APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Before Gibbons and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges and Meanor, District Judge.*fn*
Consolidation Coal Company (Consol) appeals from an interlocutory order of the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in favor of the United Mine Workers of America, District Number 5 (the Union) in an action brought by the Union to enforce a settlement agreement between Consol and the Union. The action was brought pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185. The District Court issued a preliminary injunction directing Consol to remove a sub-contractor from its Champion Preparation Plant in Imperial, Pennsylvania, to reassign the work in dispute to classified employees at the plant and enjoining Consol from future violations of a provision in the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1978 relating to contracting out of repair and maintenance work. Because we find that the dispute between Consol and the Union was arbitrable, we reverse.
At the time this dispute arose, the parties were signatories to the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1978 (the Contract). The Contract contains clauses which protect the work jurisdiction of the Union*fn1 and prohibit contracting and subcontracting of repair and maintenance work customarily performed by classified employees as long as those employees have the necessary skills and the employer has the necessary equipment available to perform the job.*fn2 Article XXIII of the Contract also contains a detailed grievance-arbitration procedure which provides for the resolution of disputes by final and binding settlement.*fn3
On January 16, 1981, the Union filed a grievance alleging that the Lincoln Welding Company, pursuant to a contract with Consol, was performing routine maintenance and repair work which was customarily performed by classified employees, including repair and installation work on a thermal dryer, and work on a front-end loader, a hyrro-rake, and a D-9 bulldozer. This grievance was resolved in the second step of the grievance procedure by a written settlement agreement in which Consol agreed that "management will not violate Article IA, Sec. (a) and (g) of the contract." On March 11, 1981, Consol's Superintendent at the Champion Preparation plant told the local union's Acting President that Lincoln Welding Company, a subcontractor, would be coming that evening to begin repair work on deister tables in the plant.*fn4 On March 12, 1981, two meetings were held between representatives of the Union and Consol. The Union's position during the meetings was that union employees had performed some work on the deister tables in the past and wanted to do the work which Consol had hired Lincoln to perform. Consol's position was that outside contractors, including Lincoln, had previously installed deister tables at the plant, and thus Consol had a contractual right to contract out the work since it was not customarily performed by classified employees. After the meeting, Consol decided to proceed with its plan to contract out the deister table work, and the Union filed several grievances. (App. 65a, 71a). On March 13, 1981, the Union brought this section 301 action in the district court seeking enforcement of the January 1981 settlement agreement. On March 19, Consol filed a Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss the Union's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. On March 20, 1981, a hearing on both Consol's motion and the Union's request for a preliminary injunction was held before the District Court. In an oral order, the court denied Consol's motion and found that the repair or installation of deister tables was work which had customarily been performed by the classified employees at Consol, that the classified employees had the skills necessary to repair or install deister tables and that Consol had the necessary equipment available to perform the work. (App. 197a). The court issued an injunction ordering Consol to refrain from violating the contracting and sub-contracting clause of the contract, to cease and desist from violations of the January 1981 settlement agreement, to direct Lincoln Welding Company to remove its tools, men and equipment from the Champion Preparation Plant, to award to classified employees all present and future work which involves any repairs or replacement of the deister tables customarily performed by classified employees, and to award to employees any other present and future work that is customarily done by those employees. (App. 197a-199a). This appeal by Consol followed the court's issuance of the preliminary injunction.
