagreed, saying “the arbitrator’s conclusion, and the thought process that accompanied it, have absolutely no basis in either the agreement or the factual record.” Instead, Bartle said, the collective bargaining agreement stated that “all umpires shall be selected or retained in the discretion of the League Presidents on the basis of merit and the skill of the umpire to perform to Major League standards.” Bartle found that the language in the agreement “could not be clearer.”"Without question, all umpires meant all umpires, including those with less than five years of service. The arbitrator may not pick off these three umpires and treat them as outside the protection of the agreement,” Bartle wrote. Bartle concluded that the arbitrator “committed a manifest error of law” because his decision “did not draw its essence from the agreement.”

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