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American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

May 08, 2003

AMERICAN BROADCASTING COMPANIES, INC., ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES, RESPONDENT. PETITION FOR REVIEW OF A DECISION OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SERVICES



(98-3525UI)

Before Terry and Steadman, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pryor, Senior Judge

Argued March 14, 2003

Petitioners seek review of a decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services ("DOES") awarding unemployment compensation to members of a local union who, in the course of a labor dispute, initiated a strike, and were later locked out by the employer until an agreement was reached. Although an examiner denied any compensation to the claimants, the Office of Appeals and Review ("OAR") reversed the decision, and awarded benefits to the claimants for the days during the labor dispute when they were precluded from returning to work.

Petitioners assert a series of challenges; we address only the question of eligibility of the claimants for benefits because that issue is dispositive of the case. We conclude that the final order of the DOES, applying D.C. Code § 51-110 (f) and awarding compensation benefits, was error. We reverse.

I.

Respondents, members of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (the "union"), Local 31, were employed by one or more of petitioners (collectively "ABC") in the District of Columbia. The collective bargaining agreement under which the union and ABC had operated expired on March 31, 1997, and until the time at which the events giving rise to the instant action took place, the parties had been unsuccessful in their periodic endeavors to reach a new agreement. At approximately 5:00 a.m. E.S.T. on November 2, 1998, members of Local 16, the New York City Local, began picketing the facilities there, thus precipitating a nationwide strike. The strike was intended to be for twenty-four hours; *fn1 however, at approximately 10:30 a.m., a series of proposed conditions to terminate the dispute were exchanged, none of which proved satisfactory to the parties. *fn2 As a result, ABC notified the union by posting a notice at its Washington News Bureau at the end of the day that ABC would thereafter exclude members of the union from the work premises. This circumstance continued until January 15, 1999, when the union agreed to provide the strike notice that ABC first requested.

On November 11, 1998, 153 union members ("union members") filed claims for unemployment benefits with the DOES. *fn3 They sought benefits effective November 1, 1998. The DOES held a hearing on the claims on December 28, 1998, and on February 18, 1999, the presiding Appeals Examiner mailed to the parties his decision denying benefits.

The union members filed a timely appeal from the Appeals Examiner's decision to the OAR. The OAR reviewed the claims and issued a proposed decision, which considered the relevant provision of the statute, D.C. Code § 51-110 (f) (2001), *fn4 a number of judicial decisions, including National Broadcasting Co. v. District Unemployment Compensation Bd., 380 A.2d 998 (D.C. 1977); Barbour v. District of Columbia Dep't of Unemployment Servs., 499 A.2d 122 (D.C. 1985), rendered by this court, as well as Pennsylvania precedent. The OAR reversed the decision of the Appeals Examiner and concluded that the claimants should be deemed eligible to receive some benefits. After considering the parties' respective views, the OAR adopted in toto the analysis in its proposed decision and effected its final decision on August 6, 1999.

The present appeal followed.

II.

A.

The outcome of this case is determined by our interpretation of the pertinent section of the statute, D.C. Code § 51-110 (f). For that reason, we begin with a statement of that provision:

An individual shall not be eligible for benefits with respect to any week if it has been found by the Director that such individual is unemployed in such week as a direct result of a labor dispute, other than a lockout, still in active progress in the establishment where he ...


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