Consol contends that the District Court had no jurisdiction under Section 301*fn5 to decide the merits of a pending grievance when, according to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the parties had agreed to submit disputes to binding arbitration. Consol argues that the decision as to whether any particular repair or maintenance job can be contracted out depends upon the resolution of two factual issues: (1) whether the work is customarily performed by classified employees at the plant; and (2) whether Consol has the necessary equipment available, and the employees have the necessary skill to perform the job. By resolving these factual issues, Consol asserts, the district court improperly substituted itself for an arbitrator, in contradiction to the Supreme Court's mandate in the Steelworkers Trilogy that the preferred method of resolution of labor disputes is the method chosen by the parties. United Steelworkers v. American Manufacturing, 363 U.S. 564, 80 S. Ct. 1343, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1403 (1960); United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 80 S. Ct. 1347, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1409 (1960); United Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Co., 363 U.S. 593, 80 S. Ct. 1358, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1424 (1960). The Union answers that since the collective bargaining agreement designates settlement agreements as binding and final, and since the parties had previously settled a grievance under the same contract clauses, the district court had jurisdiction under section 301 to enforce that settlement agreement. Because of the lack of specificity in the January 1981 settlement agreement and the differences between the two grievances, we agree with the appellant's argument on this point.
Section 301 of the LMRA gives to federal courts the power to fashion a body of federal law to adjudicate suits for violations of contracts between an employee and a labor organization. Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 77 S. Ct. 912, 1 L. Ed. 2d 972 (1957). Although the majority of cases brought under section 301 are actions to enforce contractual promises to arbitrate or to enforce arbitration awards already rendered, it is indisputable at this point that any means chosen by the parties for settlement of their differences under a collective bargaining agreement can be judicially enforced in federal court as long as the settlement is final and binding under the contract. Truck Drivers Union v. Riss & Co., 372 U.S. 517, 83 S. Ct. 789, 9 L. Ed. 2d 918 (1963). Accord, Teamsters Local Union No. 30 v. Helms Express, Inc., 591 F.2d 211, 216 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 837, 100 S. Ct. 74, 62 L. Ed. 2d 48 (1979); United Mine Workers v. Barnes & Tucker Co., 561 F.2d 1093, 1096 (3d Cir. 1977); United Steel Workers v. Pullman-Standard Car Mfg. Co., 241 F.2d 547, 551-52 (3d Cir. 1957); Pittsburgh Metro Area Postal Workers Union v. United States Postal Service, 463 F. Supp. 54, 57 (W.D.Pa.1978), aff'd, 609 F.2d 503 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 445 U.S. 950, 100 S. Ct. 1598, 63 L. Ed. 2d 785 (1979). To be judicially enforceable, however, a settlement agreement, like an arbitration award, must be sufficiently specific as to be capable of implementation. United Mine Workers v. Barnes & Tucker Co., supra. To avoid preempting the factfinding functions which the parties have contractually assigned to the grievance machinery and arbitration, courts will not attempt to enforce a settlement agreement that is too vague or ambiguous in its meaning or effect. Id. Accord, e.g., Locals 2222, 2320-2327, IBEW v. New England Telephone and Telegraph Co., 628 F.2d 644, 647 (1st Cir. 1980); Hart v. Overseas National Airways, Inc., 541 F.2d 386, 392 (3d Cir. 1976); Bell Aerospace Co. v. Local 516, UAW, 500 F.2d 921, 923 (2d Cir. 1974); Electrical Contractors Association of Greater Boston v. Local Union 103, IBEW, 458 F.2d 590, 593 (1st Cir. 1972); International Association of Machinists v. Crown Cork and Seal Co., 300 F.2d 127 (3d Cir. 1962). The January 1981 settlement agreement between Consol and the Union in its entirety simply states that management will not violate the work jurisdiction and sub-contracting clauses of the contract. Thus, as in United Mine Workers v. Barnes & Tucker Co., 561 F.2d at 1098, the settlement promises made by Consol were very general in their terms and offered no guidance to the district court in resolving questions of contract interpretation or factual and credibility issues involved in this dispute over the deister table work. The settlement agreement merely reiterates Consol's promise from the 1978 contract not to contract out repair and maintenance "customarily performed by classified employees" as long as the necessary equipment is available and the employees have the skill to do the work. Neither the contract nor the settlement agreement defines these terms or outlines what work is, in fact, customarily performed by bargaining unit employees, and it is precisely the application of these terms which gave rise to this dispute. Consol and the Union offered contradictory evidence as to whether deister table work was customarily done by bargaining unit employees, and the district court resolved these factual issues in favor of the Union.*fn6
The parties do not dispute that neither the January 1981 settlement agreement nor the grievance which led to it specifically related to repair or maintenance work on deister tables. The Union urges, however, that since the agreement was prospective and "broad-based," it should not be limited to a certain type of work or to a particular contractor, but instead covers any dispute arising under the sub-contracting clause of the contract. The Union's position on this issue amounts to little more than wishful thinking. It is true that the January 1981 agreement is broadly worded and its language suggests prospective application, but there is contradictory evidence as to whether the ambiguous agreement was meant to apply to the current dispute. As the Supreme Court noted in General Drivers Local 89 v. Riss & Co.:
(T)he policy of the Labor Act "can be effectuated only if the means chosen by the parties for settlement of their differences under a collective bargaining agreement is given full play." (citations omitted). Thus, if the award at bar is the parties' chosen instrument for the definitive settlement of grievances under the Agreement, it is enforceable under § 301.
