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Trenton Metropolitan Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union v. United States Postal Service

February 15, 2011

TRENTON METROPOLITAN AREA LOCAL OF THE AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION, AFL-CIO,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, NATIONAL POSTAL MAIL HANDLERS UNION, AFL- CIO



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. No. 06-cv-2319) District Judge: Hon. Joel A. Pisano

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jordan, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Appellant in 08-4084 Appellant in 08-3941 Appellant in 09-1333

Intervenor in D.C.

Argued December 15, 2010

Before: RENDELL, JORDAN and HARDIMAN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant United States Postal Service ("USPS") and Appellant/Intervenor National Postal Mail Handler‟s Union ("NPMHU") (collectively, the "Appellants") appeal from the order of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, granting summary judgment to the Trenton Metropolitan Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union ("Trenton Metro") on Trenton Metro‟s claim for enforcement of a settlement agreement between it and USPS. The Appellants argue that the present suit involves a tripartite dispute over work assignments and is, therefore, subject to the tripartite arbitration agreement entered into nationally between USPS, NPMHU, and the American Postal Workers Union ("APWU"), the last of which is Trenton Metro‟s parent organization. As a result, say the Appellants, the District Court erred both by looking to a separate agreement between USPS and Trenton Metro to resolve the dispute and by exercising jurisdiction in the first place. Because we conclude that the present controversy is a dispute over which union‟s workers can staff a specific mail sorting machine, we agree that this is a tripartite dispute over work assignments and that, consequently, the binding tripartite arbitration procedures apply. Accordingly, we will vacate the District Court‟s grant of summary judgment and will order the dismissal of Trenton Metro‟s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. Background

A. The Contracts

1) RI-399's Tripartite Dispute Resolution Procedure

On April 16, 1992, USPS and the two unions representing its employees -- APWU and NPMHU -- entered into a Memorandum of Understanding called Regional Instruction 399 ("RI-399"). RI-399 is a national dispute resolution procedure, designed to resolve disputes over jurisdictional work assignments in any postal facility.*fn1

Pursuant to RI-399, as of the date of its signing, all jurisdictional work assignments that were not then under dispute were "deemed as a proper assignment for that facility," and both unions agreed not to "challenge[] jurisdictional work assignments in any operations as they" existed at the time. (App. at 195.) Those undisputed work assignments were then to be listed in "inventories" of work assignments maintained at the local level. Going forward, any disputes over work assignments were to be resolved through the process outlined in RI-399, and those work assignments were then to be added to the inventories.

While RI-399 foreclosed the filing of new disputes over existing work assignments, it recognized three situations where new disputes could arise: (1) new or consolidated facilities; (2) new work in existing facilities; or (3) operational changes in existing facilities. It is undisputed that only the last of those situations is relevant to this case. RI-399 prohibits USPS from "engag[ing] in operational changes for the purpose of affecting the jurisdictional assignments in a facility," but recognizes that, nonetheless, operational changes "may result in the reassignment of functions from one craft to another."*fn2 (App. at 201-02.) Where operational changes do result in reassignment, USPS is required to present those changes, thirty days before they go into effect, to a Local Dispute Resolution Council consisting of representatives from each party to RI-399. The adversely affected party is then permitted to appeal the changes to binding tripartite arbitration, which must be held within sixty days after the changes go into effect. If, at any point, the Six months after the execution of RI-399, an explanatory document called a "Q & A" about the RI-399 procedures (the "Q&A") was issued and signed by each of the three national parties. Item 3 in the Q&A clarifies that RI-399 applies even to grievances alleging violations of contracts other than RI-399, so long as one of the parties believes that the grievance relates to a jurisdictional dispute. In such situations, the question of whether the grievance relates to a jurisdictional dispute must itself be subjected to the RI-399 procedures (culminating in tripartite arbitration) prior to any resolution of the merits of the grievance. Item 4 states that any bilateral settlement agreement arising out of a jurisdictional dispute "is not a proper settlement and is considered null and void." (Supp. App. at 55.)

2) The USPS-APWU Bipartite Grievance Resolution Procedure

Separate and distinct from RI-399‟s tripartite procedure for resolving jurisdictional disputes is a broad bipartite grievance resolution procedure contained in the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") between USPS and APWU. That procedure is contained in Article 15 of the CBA ("Article 15") and is designed to resolve any grievance between USPS and APWU, with "grievance" defined as "a dispute, difference, disagreement or complaint between the parties related to wages, hours, and conditions of employment." (App. at 205.) On its face,Article 15 applies only to disputes "between the parties" -- i.e., between USPS and APWU -- and, therefore, Article 15 is inapplicable to jurisdictional disputes involving both APWU and NPMHU (which is not a party to the CBA or Article 15). Instead, as noted above, all jurisdictional disputes must be resolved pursuant to RI-399.

For those grievances governed by Article 15, a four-step resolution procedure is defined, commencing with a discussion of the grievance with a local supervisor and escalating as needed through more formal local, regional, and national procedures, culminating in binding bipartite arbitration. Article 15, of ...


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