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USW v. FORT PITT STEEL CASTING

June 23, 1978

UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO; and JAMES GARRY, QUINTO DELISSIO, PATRICK McGHEN AND ERNEST A. OBLACK on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
FORT PITT STEEL CASTING, DIVISION OF CONVAL-PENN, INC., DIVISION OF CONVAL CORPORATION, Defendant


Ziegler, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: ZIEGLER

I. History of Case

 Plaintiffs, United Steelworkers of America, and others, instituted an equity action seeking injunctive relief in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, against defendant, Fort Pitt Steel Casting, Division of Conval-Penn, Inc., Division of Conval Corporation. The state court enjoined defendant "from doing any act which would terminate hospital and insurance policies in effect" on May 30, 1978. Fort Pitt filed a Petition for Removal of the action to this court, and a Motion to Dissolve Preliminary Injunction. The removal petition was granted, and the accompanying motion was withdrawn on June 7, 1978. *fn1"

 Plaintiffs then filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction in this court, and a hearing was conducted on June 7, 1978, as required by Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court entered a preliminary injunction enjoining Fort Pitt from:

 
"Failing to advance and to pay, in a timely manner, the premiums necessary to keep the plaintiffs' class members' hospital and insurance policies in effect."

 Defendant then filed a Motion to Dissolve Preliminary Injunction and a hearing was conducted on June 15, 1978. Fort Pitt contends the district court is without jurisdiction to enjoin the conduct of defendant due to the provision of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, *fn2" and the decision of Buffalo Forge Co. v. United Steelworkers of America, 428 U.S. 397, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1022, 96 S. Ct. 3141 (1976). While we disagree with defendant's interpretation of our jurisdictional prerequisites, we will amend the order and require defendant to submit the alleged grievance to the grievance-arbitration provisions of the collective-bargaining agreement. Further, in order to preserve the status quo pending resolution of the dispute, we will restrain defendant from initiating any act which is designed to interdict the hospital and insurance benefits of those persons on whose behalf this action was instituted.

 II. Findings of Fact

 United Steelworkers of America, and its Local Union No. 1406, are the exclusive bargaining representatives for approximately 350 employees at defendant's plant in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. The parties are signatories to a three-year collective bargaining agreement dated March 3, 1975. The contract contains a broad no-strike clause *fn3" and an extensive grievance-arbitration procedure. *fn4" Both parties are accorded the right to invoke arbitration *fn5" relative to "any request or complaint." *fn6" The parties have also bargained that the arbitrator shall have "authority to interpret, apply and determine compliance with the provisions of this agreement." *fn7"

 Defendant's right to file a grievance, which is set forth in Paragraph (97), provides in part: "The grievance procedure may be utilized by the company in processing company grievances. . . ." The use of the word "may" does not render the arbitration permissive, but rather gives the "aggrieved party the choice between arbitration or abandonment of its claim." Bonnot v. Congress of Independent Unions, Local 14, 331 F.2d 355, 359 (8th Cir. 1964). Similarly, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that a contract which provides that "either party may invoke the grievance procedure . . ." is mandatory in character. Yale & Town Mfg. Co. v. Local Lodge 1717, Machinists, 299 F.2d 882, 883 (3d Cir. 1962).

 The contract expired on March 2, 1978, and Local Union No. 1406 commenced a lawful work stoppage. The parties initiated good faith bargaining in an effort to negotiate a new contract. While the discussions were extant, James P. Spresser, Vice President and General Manager of defendant, notified plaintiffs that Fort Pitt intended to suspend the payment of hospitalization and insurance premiums for plaintiffs' members on June 1, 1978. Defendant alleged in writing that, although it agreed to pay the premiums during the work stoppage, unless plaintiffs agreed at this time to the method of reimbursement, payment of the premiums would be discontinued. *fn8" Plaintiffs declined the gambit due to the language of Section 19 of the collective-bargaining agreement.

 Section 19 provides as follows:

 
"The parties agree that in the event of a labor dispute at the end of termination of this Agreement, the Company will continue hospitalization and insurance benefits. At the end of said dispute, the Company will be reimbursed for payments made on behalf of the employees in payment methods mutually agreed on by the parties."

 Plaintiffs contend the language of this section requires defendant to pay all insurance and hospitalization premiums during any labor dispute at the termination of the agreement, and the question of reimbursement does not arise until the end of the strike. Therefore, plaintiffs conclude the threatened cancellation of collateral benefits constitutes a breach of the contract, and an immediate and irreparable injury to plaintiffs' membership.

 We have carefully reviewed the contentions of able counsel. In our judgment, (1) this court has jurisdiction to grant injunctive relief; (2) plaintiffs have established an immediate and irreparable need for equitable intervention; (3) plaintiffs have no adequate remedy at law; (4) the instant dispute involves an arbitrable issue which must be determined in accordance with the grievance procedures of the collective-bargaining agreement; and (5) as a condition of equitable relief, plaintiffs must participate in an expedited grievance-arbitration proceeding, if and when initiated by the company, concerning the question which is the crux of this litigation, namely, the interpretation and effect of Section 19 of the agreement.

 III. Discussion

 The narrow question here presented is whether the decision in Buffalo Forge Co. v. United Steelworkers of America, 428 U.S. 397, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1022, 96 S. Ct. 3141 (1976), and the anti-injunction provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, *fn9" must be construed so as to deprive this court of equitable jurisdiction to maintain the status quo and compel arbitration. In our judgment, the instant dispute constitutes an arbitrable issue as mandated by Buffalo Forge, and, therefore, this court possesses equitable power to enforce Section 301(a) of Labor Management Relations Act ...


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