372 U.S. 517, 519, 83 S. Ct. 789, 791, 9 L. Ed. 2d 918 (1963). The union has not met its burden of showing that the parties intended the settlement agreement to be their "chosen instrument for the definitive settlement" of the dispute in this case. See, United Mine Workers v. Barnes & Tucker Co., 561 F.2d at 1100 (Seitz, J., concurring) (clear expression of intent required before settlement agreements can be interpreted to allow parties to place issues arising under basic clauses in collective bargaining agreement before the district court). The union here urges upon the federal courts the same interpretive role in labor disputes which we previously have declined to accept. Local 103, International Union of Electrical Radio and Machine Workers v. RCA Corp., 516 F.2d 1336 (3d Cir. 1975). Federal courts are bound to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid intruding on the bargained-for method of dispute resolution and when enforcement of an arbitration award or settlement agreement is sought under section 301, the court must be able to say "with positive assurance" that the award or settlement was intended to cover the dispute.*fn7 If the court has any doubt, the parties should be returned to their grievance procedure and arbitration, for it is an arbitrator, and not the court, who is to decide whether the same issue has already been resolved in an earlier proceeding. Shaffer v. Mitchell Transport, Inc., 635 F.2d 261, 265 (3d Cir. 1980); Local 103, International Union of Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers v. RCA Corp., supra; T.L.I., Inc. v. General Teamsters Local Union No. 261, 515 F. Supp. 27 (W.D.Pa.1981); United Steelworkers of America v. Latrobe Steel Co., 465 F. Supp. 743 (W.D.Pa.1979); Pittsburgh Metro Area Postal Workers Union v. United States Postal Service, 463 F. Supp. 54, 58 (W.D.Pa.1978). Cf., Locals 2222, 2320-2327, IBEW v. New England Telephone & Telegraph Co., 628 F.2d 644, 648 (1st Cir. 1980); San Antonio Newspaper Guild Local No. 25 v. San Antonio Light Division, 481 F.2d 821, 825 (5th Cir. 1973); Transport Workers Union Local 234 v. Philadelphia Transportation Co., 228 F. Supp. 423 (E.D.Pa.1964) (where arbitration award generates collateral dispute concerning meaning of its terms, court should direct parties to resubmit to arbitration). Accord, e.g., Hart v. Overseas National Airways, Inc., 541 F.2d 386, 392 (3d Cir. 1976); Bell Aerospace Co. Division of Textron v. Local 516, UAW, 500 F.2d 921, 923 (2d Cir. 1974) (Court should not interpret ambiguous arbitration award but should remand to arbitrator for clarification).
The Union expresses the concern that unless this court enforces the settlement agreement, the Union will be continually forced to invoke a time consuming and expensive arbitration process, which will render the grievance mechanism a "hollow formality." We disagree. As this court stated in Local ...