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NF&M Corp. v. United Steelworkers of America

filed: October 24, 1975.

NF&M CORPORATION, A CORPORATION, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION, AND UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL UNION NO. 8148, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA D.C. Civil Action No. 74-784.

Seitz, Chief Judge, Rosenn and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Rosenn

Opinion OF THE COURT

ROSENN, Circuit Judge

This challenge to an arbitrator's award invokes the very limited review function of courts in the area of arbitration. The NF&M Corporation ("the Company") appeals from a grant of summary judgment by the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in favor of the United Steelworkers of America ("the Union") and Local 8148 ("the Local"), in an action brought by NF&M to set aside and vacate certain portions of an arbitrator's award. The Company contends that the arbitrator exceeded his authority under the labor agreement between it and the Union since there was no evidence before him upon which he could have based his determination that a discharge grievance had been timely processed.*fn1 We hold that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority and affirm.

The events which led to arbitration are as follows. The Company suspended indefinitely an employee, Mathew Catanese, on March 6, 1974, and orally discharged him for insubordination the following day after he appeared at the plant and lingered there despite orders to leave. The Company sent letters regarding the suspension and the discharge to the Local's President and its Grievanceman a few hours later. They immediately requested a meeting with the Vice-President for Manufacturing, Samuel Prisuta, to discuss the suspension and the discharge. At the meeting on March 8, called for the purpose of considering both grievances, Prisuta asked that discussion of the discharge be deferred so that the grievances could be taken in chronological order. Accordingly, when the meeting ended, the suspension grievance was not resolved and the discharge grievance had not even been discussed.

The Local's Grievanceman immediately filed a second step written grievance which read: "Mathew Catanese was suspended unjustly according to Article VII." The grievance is ambiguous on its face as Article VII refers only to discharges whereas the essence of the grievance is the suspension. The Grievanceman testified before the arbitrator that the grievance was intended to relate solely to Catanese's suspension and that, to his knowledge, no written grievance regarding the discharge had ever been filed.

The Company denied the written grievance on March 12 by endorsement on the reverse side. The Union asserts that Catanese was only then sent written notice of his discharge (a copy of the letter given to the Local's officers). Catanese thereupon contacted the Union representative, Dwayne Cooper.

Cooper wrote Samuel Prisuta on March 19, requesting a meeting on " Grievance No. 4-74 Discharge - M. Catanese." The meeting took place on March 22, although the Company claims Prisuta first cautioned Cooper that the discharge issue was foreclosed under Article VI of the labor agreement. As the meeting was inconclusive, the Company by letter dated March 26 reiterated its position on the suspension grievance and stated that, since the discharge grievance had never been reduced to writing, its resolution against the Union was automatic under the contract.

Ultimately, the suspension grievance was referred to the arbitrator. The Company agreed to submit the issue of the timeliness of the discharge grievance and, if the arbitrator decided that the grievance was timely, to submit the merits as well. The arbitrator's award declared "the grievance is timely" and ordered the reinstatement of Catanese with full seniority and back pay. Apparently, the arbitrator found that the grievance was timely because "the confusion and lack of clarity here [in the processing of the grievance] should not bar a hearing on the merits."

The district court was asked to set aside and vacate the portions of the award dealing with the discharge on the grounds that the express language of Article VI, paragraph 2 had not been complied with and that, therefore, the arbitrator could not have found the grievance timely without disregarding the labor agreement.

Although the scope of judicial review of an arbitrator's award is severely limited, a court must ascertain whether the award "draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement." United Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 597, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1424, 80 S. Ct. 1358 (1960); Local 103 of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO v. RCA Corp., 516 F.2d 1336 (3d Cir. 1975). This Circuit has elaborated upon that language:

[A] labor arbitrator's award does "draw its essence from the collective bargaining agreement" if the interpretation can in any rational way be derived from the agreement, viewed in the light of its language, its context, and any other indicia of the parties' intention; only where there is a manifest disregard of the agreement, totally unsupported by ...


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