International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, AFL-CIO, and UAW Local 716 Plaintiffs - Appellants
Trane U.S. Inc. Defendant-Appellee
Submitted: September 25, 2019
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Arkansas - Ft. Smith
LOKEN, COLLOTON, and KOBES, Circuit Judges.
February 2017, Trane U.S. Inc. ("Trane") announced
that it would close its manufacturing plant in Fort Smith,
Arkansas. After discussions, Trane and Local 716 of the
United Automobile Workers ("the Union") signed a
Memorandum of Agreement extending the four-year
collective-bargaining agreement ("CBA") that
governed terms and conditions of plant employment to the
earlier of the plant's closing or April 1, 2019. In May
2017, the Union submitted two grievances regarding early
retirement benefits for employees terminated as the result of
the plant closing. Trane denied the grievances, refused to
submit them to arbitration, and the Union filed this suit to
compel arbitration or, in the alternative, to enforce the
CBA's substantive terms. The plant closed on July 28,
2017, but any duty to arbitrate did not expire with the CBA.
See Garland Coal & Mining Co. v. United Mine
Workers, 778 F.2d 1297, 1303 (8th Cir. 1985). The Union
now appeals the district court's order denying the
Union's motion to compel arbitration of the grievances.
Reviewing the denial of a motion to compel arbitration de
novo, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
IBEW v. GKN Aerospace N. Am., Inc., 431 F.3d 624,
626-27 (8th Cir. 2005) (standard of review).
Governing Arbitrability Principles.
Union filed this action under Section 301 of the Labor
Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, to enforce
the CBA and, as is common, sought an order compelling Trane
to arbitrate two unresolved grievances. Trane argues the
CBA's arbitration provisions exclude these grievances.
The principles we apply in deciding whether to compel
arbitration are well established:
(1) arbitration is a matter of contract and may not be
ordered unless the parties agreed to submit the dispute to
arbitration; (2) unless the parties provide otherwise, courts
decide the issue of whether the parties agreed to arbitrate;
(3) courts cannot weigh the merits of the grievance in
determining whether the claim is subject to arbitration; and
(4) when an arbitration clause exists in a contract, there is
a presumption of arbitrability unless it is clear that the
arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation
that covers the dispute.
Teamsters Local Union No. 688 v. Indus. Wire Prods.,
Inc., 186 F.3d 878, 881 (8th Cir. 1999), citing AT
& T Tech., Inc. v. Commc'ns Workers of Am., 475
U.S. 643, 648-50 (1986).
presumption of arbitrability does not "override the
principle that a court may submit to arbitration only those
disputes that the parties have agreed to submit." The
presumption applies "only where it reflects, and derives
its legitimacy from, a judicial conclusion that arbitration
of a particular dispute is what the parties [to a CBA]
intended." Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of
Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 302-03 (2010) (quotation
omitted). A particular grievance is excluded from arbitration
"(1) where the collective bargaining agreement contains
an express provision clearly excluding the grievance involved
from arbitration; or (2) where the agreement contains an
ambiguous exclusionary provision and the record evinces the
most forceful evidence of a purpose to exclude the grievance
from arbitration." UAW v. Gen. Elec. Co., 714
F.2d 830, 832 (8th Cir. 1983) (quotation omitted); see
United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation
Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582-83 (1960).
Union seeks to arbitrate grievances over the denial of two
benefits the CBA allegedly required Trane to provide to
eligible employees after plant closure, a "bridge"
benefit and a temporary pension supplement benefit. The CBA
is a lengthy, complex contract. As will become clear, the
grievances alleged violations of two very different CBA
provisions. Accordingly, we will separately address the
arbitrability of each grievance.
The Bridge Benefit.
Complaint alleged that the parties agreed in Article XX of
the CBA that a laid-off worker would have one year to
commence his or her pension without a break in service,
avoiding considerable reductions to his or her monthly
pension payments. The provisions of Article XX, entitled
"Job and Income Security," governed the
"severance pay" that an eligible employee was
entitled to receive if "employment is terminated because
of plant closing." In the Memorandum of Agreement
extending the CBA until the Fort Smith plant closed, Trane
expressly agreed that it would "follow the terms and
conditions in Article XX with regards to . . . severance
pay." The Complaint alleged that Trane nonetheless
refused to comply with the "bridge" benefit
provided in Article XX, Section 2(b)(3) (¶ 166):
(3) An eligible employee who will become eligible for
optional retirement under the Pension Plan within one year
[from termination because of plant closing] and who meets the
conditions specified in Sub-paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii) of
Subsection (b)(1), may receive any Severance Pay to which he
is entitled under Section 2, and later elect optional