Plaintiffs, trustees of the United Mine Workers of America Health and Retirement Funds, hereinafter sometimes referred to as plaintiff or the trust fund, is a pension plan organized pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5).
It is required by 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5) that the trust fund be used "for the sole and exclusive benefit of the employees" and by 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5)(B) that "the detailed basis on which such payments are to be made [be] specified in a written agreement with the employer."
Any oral modification of such a written agreement would be invalid and contrary to public policy. Lewis v. Seanor Coal Co., 382 F.2d 437, 441-44 (C.A. 3, 1967).
The Supreme Court and numerous cases in this Court make clear that plaintiff is a fiduciary for the beneficiaries of the trust fund and constitutes a distinct and independent entity separate from the union. The union participates merely in the collective bargaining agreement with the employer by virtue of which the assets of the fund are generated out of payments which the employer in the contract with the union obligates himself to make.
Lewis v. Benedict Coal Co., 361 U.S. 459, 469, 4 L. Ed. 2d 442, 80 S. Ct. 489 (1960); Lewis v. Harcliff Coal Co., 237 F. Supp. 6, 7 (W.D. Pa. 1965); Gomez v. Lewis, 292 F. Supp. 560, 561 (W.D. Pa. 1968); Boyle v. North Atlantic Coal Corp., 331 F. Supp. 1107, 1108 (W.D. Pa. 1971); Huge v. Old Home Manor, 419 F. Supp. 1019, 1021 (W.D. Pa. 1976); Huge v. Kutsenkow, Civ. No. 76-904 [where Judge Knox granted judgment for plaintiffs on the pleadings]. Hence any defenses which may be available against the union are not available against the fund, which is a third-party beneficiary of the contract between employer and union. A similar situation is familiar in commercial law with respect to a bona fide purchaser of a negotiable note in good faith for value, before maturity, and without notice.
The distinction between the union and the trust fund is one which defendant, an intractable individualist, can not or will not recognize. He repeatedly testified that "they are in the same boat." It was his habit to pay no attention to correspondence from the fund, but to throw it in the wastebasket.
The contracts of individual coal producers with the U.M.W.A. are in substance contracts of adhesion. The employer becomes party to a standard printed contract, which embodies the terms negotiated nationally. This agreement is entitled "National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1971 effective November 12, 1971." Hence it seems unlikely that the union would enter into a contract with a particular employer varying the standard terms; though of course it would be free legally to do so. But the common practice would have bearing upon the antecedent probability of any claim that variance existed in the case of a particular owner's agreement with the union, and the credibility of testimony tending to establish such variance.
Article II, section (d), of the contract signed by defendant provides:
As part of the consideration for this agreement, the Employers agree that this agreement covers the operation of all of the coal lands, coal producing and coal preparation facilities owned or held under lease by them, or any of them, or by any subsidiary or affiliate at the date of this agreement, or acquired during its term which may hereafter (during the term of this agreement) be put into production or use. The Employers agree that they will not lease, license or contract out any coal lands, coal producing or coal preparation facilities for the purpose of avoiding application of this agreement or any section paragraph or clause thereof.
Article XV, section (a), obligates the operator to furnish to the union and to the trust fund "a monthly statement showing the full amount due hereunder for all coal produced . . . from each of the several individual mines owned or operated by the said operators signatory hereto."
Article XV, section (d) provides:
If the Trustees determine that there is reasonable cause to question the accuracy of the sums paid under Section (a) of this Article or of any verification thereof made by an Employer for a given monthly or annual period, the Employer shall, upon written request by the Trustees, make available for inspection and/or copying at reasonable times and places to a representative or representatives of the Fund those records which are necessary to verify the accuracy of sums paid hereunder.