United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division
UNITED STEEL, PAPER AND FORESTRY, RUBBER, MANUFACTURING, ENERGY, ALLIED INDUSTRIAL AND SERVICE WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION, AFL-CIO-CLC, Plaintiff,
EAGLEPICHER TECHNOLOGIES, LLC, Defendant.
DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.
Before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. After full and careful consideration, the Court hereby GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 38) and GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 37).
Plaintiff Union brings the present action against Defendant Company pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185. Plaintiff alleges Defendant breached the terms of the parties' implied-in-fact contract by refusing to arbitrate grievances and by terminating Dave Jackson and Peggy Johnson without proper cause. Plaintiff asks the Court to enter a judgment declaring Defendant breached its obligations under the labor contract and ordering either arbitration of the grievances or reinstatement of the employees. Defendant argues the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this case because no agreement existed between the parties such that Section 301 of the LMRA applies. Defendant further argues that, even assuming a contract did exist, the contract did not contain an arbitration clause because the former arbitration clause expired when the former CBA expired and the Company has consistently disavowed any duty to arbitrate since then.
Summary judgment is proper where, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Reich v. ConAgra, Inc., 987 F.2d 1357, 1359 (8th Cir. 1993). "Where there is no dispute of material fact and reasonable fact finders could not find in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment is appropriate." Quinn v. St. Louis County, 653 F.3d 745, 750 (8th Cir. 2011). The moving party bears the burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The nonmoving party must "do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).
Because the facts in this case are largely undisputed, the question before the Court is whether either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In examining the undisputed material facts, the Court finds the parties intended the unilaterally implemented LBFO to serve as an "interim agreement." The interim agreement, however, does not require the parties to arbitrate the grievances at issue. While the arbitration clause included in the LBFO was not expressly excluded prior to its implementation, the Company's words and actions following implementation and prior to the terminations of Jackson and Johnson consistently manifested intent to disavow any duty to arbitrate. Whether the employees at issue were terminated for "proper cause" as required by the interim agreement involves questions of fact and credibility that are reserved for the factfinder at trial.
A. Undisputed Material Facts
Defendant ("Company") operates a manufacturing plant in Joplin, Missouri that produces batteries and stored power solutions for complex military and aerospace products, including missiles and aircraft. Plaintiff ("Union") is a labor organization that acts as the collective bargaining representative for a bargaining unit that consists of hourly production and maintenance workers at Defendant's facilities in Joplin, Missouri. Plaintiff oversees a local union, Local Union 812L, which acts on behalf of Plaintiff in day-to-day representation of the bargaining unit employees.
The Union and Company entered into a series of collective bargaining agreements between 1967 and 2008. The most recent collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") expired on May 2, 2008. That agreement included, among other provisions, a provision requiring "proper cause" to terminate employees and a provision requiring arbitration at the final step of the grievance procedure. Prior to the expiration of the CBA, Company and Union representatives met and attempted to negotiate a successor agreement. On or about April 28, 2008, the Company presented its "Last, Best, and Final Offer" ("LBFO") to the Union. The Union presented the Company's LBFO to its members and the members overwhelmingly voted to reject the LBFO and authorized a strike. The parties continued to negotiate after May 2, 2008 but were unable to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. On May 28, 2008, the Company advised the Union that effective June 2, 2008, the Company would unilaterally implement the terms of its April 28, 2008 LBFO with the exception of certain non-implementable terms. Shortly after the terms were implemented, the Union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, arguing the Company violated the LMRA by unilaterally implementing terms prior to bargaining to an impasse. The NLRB found no basis for the Union's charge and refused to issue a complaint.
The parties agree that since 2008 there has been no signed, written agreement governing the relationship between the parties. The Union never officially agreed to the terms of the LBFO but union employees have continued to work under the terms of the implemented LBFO for the past seven years without striking. During that time period, the Union has always retained the ability to strike, although it agreed to provide a 24-hour notice to the Company in the event of a strike. The Company, similarly, has continued to operate under the terms of the unilaterally implemented LBFO but it has consistently refused to arbitrate grievances. The Union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Company in 2009 based on the Company's refusal to arbitrate grievances at the final step of the grievance procedure; the NLRB dismissed the charge after finding no violation of the LMRA. The again parties met in 2011, 2012, and 2013 to attempt to negotiate a new CBA but were unsuccessful.
In January of 2014, employees David Jackson and Peggy Johnson were terminated for violating workplace rules that prohibit taking food into the "dry room" environment in which they work. Both employees were aware of the rules regarding food and drink in the dry room, although they argue those rules were inconsistently enforced, and both had been previously disciplined for violations of the same or similar rules. At the time of their terminations, Jackson served as the Vice President of Local 812L and Johnson served as a union steward. The Union filed grievances on behalf of Jackson and Johnson, arguing their terminations were improper because the ...