HOW TO INTERPRET CONTRACTS AND LAWS
A recent post about two FLRA members declaring the placement of a single letter in the labor law to be so significant as to make clear and unambiguous the answer to three substantial labor law questions has prompted interest in how laws and contracts should be interpreted. The short answer for those asking, “Are any rules?” is that, yes, there are some rules. But they are not “rules” as in the disciplinary rules of conduct, where often one toe over the line means discipline. They are more principles, tenets, guidelines and traditions. Arbitrators and judges have lots of room to apply personal feelings about how the decision should turn out. For example, it is not very hard cite one of the rules as the basis for their conclusion and ignore even more relevant rules. Nonetheless, in the long run anyone arguing a case before an arbitrator, MSPB or FLRA needs to know the rules and apply them as best they can. There is a wonderful, easy to understand, and even free to copy guide to the rules put out by the Congressional Research Service entitled, “Statutory Interpretation: General Principles and Recent Trends.” We recommend it.