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UMW, DIST. 4 v. CYPRUS EMERALD RESOURCES CORP.

March 3, 1988

United Mine Workers Of America, District 4, and Local Union 2258 United Mine Workers of America, Plaintiffs,
v.
Cyprus Emerald Resources Corporation t/d/b/a Emerald Mines Company, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: COHILL, JR.

 MAURICE B. COHILL, JR., CHIEF JUDGE

 I. BACKGROUND

 Presently before us is defendant Cyprus Emerald Resources Corporation's ("Cyprus") motion to dismiss this action on the grounds that (1) this court lacks jurisdiction; (2) the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; and (3) the applicable limitations period for this action has elapsed.

 Cyprus installed a computer monitoring and control system ("computer system") at its mine in 1980. The computer system gathers and displays, on a computer screen, data concerning the operation of underground conveyor belts, fans, and carbon monoxide levels in the mine. The data are monitored, and useful information, such as reports of malfunctions, may be communicated to personnel elsewhere in the mine, who may then take appropriate action. The underlying dispute involves the allocation of the duty to monitor the computer, and communicate the data to underground workers.

 There has been a series of arbitration awards leading up to this action. Plaintiff, United Mineworkers of America, District 4 and Local Union 2258 ("Union"), initially argued before Arbitrator Robert A. Creo in 1983 that the operation and monitoring of the computer system fell entirely within the duties reserved to bargaining unit employees under the Union's contract. The National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1984, Article IA, Sections (a) & (b), provides that certain tasks are reserved to Union personnel:

 
Article IA -- SCOPE AND COVERAGE
 
Section (a) Work Jurisdiction
 
. . . .
 
Section (b) Exemptions Clause
 
It is the intention of the Agreement to reserve to the Employers and except from this Agreement an adequate force of supervisory employees to effectively conduct the safe and efficient operation of the mines and at the same time, to provide against the abuse of such exemptions by excepting more such employees than are reasonably required for that purpose.

 The language of the contract in force at the time of Arbitrator Creo's decision was virtually identical to the language of the 1984 contract in effect at the time this action was commenced (the most recent contract went into effect in January, 1988). See First Creo Arbitration Award, at 7 (Oct. 14, 1983).

 Arbitrator Creo held that the Union contract did allocate to bargaining unit personnel the right to monitor the computer system for information about conditions in the mine, and to report the information to other employees working underground. First Creo Arbitration Award, at 12-13. Arbitrator Creo reasoned that:

 
There is no reason to presume computers can not assist bargaining unit personnel by direct involvement in the production of coal. In the present case, the computer monitoring must be properly viewed as another tool or piece of machinery involved in the output of coal.
 
This does not necessarily mean, however, that a job must be posted whose sole function is to monitor the computer console and communicate with underground personnel.

 Id. at 12.

 Subsequently, Cyprus installed an additional computer screen at the "Hoist House," where the Union "Hoist operator" could monitor the system with the aid of an audible alarm. In the event of a malfunction, the Hoist operator could alert the appropriate operators and cancel the alarm message on the screen. Management employees retained control of access to the computer through a keyboard located some distance from the Hoist House, and continued to receive data through a separate computer screen and printer. Second Creo Arbitration Award, at 2 (August 30, 1984).

 The Union then petitioned to gain control of keyboard access and the printer, arguing that these were an integral part of the monitoring system, and should be under exclusive Union control. Arbitrator Creo disagreed, and offered the following clarification of his earlier award:

 
Although there is language in the Opinion of October 14, 1983 susceptible to the broad interpretation advocated by the Union, the Award is, however, limited to monitoring and communicating functions. The Arbitrator found an infringement in negotiated work jurisdiction when salaried personnel [were] exclusively monitoring the belt system and telephoning production personnel to advise them on malfunctions. The Arbitrator was persuaded and convinced that this was identical to a non-computer system such as electrical lights, video cameras or television screens. In terms of the purpose and end result, no significant difference between a computer based technology and a more traditional technology exist regarding monitoring functions. The Arbitrator finds that neither the keyboard nor the printouts are vital aspects of the monitoring function nor within UMWA jurisdiction. The system as presently constituted does not violate the work jurisdiction of the Union. The operating procedures now in effect are functioning as the eyes, ears, and voice. ...

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