West Virginia Law Review

Article Title

The Current State of Grievance Arbitration in the Coal Industry


The arbitration process provides for settlement of disputes through adjudication outside the normal judicial system. In many instances arbitration resolves disputes arising under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. This type of labor arbitration is referred to as rights arbitration, or more commonly, grievance arbitration. A second type of arbitration, referred to as interest arbitration, is concerned with settling the unresolved terms of the collective bargaining agreement itself. This note will focus solely on grievance arbitration. Grievance arbitration has proliferated, particularly in American industry, in the wake of the United States Supreme Court's 1960 decisions in the Steelworker's Trilogy. The cumulative effect of these three decisions was to establish the Supreme Court's positive attitude toward arbitration and its propensity to give great deference to the private settlement of disputes arising under collectively bargained agreements. In the aftermath of the Steelworker's trilogy and its progeny, grievance arbitration has grown to be an integral part of most collective bargaining agreements. These self imposed quasi-judicial dispute resolution procedures are desirable for several reasons: First, Congress has expressed a preference for the private settlement of labor disputes through the grievance arbitration procedure. Second, arbitration is the more efficient method for resolving labor disputes, since the Board [National Labor Relations Board] and the courts are now overburdened with labor related litigation. Third, the arbitrator has a better knowledge of the law of the shop, which imbues him with greater competency in dealing with labor disputes. Labeling these extra-judicial procedures for the settlement of disputes "arbitration procedures" is somewhat a misnomer. As the express goal of any such procedure is to settle the dispute long before the actual arbitration phase is activated, these procedures might more aptly be called dispute settlement procedures. As a means of reaching this end, many grievance arbitration procedures begin very informally with perhaps a meeting between the foreman and the grievant, they then proceed to more formal levels and finally, and only if necessary, they culminate in arbitration. While the proliferation of grievance arbitration procedures in American industry is of only introductory importance in this note, it provides a basic background of the evolution and growing importance of grievance arbitration procedures in America. This note concerns the grievance arbitration procedure employed by the United Mine Workers of America (UMW) and the Bituminous Coal Operators' Association (BCOA): The stability of employer-employee relations in the bituminous coal industry is essential to a resurgence of coal as America's means of survival during the current energy crisis. To regain its prominence in both national and international markets, the coal industry must be both dependable and productive. Neither of these characteristics can exist in an industry which is unsettled in the area of labor relations. The grievance procedure is the very heart of labor-management relations. Much has been done during the past decade by the UMW and the BCOA to improve the grievance arbitration procedure used in the coal industry.10 The purpose of this note is to analyze the effect and efficiency of these changes in the current procedure. This analysis will focus on the current system's ability to battle the major deficiencies in any grievance arbitration mechanism: cost and time-lag. The first section will survey the major changes made in the UMW/BCOA grievance arbitration procedure in the past decade. The second section will discuss the problems of cost and time-lag as they relate to grievance arbitration generally, with an analysis of the 1978 National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement (1978 Agreement) to determine if the parties to that agreement are effectively combating these problems in the coal industry. The third section of this note will examine the effectiveness and propriety of the Arbitration Review Board (A.R.B.), discussing some extra-contractual methods of curing the inefficiencies of grievance arbitration. Finally, the conclusion will suggest some changes to improve the current procedure's ability to operate at optimum efficiency.