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American Postal Workers Union v. United States Postal Service

August 7, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy Jr. United States District Judge


The American Postal Workers Union ("APWU") brings these actions alleging breach of both a collective bargaining agreement and a settlement agreement entered into between APWU and the United States Postal Service ("USPS"). APWU seeks an order enforcing and directing USPS's compliance with an April 2003 arbitration award, Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, Civ. No. 05-1771, Ex. A (the "Award"), and an order compelling future arbitrations pursuant to the settlement agreement. Before the court are the parties' motions for summary judgment [#19, #28]. Upon consideration of the motions, the oppositions thereto, and the record of the cases, the court concludes that judgment must be granted in favor of USPS.


The general background of these actions is set forth at length in the court's prior memorandum opinion and order issued on March 23, 2006 [#18], and is incorporated herein by reference. Summarized briefly, the core dispute is whether Address Management Systems ("AMS") Specialists at USPS are or should be part of the APWU bargaining unit, or, alternatively, whether the work performed by AMS Specialists should be assigned to APWU. The 2003 Award answered yes, at least as to the primary question. After the entry of the court's prior order, and before briefing on the parties' summary judgment motions was completed, the National Labor Relations Board (the "Board") answered to the contrary, determining that the AMS Specialist position was outside the APWU bargaining unit. See Def.'s Reply in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Reply"), Attach. 1 (NLRB Decision, Feb. 23, 2007).*fn1


Because the Board's binding decision resolves a primary aspect of this dispute, the parties have revised their contentions in support of their motions. APWU now asserts that though the AMS position is not within the APWU bargaining unit, the arbitral Award, which USPS has not sought to vacate, separately determined - and not inconsistently with the Board's decision - that the work performed by AMS Specialists falls within the unit's jurisdiction. This aspect of the Award, APWU argues, must be enforced. USPS disagrees, contending that the Board's rejection of APWU representation extends necessarily to any APWU claim to AMS Specialist work and precludes enforcement of the Award in all respects.*fn2 The court agrees with USPS.

Arbitration awards in labor disputes are generally enforceable. Sims-Madison v. Inland Paperboard and Packaging, Inc., 379 F.3d 445, 449--50 (7th Cir. 2004) ("[F]ederal courts generally must enforce an arbitration award that results from a proceeding pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement."). The issue here is whether one exception to this rule applies. That exception holds that where an arbitration award is in conflict with a decision of the Board, the Board's "superior authority" takes precedence. Carey v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 375 U.S. 261, 272 (1964); see also T. Equip. Corp. v. Mass. Laborers' Dist. Council, 166 F.3d 11 (1999) (collecting cases).*fn3 The parties do not dispute the theoretical applicability of this principle; rather, they dispute whether, regarding the work performed by AMS Specialists, there is any conflict between the 2003 arbitration Award and the Board's subsequent decision placing the position outside the APWU bargaining unit.

To answer this question, the court must determine what the Award actually accomplishes. APWU contends that the Award contains two separate determinations: (1) that the AMS position is properly within the bargaining unit, and (2) that the work performed by AMS Specialists is bargaining unit work. USPS contends that the Award was categorical as to the assignment of the position and did not separately reach the question of whether the work should be assigned to APWU. The court agrees with USPS.

The Award is quite straightforward. As identified by Professor Snow, the relevant issue to be decided was whether "the 'Address Management System Specialist' position [shall] be included in the APWU bargaining unit." Award at 3. Whether the work performed by the AMS Specialists was bargaining unit work was a question to be addressed in the alternative, if at all. Ibid. ("Alternatively, does this position contain duties belonging in the APWU bargaining unit?"); see also Def.'s Opp'n and Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 1 ¶ 19 (Decl. of Kaufman) & Attach. 11 (Hajjar Ltr. to Snow, Sept. 19, 2002) ("The question whether any part of the work of AMS personnel is clerk work is an issue which you must reach only if you find that the AMS position is properly classified as an EAS position but that all or some of the work is craft (not EAS) work."). Professor Snow addressed the first question and resolved it in APWU's favor. Accordingly, he did not reach the alternative question of whether, if the position did not belong in the bargaining unit, the work nonetheless should be assigned to bargaining unit workers. While some of Professor Snow's language is expansive and occasionally refers both to the position and to the work performed,*fn4 the import of the decision is clear: the position is within the unit, and the concomitant assignment of the work is derivative of that decision. Because the Award only reached the question of the placement of the position, and because the Board's decision to the contrary supercedes the Award in that respect, the Award is unenforceable. There is no separate work-assignment determination to enforce.*fn5


For the foregoing reasons, the court grants summary judgment in favor of USPS and against APWU regarding enforcement of the Award's assignment of AMS Specialist work to the APWU bargaining unit. An ...

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