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American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO v. United States Postal Service

March 12, 2003

AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION, AFL-CIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge

Document Nos.: 4, 10

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS, OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND REMANDING THE CASE TO THE ORIGINAL ARBITRATOR

I. INTRODUCTION

This dispute over an arbitration award stems from a 1997 action by Postal Service officials in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to abolish eleven custodial positions at the local mail facility. Plaintiff American Postal Workers Union, a labor union representing postal employees, filed a grievance charging that defendant Postal Service's action violated the terms of the parties' national and local collective bargaining agreements. After the arbitrator issued an arbitration award in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant remedied its actions but not to the satisfaction of the plaintiff, who then brought suit in this court. The action comes before the court on the parties' dispositive motions. Because the meaning of the arbitration award is ambiguous, the court denies without prejudice the defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment; denies without prejudice the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment; and remands the case to the original arbitrator for clarification.

II. BACKGROUND

Governing the terms of employment at the Sioux Falls facility are two collective bargaining agreements: (1) a national agreement, entered into at the national level and covering a broad range of employment topics, and (2) a local memorandum of understanding ("local MOU"), entered into at the local level and addressing the very specific topic of duty assignments for Sioux Falls custodians. Compl. ¶ 6; Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Mot.") at 2-3, Ex. 1; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mot.") at 1-2. Under the National Agreement, all employment disputes between the parties must follow a grievance procedure that, if the dispute cannot be resolved, culminates in arbitration before a neutral arbitrator. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9; Pl.'s Mot. at 1-2; Def.'s Mot. at 1.

In February 1997, the defendant abolished eleven custodial positions at the Sioux Falls facility. Compl. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Mot. at 3; Def.'s Mot. at 1. Alleging that this action violated the national agreement and the local MOU, the plaintiff promptly filed a grievance. Compl. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Mot. at 3; Def.'s Mot. at 1. The grievance proved difficult to resolve, and the plaintiff eventually submitted it to an arbitrator. Compl. ¶ 9; Pl.'s Mot. at 3; Def.'s Mot. at 1. In the meantime, the defendant moved its Sioux Falls operations to a new, much larger facility. Compl. ¶ 14; Pl.'s Mot. at 3; Def.'s Mot. at 2, 4-5.

The arbitrator heard the case in November 1999. Compl. ¶ 10; Pl.'s Mot. at 3; Def.'s Mot. at 1. The issue before the arbitrator was whether "the employer violate[d] the terms of the national agreement and local memorandum of understanding when it abolished and posted for bid all custodial laborer duty assignments at the Sioux Falls general mail facility in February 1997, and if so, what . . . the remedy [should] be." Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 2.

Three months later, in January 2000, the arbitrator issued an award against the defendants, find[ing] and conclud[ing] that with the specific facts of the subject grievance, and within the meaning of the National Agreement and applicable Local Memorand[um] of Understanding, the evidence is more than sufficient to sustain a finding that the Employer violated the National and Local agreements when it abolished and reported eleven maintenance craft positions in February1997. Accordingly an award will issue, as follows:

AWARD

THE EMPLOYER VIOLATED THE NATIONAL AGREEMENTANDTHELOCAL MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING WHEN IT ABOLISHED ELEVEN (11) CUSTODIAL LABOR POSITIONS WITHOUT REQUISITE NOTICE TO THE UNION.

REMEDY

THE EMPLOYER SHALL COMPLY WITH THE PROVISIONS OF THE OCTOBER 16, 1995 LOCAL MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING AND FORTHWITH RESCINDTHE ABOLISHMENT AND REPOSTING NOTICES OF FEBRUARY AND MARCH1997. FURTHER, [THREE] EMPLOYEES . . . SHALL RECEIVE OUT OF SCHEDULE PREMIUM PAY[.] Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1 at 14 (emphasis added).

To comply with the arbitration award, the defendant took two steps: first, it re-posted the custodial positions, and second, it made the required out-of-schedule payments. Compl. ΒΆ 17; Pl.'s Mot. at 5; Def.'s Mot. at 4. Believing that the award's reference to local MOU compliance merely provided the context for the re-posting and payment requirements, the defendant did not apply the local MOU to its operations at the new facility, instead ...


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