As a result of this dispute, on May 6, 1988, the Union filed the present action to compel arbitration.
The Company contends that plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed for a number of reasons. First, it claims the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action because no collective bargaining agreement presently exists between the Company and the Union. In this regard, it is also alleged that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because the substantive obligations of the collective bargaining agreement expired. Lastly, the Company claims that the present action is barred by the statute of limitations applicable to suits to compel arbitration.
Since it is dispositive of the action, it is only necessary to address defendant's claim that the present action is time barred.
Both parties agree that actions to compel arbitration are governed by the six month statute of limitations found in the NLRA for bringing actions charging unfair labor practices. 29 U.S.C. § 160(b). See Federation of Westinghouse Independent Salaried Unions v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 736 F.2d 896, 901 (3d Cir. 1984); Intern. Ass'n of Machinists v. Allied Products Corp., 786 F.2d 1561, 1564 (11th Cir. 1986); McCreedy v. Local Union No. 971, 809 F.2d 1232, 1237 (6th Cir. 1987).
In Westinghouse, the Third Circuit held that the six month statute of limitations of the NLRA, which the Supreme Court had earlier ruled applied to hybrid actions by an employee seeking to enforce a labor contract and sue a union for breach of its duty of fair representation in DelCostello v. Int'l Broth. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 103 S. Ct. 2281, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1983), also applied to a direct action by a union seeking to compel arbitration of a labor dispute. The court noted that application of a six month statute of limitations fostered the important purpose under federal labor law for promptly resolving labor disputes. The Westinghouse court further held that a union's cause of action to compel arbitration arises "when the employer takes an unequivocal position that it will not arbitrate." 736 F.2d 896, 902. No determination was made at trial as to when Westinghouse first unequivocally stated that it would not submit to arbitration, and accordingly the case was remanded for further proceedings on that issue. Id.
Here, the Company claims that the present action is barred by the statute of limitations since an unequivocal rejection of plaintiff's request for arbitration occurred on February 16, 1987, the date on which the Company first responded to plaintiff's request. Since the present action was not filed until May 6, 1988, well over a year after reception of the aforementioned letter, the Company argues this action is time barred by § 160(b).
Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that an unequivocal rejection of its proposal for arbitration never occurred until January 19, 1988, making the filing of the present action timely. Plaintiff claims that as of February 19, 1987, there was still some doubt as to whether the Company would arbitrate this matter after the Union pursued the matter with Edison. Plaintiff relies on the following language from the Company's February 19, 1987 letter to support this proposition:
Since you have submitted a similar request for arbitration to Edison, I suggest that you look to Edison for whatever relief you are seeking.