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Back Pay for Broadband-Certified Comcast Staff

(CN) - A federal judge approved a $160,000 arbitration award for dozens of underpaid Comcast employees represented by their union in New Jersey.

In December 2009, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 827 filed grievances in Toms River, N.J., on behalf of 45 Comcast technicians who are broadband-certified, meaning that they passed rigorous company training sessions to install and service broadband-based products.

The union claimed that Comcast of New Jersey LLC withheld pay increases from these employees, in violation of a 2006-09 collective bargaining agreement and an October 2009 memorandum of agreement.

During an arbitration hearing held in 2011, the parties focused on the meaning of a paragraph in the memorandum that begins with the phrase "replace Appendix B with the following" and lists wage increase provisions.

The arbitrator decided in 2011 that Comcast owed back pay of nearly $160,000, or about $3,500 per employee.

Comcast petitioned to vacate the arbitration award last year, arguing that the arbitrator "ignored the admitted plain, clear and express language of the collective bargaining agreement" when he found the memorandum phrasing ambiguous.

U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp denied Comcast's petition and granted the union's cross-motion to confirm the arbitration award last week.

Citing Swepco Tube LLC v. Loca/427, IUE-CWA, the judge said Comcast failed to show that the arbitrator acted beyond his scope of authority and misconstrued contractual principles.

"In Swepco, the court found that the language at issue was clear and unambiguous, and therefore it was not within the purview of the arbitrator to construe the language in the contract," Shipp wrote. "However, in the present matter, this was the precise issue decided by the arbitrator."

The arbitrator "came to the conclusion that the phrase 'replace Appendix B with the following' did not remove the language relating to the broadband certification increase," according to the ruling.

After Comcast realized the agreement included a broadband certification increase, it sent the union a "corrected" version omitting the increase, according to the arbitrator's ruling.

"Thus, the arbitrator found that 'under [Comcast's] interpretation of the memorandum of agreement, broadband certification employees would be paid about 0.5 percent less than what they were paid before the memorandum of agreement was to be implemented," the 11-page opinion states.

Shipp ultimately approved the award.

"The arbitrator's award in this matter is significantly supported by his careful review of the parties' bargaining history, documents submitted to him by the parties, and the oral testimony of the witnesses during the arbitration hearing," the judge wrote. "The arbitrator's consideration of the entire record, including but not limited to the use of language in other sections of the memorandum of agreement, demonstrates the clear reasoning in the arbitrator's decision."

The disputed contract covering nearly 60 workers expired Jan. 13, and bargaining for a new agreement began Dec. 21, according to the union's website.

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