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AMERICAN STERILIZER CO. v. LOCAL UNION NO. 832

January 12, 1968

American Sterilizer Company, Plaintiff
v.
Local Union No. 832, International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Workers Of America, AFL-CIO et al., Defendants


Weber, J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEBER

The problem posed by this case is unique. Neither counsel nor the court's own research has provided a parallel, yet it would not seem unusual for such a situation to arise in an industrial organization with multiple bargaining units. Courts differ in their conclusions on identical facts, why should not the same be true of arbitrators?

 Plaintiff has invoked the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, to seek judicial relief from a dilemma which it poses.

 Plaintiff is an employer, which invoked the jurisdiction of this Court under Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185. Defendants are labor organizations representing employees under collective bargaining agreements with plaintiff, each the exclusive bargaining agency for the specific classes of employees covered by each individual agreement.

 All contracts contain a provision governing seniority in identical language:

 
"Seniority will be governed by length of continuous service and measured in years, months and days as an employee of the Company."

 Plaintiff alleges that prior to June 23, 1964, when it signed the agreement with International Union United Automobile Aero-Space and Agricultural Implement Workers of America AFL-CIO [hereafter referred to as U.A.W.] there were four bargaining agencies representing Company employees, and that Company and the four agencies construed and applied the language of the above seniority clause to mean plantwide seniority. In 1964, U.A.W. was certified to represent certain employees in place of a former union and identical seniority language was incorporated in its agreement.

 On April 12, 1965, an employee, Sekula, who was working in a bargaining unit represented by International Molders and Allied Workers Union, AFL-CIO [hereafter referred to as I.M.A.W.] bid on a job opening in the unit represented by U.A.W. Shortly thereafter U.A.W. filed a grievance contending that persons who come from other bargaining units into the U.A.W. unit should not be allowed to retain the seniority acquired in the other units, but should become new employees in the U.A.W. unit. Nevertheless, Sekula was accepted into the U.A.W. bargaining unit without the initiation fee required of new members, and union dues were collected from him. Failing settlement in the steps of the grievance procedure, the matter was submitted to binding arbitration as provided in the contract and the arbitrator sustained the position of the U.A.W. that Sekula started accumulating seniority in the U.A.W. unit from the date of his transfer into that unit. The arbitrator limited this decision to lay-off, recall and job-bidding seniority rights, and expressly held that he did not hold this seniority as determinative of Sekula's seniority rights for fringe benefits, vacations, pensions and other monetary benefits under the U.A.W. contract. The rationale of this exclusion by the arbitrator was that questions as to Sekula's vacation, pension and fringe benefit rights under a claim of plant-wide seniority did not arise out of the U.A.W. contract, and did not affect the job security of U.A.W. unit employees.

 Shortly after this decision was rendered, Sekula's former bargaining unit, I.M.A.W., then filed a grievance on behalf of Sekula, claiming that plaintiff company violated the I.M.A.W. contract when it took away Sekula's accumulated seniority upon his transfer to the U.A.W. unit. This proceeded to final binding arbitration with the result that the I.M.A.W. grievance was sustained and the company was barred from denying Sekula his accumulated plant-wide seniority.

 This is plaintiff's dilemma: as employees transfer back and forth between units, seniority changes. In U.A.W. cases, seniority is time in the unit for layoff and call-back, but not for vacations, pension and fringe benefits. In I.M.A.W. cases, plant-wide seniority prevails for all purposes.

 Neither the pleadings nor the exhibits attached thereto (the collective bargaining contracts and the arbitrator's decision) show by what right the I.M.A.W. processed a grievance for one no longer a member of its unit. Is the I.M.A.W. decision merely a declaration of Sekula's residual rights should he return to that unit? It appears that it must be so limited in application, and we do not understand that I.M.A.W. now contends otherwise.

 We must bear in mind that the jurisdiction of this court which plaintiff has invoked is discretionary. Public Service Commission of Utah v. Wycoff Co. 344 U.S. 237, 73 S. Ct. 236, 97 L. Ed. 291 [1952]. Kerotest Mfg. Co. v. C-O Two Fire Equipment Co., 342 U.S. 180, 72 S. Ct. 219, 96 L. Ed. 200 [1952]. This discretion should be exercised where in the Court's sound discretion the interests of justice will be advanced and an adequate and effective judgment may be rendered. Alabama State Federation of Labor v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 450, 89 L. Ed. 1725, 65 S. Ct. 1384 [1945].

 Limiting the discretionary exercise of jurisdiction in cases involving arbitration of disputes arising under collective bargaining agreements is the strong admonition to the courts to be wary of involvement in the arbitration procedures which the parties themselves have selected as the means of resolving their differences.

 
"It is the arbitrator's construction which was bargained for: and so far as the arbitrator's decision concerning construction of the contract, the courts have no business overruling him because their interpretation of the contract is different from his." United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise ...

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