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IBT/HERE EMPLOYEE REP. C. v. GATE GOURMET DIVISION AMERICAS

December 12, 2005.

IBT/HERE EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATIVES' COUNCIL, Plaintiff,
v.
GATE GOURMET DIVISION AMERICAS et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO HOLD THE CASE IN ABEYANCE*fn1
I. INTRODUCTION
This matter comes before the court on the motion of IBT/HERE*fn2 Employee Representatives' Council (the "Union") to hold this case in abeyance pending a ruling by a neutral arbitrator with the System Board of Adjustment ("SBA"). The Union represents employees of Gate Gourmet, Inc. (the "Company"),*fn3 and alleges that the Company unlawfully failed to pay employee health benefit contributions between July and August of 2005. Because a ruling in the pending arbitration proceeding may moot the remaining claims in this case or obviate the need for further judicial intervention, the court grants the plaintiff's motion to hold this case in abeyance.

  II. BACKGROUND

  A. Factual Background

  In April 2000, the parties executed a collective bargaining agreement (the "National Master Agreement" or "NMA") that became effective on June 1, 2000, and amendable on June 1, 2004. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-12. The Company services airlines, and as the airline industry has struggled in recent years, so has the Company. Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Temp. Restraining Ord. ("Defs.' Opp'n to TRO") at 7-9 & Goeke Decl. ("Goeke Decl.") ¶¶ 5-11. In pursuing cost reduction programs, the Company endeavored to lower its "single largest expense," labor costs. Goeke Decl. ¶ 13. Beginning in December 2003, and in anticipation of the impending amendability of the NMA, the Company entered into negotiations with the Union to cut costs.*fn4 Defs.' Opp'n to TRO at 10; see also Am. Compl. ¶ 13 (describing the Company's proposals as "deep, across-the-board-cuts in wages and benefits").

  In May 2005, following unsuccessful negotiations, the Company provided the Union with the Company's "final offer," a package of reduced benefits and compensation representing the Company's last effort to negotiate with the Union.*fn5 Id. ¶ 18; Defs.' Opp'n to TRO at 10 & Bralich Decl. ("Bralich Decl.") ¶ 5 & Ex. B. The Company then announced that if the Union did not approve the proposal, the Company would require all employees (i.e., Union and non-Union) under the plan to pay the full cost of medical coverage, with no contributions from the Company. Am. Compl. ¶ 20; Defs.' Opp'n to TRO at 14; Bralich Decl. ¶ 18. The Union overwhelmingly rejected the offer, negotiations ended, and the Company applied for mediation. Am. Compl. ¶ 17; Defs.' Opp'n to TRO at 10.

  B. Procedural Background

  The plaintiff filed a complaint in this court and moved for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") and a preliminary injunction. See generally, Am. Compl. The plaintiff sought to enjoin the defendant from ceasing medical coverage contributions. See id. Following expedited briefing, this court denied the plaintiff's TRO request. Mem. Op. (July 1, 2005). The court ruled that this case involves a "minor" dispute as defined by the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151, et seq., and that the Union therefore cannot seek a "major" dispute injunction. Id. at 7-10. As planned, the Company terminated health coverage contributions on July 1, 2005. Following this court's ruling, the parties participated in arbitration in September 2005. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 4. The parties agreed to bifurcate the arbitration so as to address liability first, and remedies, if necessary, second. Pl.'s Mot. to Hold Case in Abeyance ("Pl.'s Mot.") at 2. In addition, through ongoing negotiations, the Company agreed to reinstate health coverage contributions as of September 1, 2005, at a rate equal to the pre-July 1, 2005 contribution rate. Id. Although the arbitrator handling this matter has not yet rendered a decision, the plaintiff anticipates that the arbitrator will issue a ruling on the issue of liability by the end of 2005. Id.

  The defendants move to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the court's June 30, 2005 ruling and the Company's reinstatement of health coverage contributions moot the plaintiff's claims.*fn6 Id. The Company makes two specific arguments in support of this position. First, the defendants argue that because the court ruled that this case involves a minor dispute as defined under the RLA, the court does not have jurisdiction to entertain the plaintiff's claims. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 5-6 (citing July 1, 2005 Memorandum Opinion at 2, 7-8). The defendants' interpretation of case law dictates that parties engaged in minor disputes "must take their grievances to binding arbitration, and each is free to act under its interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement." Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. ("Defs.' Opp'n") (quoting Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. E. Airlines, Inc., 869 F.2d 1518, 1520 (D.C. Cir. 1989)). Second, and as a corollary of the first argument, the defendants argue that the jurisdiction of the SBA in these minor disputes is "mandatory, exclusive and comprehensive." Defs.' Opp'n at 6 (quoting Bhd. of Locomotive Eng'rs v. Louisville & Nat'l Rail Road Co., 373 U.S. 33, 38 (1963)).

  The plaintiff makes two arguments in opposition. First, the plaintiff argues that this case is not moot because the Company's employees are entitled to compensation for the time period during which the Company did not make health coverage contributions. Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 3. Second, the plaintiff argues that the court, not the SBA, has jurisdiction to enforce the commands of the RLA. Id. at 6.

  In addition to filing an opposition to the defendants' motion to dismiss, the plaintiff filed a motion to hold this case, and a ruling on the defendants' motion to dismiss, in abeyance pending a decision by the arbitrator. See generally, Pl.'s Mot. The plaintiff argues that the arbitrator's decision may obviate, or at least lessen, the need for further judicial involvement. Pl.'s Mot. at 4 (stating that "neither the parties nor this Court can state with assurance that further involvement of this Court will or will not be needed to make the employees whole"). The court turns to the plaintiff's motion.

  III. ANALYSIS

  A. Legal Standard for Stay

  A trial court has broad discretion to stay all proceedings in an action pending the resolution of independent proceedings elsewhere. See Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936). "The power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants." Airline Pilots Ass'n v. Miller, 523 U.S. 866, 879 n. 6 (1998) (quoting Landis, 299 U.S. at 254-55). Indeed, "[a] trial court may, with propriety, find it is efficient for its own docket and the fairest course for the parties to enter a stay of an action before it, pending resolution of independent proceedings which bear upon the ...


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