In 2017, an arbitrator found that Western Illinois University violated its collective bargaining agreement regarding layoffs of professors. Subsequently, in 2018, the same arbitrator issued a supplemental award, determining that the University failed to comply with the earlier award. The matter proceeded to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board for review. The Board found that the University committed an unfair labor practice in violation of sections 14(a)(1) and 14(a)(8) of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (115 ILCS 5/1, et seq.) by failing to comply with the two arbitration awards. However, on administrative review, the appellate court disagreed and vacated the Board’s decision. The Union and Board appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. WESTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY, Appellee, v. THE ILLINOIS EDUCATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD et al., Appellants.

The Act requires that public education employers and employees collectively bargain and arbitrate disputes that arise under an agreement. Refusal to comply with the provisions of a binding arbitration award is an “unfair labor practice” under the Act. Further, the Act’s “unfair labor practice procedures” assigns review and enforcement of unfair labor practices to the Board. 

Arbitrators often retain limited jurisdiction of their awards for the sole purpose of resolving remedial issues related to the award itself. This is known as “remedy jurisdiction.” The classic example of “remedy jurisdiction” is where an arbitrator orders a party to “be made whole.” If the parties cannot agree on the particulars of how to make the party whole, they may petition the arbitrator for an explanation. The arbitrator can then exercise his limited retained jurisdiction to specify what needs to be done.

However, in this case, the arbitrator tried to use this limited jurisdiction to look to see whether a party had complied with his award. The Illinois Supreme Court found this to be improper, affirmed the ruling of the appellate court and held the arbitrator does exceed his authority by reviewing a party’s compliance with his own award. The Court went on to reiterate that the Act vests exclusive jurisdiction over arbitration awards in the Board. The Supreme Court further held that the Board may not limit the evidence it will consider in an unfair labor practice proceeding to just the evidence before the arbitrator. Stated another way, the Board has an independent duty to consider ANY evidence presented to it that is relevant to the determination of whether a party has refused to comply with a binding arbitration award, regardless of whether that evidence was presented to the arbitrator.

In sum, the arbitrator exceeded his authority by conducting a review of compliance with his prior binding arbitration award. As a result, the supplemental award he issued is not binding and therefore the University did not commit an unfair labor practice in refusing to comply with it and the Board erred in holding otherwise. The Board also erred in limiting the evidence it would consider in determining whether the University refused to comply with the original award.  The Illinois Supreme Court vacated the Board’s opinion and remanded it to the Board with directions to consider ALL evidence relevant to whether the University violated the Act by refusing to comply with the original award.