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Communications Workers of America v. Verizon Pennsylvania, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 15, 2017

COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO, DISTRICT 2-13 and COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO, LOCAL 13000, Petitioners,
v.
VERIZON PENNSYLVANIA, LLC formerly known as VERIZON PENNSYLVANIA, INC., Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM

          ROBERT F. KELLY, SR., J.

         Presently before the Court is Petitioners Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, District 2-13 and Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, Local 13000's (collectively, “the Union”) Petition to Compel Verizon to Arbitrate. Also before the Court are Respondent Verizon Pennsylvania, LLC's (“Verizon”) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, the Union's Response in Opposition to Verizon's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and Verizon's Reply to the Union's Response.[1] For the reasons noted below, the Union's Petition to Compel Verizon to Arbitrate is granted, and Verizon's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The “Verizon Sickness and Accident Disability Benefit Plan for Mid-Atlantic Associates” (“SADBP”) provides disability benefits to eligible employees in the event they suffer a physical disability to work on account of sickness or an accident. (Pet.; Ex. 2 (“SADBP”) § 1.) The SADBP incorporates the “Disability Benefits Summary Plan Description for Mid-Atlantic Associates” (“SPD”), which provides that benefits coverage ends when an employee's employment is terminated (including retirement) or when an employee has received the maximum amount of benefits under the plan. (Pet.; Ex. 3 (“SPD”) at 5.) However, if employment terminates while the employee is receiving benefits, the benefits will continue until the employee is no longer certified as “disabled” or the maximum amount of benefits is reached, whichever occurs first. (Id.)

         The Union and Verizon are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) that had an effective term of September 19, 2012 through August 1, 2015. (Pet. ¶ 9.) The CBA contains a number of provisions pertaining to grievance procedure and dispute resolution. Article 10 states that if a controversy between the parties is not satisfactorily settled, either the Union or Verizon may submit the question under dispute to arbitration in accordance with Article 13 of the CBA. (Pet.; Ex. 1 (“CBA”) § 10.06.) In turn, Article 13 provides that “[t]here shall be arbitrated only the matters specifically made subject to arbitration by the provisions of this Agreement.” (Id. § 13.01.) Article 16 is titled “Pensions and Benefits, ” and provides as follows:

16.01 During the life of this Agreement the Company will not:
16.011 Make any change in the “Verizon Pension Plan” or the “Verizon Sickness and Accident Disability Benefit Plan” which would reduce or diminish the benefits or privileges provided by the Plans for employees within the bargaining unit without the agreement of the Union.
* * *
16.02 A claim that this Article has been violated may be submitted to arbitration under Article 10. A claim of an employee within the bargaining unit that they have been deprived of any benefits or privileges to which they are entitled under the Plans may be processed as a grievance under the provisions of Article 10, but shall not be subject to arbitration. However, nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to subject the provisions of the Plans or their administration or the terms of a proposed change to arbitration.

(Id. art. 16.)

         In February 2015, the Union claims it learned Verizon was discontinuing providing certain benefits, such as healthcare and life insurance benefits, to bargaining-unit members who were terminated from Verizon and were receiving accident disability benefits. (Pet. ¶ 19.) The Unions contends that those individuals were still certified as disabled and had not received the maximum disability amount available under the SADBP. (Id. ¶ 20.) On February 6, 2015, the Union sent Verizon a letter stating that Verizon was required to provide those individuals with benefits pursuant to the CBA, Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), and the SADBP. (Id. ¶ 21; see also Pet.; Ex. 5.) On March 24, 2015, the Union filed a written grievance that charged “a violation of Articles 2, the 2012 MOU and any related articles and letters of the [CBA] that apply.” (Pet.; Ex. 7; see also Pet. ¶ 23.) The Union and Verizon then held two days of meetings regarding the grievance, but they were unable to resolve it. (Pet. ¶ 24.) On May 28, 2015, the Union emailed Verizon to confirm the grievance could not be resolved, reiterating the language in the March 14, 2015 written grievance and adding, “The Union's position is that [Verizon] made changes to the [SADBP] that reduces and diminishes the benefits and privileges provided by the plan for bargaining unit employees without the agreement of the Union.” (Pet.; Ex. 8 (“May 28, 2015 Email”); see also Pet. ¶ 24.)

         On June 3, 2015, the Union submitted to Verizon a written demand for arbitration of the grievance. (Pet.; Ex. 9; see also Pet. ¶ 25.) Verizon responded that it would not agree to arbitrate the grievance because the grievance was not substantively arbitrable and was untimely.[2] (Pet.; Ex. 10; Pet. ¶ 27.) In an email dated November 2, 2016, Verizon stated that the Union's grievance was not arbitrable under the second sentence of § 16.02 of the CBA because it was a claim for benefits. (Pet.; Ex. 10; Pet. ¶ 27.) On January 5, 2017, the Union responded by stating that the dispute concerned a violation of § 16.011 and was arbitrable under the first sentence of § 16.02. (Pet; Ex. 11; Pet. ¶ 31.)

         On April 24, 2017, the Union filed a Petition to Compel Verizon to Arbitrate pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 4 and 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). In its Petition, the Union seeks a court order compelling Verizon to arbitrate the March 24, 2015 grievance and an award of costs and reasonable attorneys' fees for pursuing the action. On June 23, 2017, Verizon filed an Answer to the Petition and a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Legal Standard for ...


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