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SALVUCCI v. GRAVURE DIV. OF TRIANGLE PUBLS.

June 30, 1980.

Donald SALVUCCI
v.
GRAVURE DIVISION OF TRIANGLE PUBLICATIONS, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLLAK

MEMORANDUM

LOUIS H. POLLAK, District Judge.

 Plaintiff Donald Salvucci worked for defendant Gravure Division of Triangle Publications from 1952 to 1976, in which year he was granted a leave of absence to serve as Business Manager of Philadelphia Newspaper Printing Pressmen's Union No. 16, a labor organization which represented many of Gravure's employees. On July 26, 1978, when Salvucci was still on leave as Business Manager, Gravure ceased operations. Salvucci served as a member of a bargaining committee composed of representatives of several Gravure unions which negotiated with Gravure a written "Agreement of Settlement," dated October 20, 1978, providing severance benefits for various categories of Gravure's employees. That written agreement provided that "severance pay" (the mode of whose calculation was specified) should go to "[regular]situation holders represented by the aforenamed labor organizations... (a) employed as of August 5, 1978 who worked at Gravure during the 1978 calendar year or (b) who as of July 26, 1978 were absent on bona fide sick leave... for which on July 26, 1978 they were receiving sick leave payments.. and (c) in the case of... Philadelphia Newspaper Printing Pressman's Union No. 16 only those regular situation holders whose named appear on Exhibit... 'D' attached hereto...." Salvucci's name appeared on Exhibit D but his name was lined out, denoting what Salvucci and Gravure have stipulated to be the fact -- namely, that "Plaintiff [Salvucci] was specifically excluded from the agreement dated October 20, 1978...." Salvucci and Gravure have further stipulated that: "It was orally agreed between the representatives of the defendant and the bargaining committee, including Salvucci, which represented the unions, during the collective bargaining negotiations which culminated in the signing of the agreement of October 20, 1978, that defendant would pay severance benefits to Salvucci if a court of competent jurisdiction would declare such payment not violative of Section 302 of the Labor Management Relations Act." Defendant Gravure's apprehensions with respect to Section 302 arose from the statute's pronouncement that it is "unlawful" -- indeed, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for up to a year -- for "any employer... to pay... or agree to pay... any money or other thing of value... to any labor organization, or any officer or employee thereof, which represents.. any of the employees of such employer who are employed in an industry affecting commerce...." 29 U.S.C. § 186.

 Having received no severance benefits, Salvucci sued Gravure in this court, pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, which confers on district courts jurisdiction over "[suits] for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce...." 29 U.S.C. § 185. Salvucci's pleading, elaborately styled a COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY RELIEF IN AN ACTION BY DONALD SALVUCCI IN RESPECT TO SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT UPON TERMINATION OF OPERATIONS OF DEFENDANT, seeks a declaratory judgment "that plaintiff... was an employee covered by the Agreement of Settlement" and "that plaintiff is entitled to any and all benefits due him as a result of the Agreement of Settlement signed by the Philadelphia Newspaper Printing Pressmen's Union No. 16 and Defendant."

 I.

 The complaint, bottomed on the Agreement of Settlement, a copy of which is annexed thereto, fails to state a cause of action. As already noted, plaintiff Salvucci's name was excised from the list of Pressmen's Union No. 16 members appended to the Agreement of Settlement as eligible recipients of severance benefits. By stipulation, the parties have acknowledged that the excision of Salvucci's name was not inadvertent -- he was "specifically excluded from the agreement." But if, for the purpose of judging the legal sufficiency of the complaint standing alone, one ignores the stipulation, the Agreement of Settlement still cannot be read as a contract whose benefits were intended to run to personnel on extended leave of absence, as Salvucci had been for over two years before Gravure terminated operations on July 26, 1978: for, as already noted, the Pressmen's Union No. 16 members eligible for severance pay under the Agreement of Settlement were confined to those "(a) employed as of August 5, 1978 who worked at Gravure during the 1978 calendar year or (b) who as of July 26, 1978 were absent on bona fide sick leave... for which on July 26, 1978 they were receiving sick leave payments..." Thus, even were he not "specifically excluded" from the Agreement of Settlement, Salvucci would have no viable claim thereunder.

 II.

 Although the complaint in terms relies only on the written Agreement of Settlement, it would betoken a mean-spirited insistence on the unproductive niceties of pleading to dismiss Salvucci's case solely on the ground that the Agreement of Settlement cannot plausibly be read to support Salvucci's claim for severance benefits. This for the reason that, as pointed out above, the parties have by stipulation acknowledged the existence of another agreement which, arguably, may be of comfort to Salvucci. It may be helpful to repeat here the relevant language of the stipulation:

 It was orally agreed between the representatives of defendant and the bargaining committee, including Salvucci, which represented the unions, during the collective bargaining negotiations which culminated in the signing of the agreement of October 20, 1978, that defendant would pay severance benefits to Salvucci if a court of competent jurisdiction would declare such payment not violative of Section 302 of the Labor Management Relations Act.

 There would appear to be two ways of construing the described oral agreement. Under one possible interpretation, Gravure had simply covenanted to "pay severance benefits [presumably in consonance with the benefit formula embodied in the Agreement of Settlement] to Salvucci" on the happening of an event which would free Gravure from its anxiety about criminal liability -- namely, a favorable decision (i.e., that the contemplated payments would not trench upon Section 302's employer-thoushalt-nots) handed down by some court competent to determine the matter. Under a more complex alternative interpretation, Gravure has orally agreed to pay the requested benefits if a competent court surveying the entire Salvucci-Gravure relationship dehors the inapplicable Agreement of Settlement preceives both a Gravure obligation and/or desire to pay benefits to Salvucci and no Section 302 impediment.

 A.

 The first of these two possible interpretations of the stipulated oral agreement seems to reduce itself to an agreement that Salvucci and Gravure would repair to court and debate -- in light of the purposes Congress could be said to have had in mind in enacting the Labor Management Relations Act -- the applicability of Section 302's prohibitions and exemptions to Gravure's evident readiness (if protected by a judicial non obstat ) to pay severance benefits to Salvucci.

 The threshold -- and insuperable -- difficulty with an agreement of this form is that it is not amendable to the judicial process. The non-amenability can be stated in two ways, but they are essentially obverse formulations of the same proposition:

 1. An agreement of this form is simply a registration of mutual promises to have a debate in a courtroom. It is not an aggregate of offer and acceptance which, viewed from the perspective of the corpus of federal labor contract law which informs Section 301 of the Labor ...


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