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AMERICAN SMELTING & REF. CO. v. TACOMA SMELTERMEN'

April 24, 1959

AMERICAN SMELTING AND REFINING COMPANY, a New Jersey corporation, Plaintiff
v.
TACOMA SMELTERMEN'S UNION LOCAL NO. 25, INTERNATIONAL UNION OF MINE, MILL AND SMELTER WORKERS, a labor organization; and International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, a labor organization, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BOLDT

This action was brought under Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 (29 U.S.C.A. § 185) seeking damages and equitable relief for the alleged violation of a collective bargaining agreement between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce.

The ultimate questions presented in this hearing on plaintiff's motion for issuance of a temporary injunction and restraining order are limited to: (1) Does this court have jurisdiction even to consider granting any equitable relief under any conceivable circumstances within the issues framed by the pleadings in the case? (2) Assuming an affirmative answer to the first question, what, if any, interlocutory or temporary equitable relief can and should be granted pending trial of the case on its merits?

 Decision of the stated questions requires, first and foremost, an interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement on which the action is based. At a previous hearing counsel for both sides, without any reservations or exceptions, agreed that such interpretation would be required and counsel were forewarned to present at this hearing any evidence thought necessary to enable the court to properly interpret the contract.

 It is not surprising that no evidence has been offered by either side as purporting to bear upon the interpretation of the contract, because the contract language is so clear and simple as to leave not the remotest doubt what the contract means and what the parties in tended it to mean. Certainly that would be true if this were a contract between parties in any other relationship under any circumstances. If it were a contract between parties concerned with any matter other than labor relations in the operation of an industrial plant, there would be no difficulty whatever in understanding what this contract requires of each of the parties with respect of the subject with which we are concerned in this litigation.

 The contract provides 'that in order to define the rights of the Company's employees and the Union so as to provide peaceful adjustment of differences which may arise from time to time between the Company and its employees, or the Union, the parties hereto agree as follows: * * *' That is what these parties said their purpose was and what they meant to do when they entered into this agreement. They intended to provide in the contract for a method of peaceful adjustment of any differences which might arise from time to time between the Company and its employees or the Union, and for that purpose they agreed as provided in the succeeding provisions: Article I, Recognition and Dues Deductions; Article II, Workweek and Overtime; Article III, Dust Differential; Article IV, Shift Differential; Article V, Holidays; Article VI, Vacations; Article VII, Health and Welfare; each of these articles containing detailed provisions controlling the matters designated by the general headings.

 Article VIII is designated 'Grievance Procedure.' Paragraph A thereof provides: 'The Union agrees to elect annually a committee of six (6), who, with the Financial Secretary, will represent the Union as a bargaining committee for all employees.' Paragraph B provides: ' Any grievance or misunderstanding concerning any ruling, practice or working condition, or any dispute arising as to the meaning, application or claim of violation of any provision of this agreement or any grievance between an employee and his foreman shall be handled as follows:' (Emphasis added.) This language is as sweeping, all inclusive and emphatic as could be used to describe the kind of disputes and grievances to be handled by the grievance procedure, and to mandatorily bind the parties to follow such procedure during the term of the contract.

 Subparagraph B(1) then provides that any grievance concerning such a ruling, practice, condition or misunderstanding et cetera 'shall be taken up by the employee with his foreman within seven (7) working days, and the department shop steward shall be present. If desired, the grievance may be taken up further with the departmental assistant superintendent and in turn with the General Superintendent. If desired, the Business Agent may be present.' These quoted words provide Step One of the agreed grievance procedure.

 Subparagraph B(2) then describes Step Two as follows: 'If no settlement is reached under (1), the grievance shall be presented in writing for consideration at a meeting between Management and the Committee of the Union. Any settlement arrived at under Step 2 shall be reduced to writing and, after acceptance, copies shall be provided for the Union Business Agent, the departmental supervisor and the foreman involved.'

 Finally, subparagraph F provides: 'There shall be no work stoppage nor a threat of the same on the part of an individual or a group, nor a lockout on the part of the Company, while a grievance is in the course of being presented, investigated, considered, or arbitrated. In the event of such a stoppage, any investigation, consideration, or arbitration of the grievance will be automatically suspended until such stoppage is ended and the employees have returned to work.'

 The remaining eleven articles of the contract pertain to seniority and various other subjects.

 It is clear that when this contract was entered into these parties agreed, by language unqualified and unequivocal, that the grievance procedure stated in the contract would be the method, mandatory and exclusive on the part of both Company and Union, by which any and all grievances arising between the parties would be adjusted and concluded. It is perfectly plain that if any conceivable difference, dispute or grievance is not closed at Step One as provided in Article VIII B(1), then Step Two as provided in Article VIII B(2) may be invoked. According to the terms of the contract, this step then concludes with a decision by Management stating its position with respect to the grievance.

 Article VIII B(3) simply provides that the Union may, if it wishes, challenge Management's decision under Step Two by applying for arbitration within 20 days. If the Union does not so challenge the decision as made by Management in Step Two, the following specific provision of the contract comes into effect: 'If Management's decision in Step (2) is not appealed by the Union's invoking arbitration within the time limit of twenty (20) calendar days provided, the particular grievance shall be deemed closed in accordance with the decision in that step.' The matter could hardly be stated more plainly or emphatically.

 It does not seem open to any reasonable doubt but that whatever the nature of the grievance, difference, or dispute arising between the Company and its employees or their Union, the contract provides a clearly stated method for its investigation, adjustment and settlement. It is also equally clear that the parties intended this to be the only means by which controversies between them should be adjusted and concluded and so provided in their contract, stating that its purpose was 'to define the rights of the Company's employees and the Union so ...


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