What Is the ''Essence Test'' In Labor Arbitration ?

In United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Wheel and Car Corporation, 363 U.S. 593, 597, 80 S. Ct. 1358, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1424 (1960), one of the Steelworkers Trilogy cases, the United States Supreme Court established what has become known as the "essence test." In frequently-quoted language, it held that: "An arbitrator is confined to interpretation and application of the collective bargaining agreement; he does not sit to dispense his own brand of industrial justice. He may, of course, look for guidance from many sources, yet his award is legitimate only so long as it draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement. When the arbitrator's words manifest an infidelity to this obligation, courts have no choice but to refuse enforcement of the award." See: United Steelworkers v. American Manufacturing Company, 363 U.S. 564, 80 S. Ct. 1343, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1403 (1960); United Steelworkers v. Warrior and Gulf Navigation Company, 363 U.S. 574, 80 S. Ct. 1347, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1409 (1960). See also Major League Baseball Players Association v. Garvey, 532 U.S. 504, 121 S. Ct. 1724, 149 L. Ed. 2d 740 (2001). Under this test, a court deciding whether a labor arbitration award should be enforced is limited to "determining only whether the arbitrator did his job -- not whether he did it well, correctly, or reasonably, but simply whether he did it." Mountaineer Gas Company v. Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers International Union, 76 F.3d 606, 608 (4th Cir. 1996). "As long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority, that a court is convinced he committed serious error does not suffice to overturn his decision," United Paperworkers International Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38, 108 S. Ct. 364, 98 L. Ed. 2d 286 (1987), the arbitrator is doing his job. The essence test, then, is not a test that delves into the merits of the dispute or examines the propriety of the outcome, but one that examines whether the arbitrator had jurisdiction to consider the matter -- a deference test.