The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEALON
This dispute concerns whether, under a collective bargaining agreement, an employer is obligated to submit a grievance to arbitration where the Union had previously withdrawn the same grievance. Plaintiff Union has filed a motion for summary judgment while defendant employer has submitted a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.
It appears from the pleadings and affidavits filed that in early June, 1970, Mrs. Bonnie Oberle took a sick leave of absence under Article X, § 2 of the 1969 Agreement, contending that she had been disabled by a back injury which she believed she incurred as a result of her job as a bindery operator. When her 26-week leave expired, Mrs. Oberle was discharged and she filed a grievance on December 4, 1970. The grievance was denied by the employer on December 8, 1970. After a meeting of the joint standing committee, as provided for under the contract, the Union representatives, on February 17, 1971, agreed to notify the employer within seven days if they planned to carry the grievance to the next step. The Union decided not to proceed further with the grievance and so notified the employer. More than two years later, July 18, 1973, at a time when a new collective bargaining contract was in effect, the Union resubmitted the Oberle grievance but the Company refused to entertain it. This action followed.
In the affidavits supplied to the Court, both parties present conflicting versions relative to the failure to pursue the original grievance. The Union contends that it believed that Mrs. Oberle's entitlement to an additional leave of absence depended upon a determination by the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Board, or an admission by the Company, that she had incurred a "compensable injury".
Further, that on February 23, 1971, the Union President informed the defendant that it would hold the grievance in abeyance until the Company's Workmen's Compensation liability could be established. According to plaintiff, it wasn't until June 14, 1973, that the Company's insurance carrier acknowledged liability and made certain payments to Mrs. Oberle. The matter, consequently, became ripe for arbitration and the grievance was filed. The employer disputes this version contending that the Union representatives and the plaintiff never challenged the ripeness of the controversy and never asked that it be held in abeyance. The initial question before the Court is whether the parties are obligated under the contract to submit the discharge issue to arbitration.
Article VIII of the Collective Bargaining Agreement provides:
"The intent of the parties of this Agreement is that the procedure hereinafter set forth shall serve as the sole means of peaceful settlement of all disputes that may arise between the parties as to the interpretation, meaning of, or application of the provisions of this agreement." (emphasis supplied)
Any analysis of the issues here must start with the strong language of United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582, 583, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1409, 80 S. Ct. 1347 (1960), where it was stated
"For arbitration is a matter of contract and a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit. Yet, to be consistent with congressional policy in favor of settlement of disputes by the parties through the machinery of arbitration, the judicial inquiry under § 301 must be strictly confined to the question whether the reluctant party did agree to arbitrate the grievance or did agree to give the arbitrator power to make the award he made. An order to arbitrate the particular grievance should not be denied unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute. Doubts should be resolved in favor of coverage." (emphasis supplied)
It cannot be disputed that the grievance concerning whether Mrs. Oberle has sustained a compensable injury for which sick leave will be granted automatically during the full period of temporary disability is a proper one for arbitration under this contract.
The next question, however, is who is to decide whether plaintiff is now precluded from requesting arbitration because a prior submission was withdrawn.
Defendant argues that the Union is not entitled to arbitration because it failed to comply with the contractual conditions precedent to arbitration. Apparently, the failure to pursue the original grievance in a timely manner and, because of the lapse of time, the failure to file the new grievance within two days of its occurrence, are the conditions precedent to which defendant refers.
But plaintiff maintains that its forbearance was justified because a "compensable injury" could not be established until the Workmen's Compensation Board so ruled and, indeed, the company demanded it. But regardless of the merits of this contention, who is to decide whether the delay or original withdrawal relieves defendant of its normal duty to arbitrate? In John Wiley & Sons v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 557, 11 L. Ed. 2d 898, 84 S. Ct. 909 (1964), the United States Supreme Court reasoned, as follows:
"Once it is determined . . . that the parties are obligated to submit the subject matter of a dispute to arbitration, 'procedural' questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition should be left to the arbitrator." (Emphasis supplied)
The opinion pointed out that "(doubt) whether grievance procedures or some part of them apply to a particular dispute, whether such procedures have been followed or excused, or whether the unexcused failure to follow them avoids the duty to arbitrate cannot ordinarily be answered without consideration of the merits of the dispute which is presented for arbitration." (Emphasis supplied) More recently in International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, AFL-CIO v. Flair Builders, Inc., 406 U.S. 487, 32 L. Ed. 2d 248, 92 S. Ct. 1710 (1972), where a grievance was filed for the first time nearly three years after the alleged breach, the Court held that an agreement to submit "any difference" to arbitration was broad enough to encompass the issue of laches.