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Exide Technologies v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers And Its Local Union No. 700

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division

May 23, 2019




         On May 16, 2018, Exide Technologies (“Exide”) filed a complaint (Doc. 1) in this Court. Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), Exide asks the Court to vacate an opinion and award entered by an arbitrator following arbitration of a collective bargaining agreement dispute. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and its local union No. 700 (“IBEW Local 700”) answered and counterclaimed (Doc. 13), asking the Court to confirm the arbitrator's opinion and award. Exide filed an answer (Doc. 15). The parties agreed (Doc. 17) that no discovery was necessary in this matter because the record and evidence had been fully developed during the arbitration and postarbitration process, and that because no issues of fact were in dispute, no bench trial was necessary and the parties could submit the matter on summary judgment.

         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. IBEW Local 700 filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 19), statement of facts (Doc. 20), and brief (Doc. 21) in support. Exide filed a response (Doc. 25) and statement of facts (Doc. 26) in opposition. IBEW Local 700 filed a reply (Doc. 29). Separately, Exide filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 22), brief (Doc. 23), and statement of facts (Doc. 24) in support. IBEW Local 700 filed a response (Doc. 27) and statement of facts (Doc. 28) in opposition. Exide filed a reply (Doc. 30). On March 7, 2019, the Court held a hearing on the motions.

         I. Background

         The Court has carefully reviewed the parties' statements of fact and responses to statements of fact, considered those statements of fact in light of clarifications provided at the hearing, and concludes that there are no genuine disputes of material fact and that these motions for summary judgment are not affected by inferences to be drawn from the facts. Rather, every purported dispute of fact is instead a dispute between the parties about the legal import of that fact.

         Exide is a battery recycler and manufacturer with a plant in Fort Smith, Arkansas. IBEW Local 700 is the recognized bargaining agent for production and maintenance employees at the plant. IBEW Local 700 and Exide are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) (Doc. 1-2), which agrees that unresolved grievances are to be submitted to arbitration. The CBA also addresses Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave administration.

         On August 22, 2016, Exide notified employees that Unum would be assuming responsibility for FMLA administration. On August 31, 2016, IBEW Local 700 filed a grievance, claiming that the transition to Unum was a major change in terms and conditions of employment. Exide denied the grievance, and IBEW Local 700 filed two unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”). The cases were consolidated, the unfair labor practice charges were conditionally dismissed under the NLRB's deferral policy, and the dispute regarding the CBA was submitted to binding arbitration in accordance with the CBA's provisions.

         Following arbitration, the arbitrator issued an opinion and award (Doc. 1-2, pp. 238-255) finding that Exide violated the CBA and committed an unfair labor practice in violation of § 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 158 when it unilaterally contracted with a third party administrator to administrate FMLA leave and refused to submit to collective bargaining on that issue. The arbitrator ordered Exide to return to its prior FMLA leave administration policies, make whole any employees who endured discipline or monetary loss for failing to follow the new policies, and submit to collective bargaining on this issue at IBEW Local 700's request. Exide filed this action to vacate the arbitrator's findings and award, and the parties have briefed the matter for judgment.

         II. Standard of Review

         Where there is no genuine dispute of material fact, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that . . . the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Where cross-motions are filed, each motion is considered in its own right. Wermager v. Cormorant Township Board, 716 F.2d 1211, 1214 (8th Cir. 1983).

         Where, as here, a party files an action pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 185 concerning a collective bargaining agreement dispute that has been subject to arbitration, the Court “review[s] an arbitrator's award to determine whether: (1) the parties agreed to arbitrate; and (2) the arbitrator had the power to make the award.” PSC Custom, LP v. United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, Local No. 11-770, 763 F.3d 1005, 1008 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Excel Corp. v. United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, Local 431, 102 F.3d 1464, 1467 (8th Cir. 1996)). And where, as here, the parties agree to arbitrate and the arbitrator has authority, “[j]udicial review of an arbitrator's decision is extremely limited.” Id.

[T]he arbitrator's award settling a dispute with respect to the interpretation or application of a labor agreement must draw its essence from the contract and cannot simply reflect the arbitrator's own notions of industrial justice. But as long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority, that a court is convinced he committed serious error does not suffice to overturn his decision.

United Paperworks International Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987). Where the arbitrator is arguably construing the contract within the scope of his authority, the Court “must accord an extraordinary level of deference to the arbitrator's award.” Boise Cascade Corp. v. Paper Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers, 309 F.3d 1075, 1080 (8th Cir. 2002).

         An arbitration award fails to draw its essence from the contract when “it is contrary to the plain language of the agreement, Bureau of Engraving, Inc. v. Graphic Communications International Union, Local 1B, 164 F.3d 427, 429 (8th Cir. 1999); where “relevant language [is] not considered by the arbitrator” or the “decision does not account for essential clauses and does not give a reason for the failure to mention essential clauses, ” George A. Hormel & Co. v. United Food & Commercial Workers, Local 9, AFL-CIO, 879 F.2d 347, 351 (8th Cir. 1989); or where the contract is silent or ambiguous as to the parties' intent ...

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