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Rite Aid of Pennsylvania, Inc. v. United Food and Commercial Workers Union

March 31, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


Plaintiff Rite Aid of Pennsylvania, Inc. (hereinafter "Rite Aid" or "the company") initiated this declaratory judgment action*fn1 challenging the arbitrability of grievances filed under three collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs") by defendant United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1776 (hereinafter "Local 1776" or "the union"). In late September 2007, representatives of Local 1776 entered six non-union stores newly acquired by Rite Aid for the purpose of soliciting employee interest in unionization. Rite Aid immediately restricted the representatives' access to the stores. Local 1776 filed grievances with Rite Aid, alleging that the company's action violated the CBAs. Rite Aid commenced the instant matter to determine the arbitrability of these grievances. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. 10, 13). For the reasons that follow, Rite Aid's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 13) will be granted, and the union's motion (Doc. 10) will be denied.

I. Statement of Facts*fn2

Rite Aid operates a nationwide chain of over 5,100 drugstores in twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia. (Doc. 16 ¶ 1; Doc. 20 ¶ 1.) The three CBAs presently at issue cover unionized Rite Aid stores in twenty-four Pennsylvania counties. (Doc. 16, Ex. A § 2.1.2; Doc. 16, Ex. B at § 2.1.2; Doc. 16, Ex. C at § 2.1.2.)*fn3

The current versions of the CBAs were ratified in 2004 and were in effect when Rite Aid acquired a drugstore chain formerly operated by Brooks Eckerd on June 4, 2007. (Doc. 15 ¶ 6; Doc. 16 ¶ 20; Doc. 18 ¶ 6; Doc. 20 ¶ 20.) Several of the newly acquired stores are located in the geographic territory covered by the Rite Aid--Local 1776 CBAs; however, Local 1776 does not represent the employees in any of these stores. (Doc. 15 ¶ 7; Doc. 16 ¶ 21; Doc. 18 ¶ 7; Doc. 20 ¶ 21.)

During late September and early October 2007, representatives of Local 1776 attempted to enter six of the stores (hereinafter "the Brooks-Eckert stores") for the purpose of soliciting employee interest in unionization. (Doc. 15 ¶ 9; Doc. 16 ¶¶ 25-26, 30-31, 35-36, 40-41, 45-46, 50-51; Doc. 18 ¶ 9; Doc. 20 ¶¶ 25-26, 30-31, 35-36, 40-41, 45-46, 50-51.) Rite Aid barred the union representatives from entering the stores. (Doc. 15 ¶ 10; Doc. 16, Ex. F; Doc. 18, ¶ 10.) On November 7, 2007, the union filed identical grievances under each of the three CBAs alleging that the denial of store access violated certain provisions thereof. (Doc. 16, Ex. F.)

The grievances asserted that, during the decades preceding the instant dispute,*fn4 Rite Aid had observed a practice of granting union representatives unobstructed access to newly constructed and newly acquired stores to solicit employee interest in unionization. (Doc. 15-3 at 2; Doc. 20, Ex. 1 ¶ 4.) The union asserted that store access was protected by Articles 2, 5.1, and 15.3 of the CBAs. Article 2 of the CBAs (hereinafter "the recognition clause") provides as follows:

[Rite Aid] recognizes the Union as the sole and exclusive bargaining agent for the purpose of bargaining in the Bargaining Unit in respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of employment, and other conditions pertaining to employment for . . . [a]ll full time and part time selling and non-selling associates employed at [Rite Aid] stores [within the counties identified in the CBAs].

(Doc. 16, Ex. A §§ 2.1-2.1.2.)*fn5 Article 5.1 (hereinafter "the observation clause") grants Local 1776 the right to enter Rite Aid stores to ensure that the company has complied with the terms of the CBAs:

It is agreed that the Union duties and activities will not be carried on during hours of work. This shall not prevent the Union officials from entering [Rite Aid] establishments to satisfy themselves that this Agreement is being observed, provided that same shall not interfere with the normal operations or business of the store. (Doc. 16, CBAs § 5.1.) Finally, Article 15.3 (hereinafter "the privileges clause") governs Rite Aid's obligations with respect to certain benefits extended by the company:

Only privileges which have been granted by [Rite Aid] since its acquisition of the establishments covered by this Agreement shall be continued. Privileges accorded by the previous owner, but not continued by [Rite Aid], shall not bind [Rite Aid]. (Id. § 15.3.) None of the CBAs specify the nature of the "privileges" that this clause protects. Rite Aid rejected the union's store-access grievances, citing its "No Solicitation" policy, under which "[s]olicitation for any cause or distribution of material is prohibited if one or more of the Rite Aid Associates engaged in the interaction is on working time." (Doc. 16, Ex. G.)

Local 1776 notified Rite Aid of its intent to arbitrate the store-access dispute pursuant to the arbitration provisions of the collective bargaining agreements. (Doc. 1 ¶ 61; Doc. 5 ¶ 61.) The contracts' arbitration clause requires the parties to refer all grievances to arbitration unless a dispute exceeds the scope of the CBAs:

No grievance shall be filed by . . . the Union, nor need [Rite Aid] entertain any grievance that does not involve the interpretation of any provision of this Agreement. (Doc. 16, CBAs § 11.4 (emphasis added); see also id. § 11.2 (requiring arbitration of disputes)).

Rite Aid commenced the instant action to determine the arbitrability of the union's grievances. The company contends that the pending grievances do not require interpretation of the clauses cited by Local 1776, thereby placing the dispute beyond the purview of the contracts' compulsory arbitration provision. Local 1776 responds that the dispute implicates the recognition, observation, and privileges clauses and must therefore be arbitrated. The parties have fully briefed these issues, which are now ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary judgment the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. ...

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