The opinion of the court was delivered by: TEITELBAUM
On April 6, 1977, this Court entered an Order denying the plaintiff union's request for injunctive relief and dismissing its complaint in this action brought under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), to enjoin defendant's alleged violation of a labor contract to which the parties are signatories.
The Order previously entered in this case, which it is our present purpose to explicate, followed from the Court's rejection of the asserted proposition that defendant -- an association of motor carriers and allied employers charged with the negotiation and administration of labor agreements involving the operation of those carriers in the counties comprising Western Pennsylvania
-- breached its collective bargaining agreement with plaintiff by implementing the decision of a "labor arbitrator," the Eastern Conference Joint Area Committee (ECJAC),
eliminating union-favored restrictions in Allegheny County on a trucking industry practice known as "spotting."
"Spotting" is an industry term denoting an employer's practice of directing its drivers to leave their trailers at a designated location for loading or unloading, normally where a lengthy delay is anticipated. When an employer "spots" a trailer, the employee driver does not remain with the vehicle while it is waiting to be loaded or unloaded, and consequently is not paid wages for this period of time.
Labor contracts with Teamster locals permit spotting in all parts of Western Pennsylvania other than Allegheny County. In Allegheny County, the jurisdiction of plaintiff Local 249, an employer's right to spot trailers historically has been restricted. Except at a few designated, agreed-upon terminal facilities, spotting has been prohibited throughout plaintiff's jurisdiction; the practice in Allegheny County has been that if a driver is dispatched to a designated customer, he or she is to remain with the trailer, earning wages, while it is waiting to be, and actually is, loaded or unloaded. It is undisputed that this prohibition against spotting -- which plainly places defendant's Allegheny County member firms at a disadvantage with their competitors -- has been the practice, understanding or standard within the jurisdiction of plaintiff Local 249.
The dispute regarding an employer's right to spot trailers in plaintiff's jurisdiction was submitted to the ECJAC in July, 1975, some two years into the operative period of the collective bargaining agreement then in effect between the parties. While submission of the dispute took the form of a request for relief on the part of defendant, it is clear that the local union joined in submission of the issue to the joint conference committee.
It is undisputed that not only the merits of the spotting issue, but also the jurisdictional issues raised by plaintiff in this forum were argued to and considered by the ECJAC.
The spotting dispute in question was submitted to the ECJAC under Articles 6 and 44 of the parties' labor contract. These Articles provide in pertinent part -- commonly known as the "maintenance of standards clause" -- as follows:
"The Employer agrees that all conditions of employment in his individual operation relating to wages, hours of work, overtime differentials, and general working conditions shall be maintained at not less than the highest standards in effect at the time of the signing of this Agreement, and the conditions of employment shall be improved wherever specific provisions for improvement are made elsewhere in this Agreement. It is agreed that the provisions of this section shall not apply to inadvertent or bona fide errors made by the (Employers) or the Union in applying the terms and conditions of this Agreement if such error is corrected within ninety (90) days from the date of the error. If not corrected within ninety (90) days, such better condition shall remain in effect. However, a request for relief from such error may be filed in writing with the appropriate Conference Area Committee. The Conference Area Committee, by a majority vote, shall determine whether and in what manner such better terms and/or conditions resulting from such error shall be continued or eliminated."
The ECJAC assumed jurisdiction of the dispute under the above language. A hearing was scheduled and subsequently held. Thereafter, the "arbitrator" declined to determine the merits of the spotting question, but simply retained jurisdiction, postponing a decision in the matter until after completion of impending negotiations on a new labor agreement, the parties' then-operative agreement being due to expire on March 31, 1976.
Accordingly, prior to the contract expiration date, plaintiff and defendant undertook to attempt to negotiate their differences regarding the spotting issue during the local phases of the 1976 national freight negotiations. These local negotiations were not productive with regard to the spotting dispute -- defendant was unsuccessful in its efforts to negotiate an agreement with Local 249 providing for the elimination of restrictions on spotting and granting defendant's Allegheny County member employers the same unfettered right to spot as exists elsewhere throughout Western Pennsylvania.
In May, 1976, subsequent to defendant's withdrawal of the spotting dispute from negotiations, the ECJAC rendered its decision in this matter in the form of an award which eliminated previously operative restrictions and permitted defendant's member firms to spot trailers in Allegheny County. Plaintiff attacks this arbitrated award in a multi-pronged argument founded on the fundamental allegation that the ECJAC's spotting decision is null and void for reason that the joint committee's action exceeded the limits of its contractually-derived authority. Thus, plaintiff submits, the "maintenance of standards clause" contained in the parties' previous agreement, and remaining unchanged in their current one, requires continuation of the prohibition against spotting as the highest standard in effect at the time of contracting.
While plaintiff does not contend that the ECJAC generally lacks authority to determine whether a given "highest standard" shall be continued, modified or eliminated (such authority having been expressly conferred upon the appropriate conference committee by Articles 6 and 44), plaintiff does urge that the contract precludes such a determination by the ECJAC where it has not been requested within 90 days from the date of an "error" to relieve a party from the operation of a highest standard or condition resulting therefrom. It is the union's position that by assuming jurisdiction of and deciding a standards dispute submitted some two years into the contract period, and allegedly not ...