Contract Interpretation

When a grievance involves the interpretation or application of one or more contract provisions, an understanding of the standards of contract interpretation can be helpful. These standards, used by arbitrators, can help in determining the nature and validity of a grievance.

  1. The primary goal of an arbitrator is to determine and effectuate the mutual intent of the parties of a contract. In order to do this, arbitrators will use the following sources:

    • The language of the contract, if this language is unambiguous.
    • The bargaining history.
    • Past practices (Past practices do not supercede clear and express contract language.)
  2. Ambiguous language means that the parties to the construct failed to express their intent clearly. It is ambiguous if itís possible to make reasonable arguments on behalf of interpretations that conflict.

  3. When trying to determine intent, arbitrators intepret the disputed language in the context of the entire contract. Arbitrators will favor the interpretation of a disputed provision that gives effect (fits in) to other clauses and provisions.

  4. Arbitrators will reject interpretations of disputed language that produces "harsh and nonsensical" results.

  5. Arbitrators interpret language with certain inclusions listed, to exclude those things that are not specifically listed.

  6. Specific contract language will be enforced over general language.