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Operative Plasterers' & Cement Masons' Int'l Ass'n of U.S. & Canada, AFL-CIO v. Pullman Shared Sys. Tech., Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 17, 2012

PULLMAN SHARED SYS. TECH., INC., et al., Respondents.

Page 252

Brian A. Powers, O'Donoghue & O'Donoghue LLP, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Michael Timothy Anderson, Murphy Anderson, PLLC, Boston, MA, Arlus Jeremiah Stephens, Murphy Anderson, PLLC, Bridget O'Connor, International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers, Washington, DC, for Respondents.


JAMES E. BOASBERG, District Judge.

This case arises from a dispute between two rival labor organizations— the Operative Plasterers' & Cement Masons' International Association, AFL-CIO (OPCMIA) and the International Union of Bricklayers and Craftworkers (BAC)— over who should receive the work assignment on a construction project in Indiana from contractor Pullman Shared Systems Technology, Inc. (SST). In filing this suit, Petitioner OPCMIA seeks to vacate an arbitration award upholding SST's assignment of the work to BAC. OPCMIA contends that this decision cannot stand because the arbitrator ignored the plain language of the parties' agreement and dispensed his own brand of industrial justice. Both sides now move for summary judgment. Under the " extremely deferential" standard of review for such labor decisions, the Court will confirm the award, thereby granting Respondents' Motion and denying Petitioner's.

I. Background

The background facts in this case are largely agreed upon. In the construction industry, there has been general recognition that two unions— BAC and OPCMIA— dominate the trades of plastering and cement-finishing work. See Pet.'s Mot., Exh. 2 (May 15, 2012, Greenberg Arbitration Award) at 4. For many years the two unions worked cooperatively, crafting a map that divided up the country on a county-by-county basis so that the jurisdiction of each could be clearly demarcated.

Page 253

See id. In 1998, however, this arrangement was abrogated, resulting in a " period of significant and on-going friction as the unions battled to win new work in territory historically reserved to the other" and brought numerous jurisdictional challenges before organized labor's dispute-resolution bodies. See id. at 4-5. The dispute here over which union would handle a work assignment to install fireproofing materials on an SST project at a BP Products plant in Whiting, Indiana, is the latest in this ongoing chronicle. See id. at 2.

Both unions and SST are parties to the National Maintenance Agreement (NMA), a collective bargaining agreement between an employer and labor organizations " for the purpose of construction, maintenance, repair, replacement, renovation and modernization work" performed by that employer. See Pet.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (SUMF), ¶¶ 4-5. All parties agree that the NMA sets forth a jurisdictional dispute-resolution process, which requires that such disputes be submitted to an umpire and articulates the standards and criteria the umpire is to use when deciding a jurisdictional dispute. See id., ¶¶ 6-9. Pursuant to Article 1, Section 7 of the NMA, the parties sought to resolve this dispute internally; when that was unsuccessful, OPCMIA requested arbitration on May 1, 2012. See id., ¶¶ 12-14. A hearing was held on May 10 by Umpire Paul Greenberg in Washington, D.C., and five days later he issued an award confirming SST's assignment of the project to BAC. See id., ¶¶ 15, 18, 26.

OPCMIA then petitioned this Court to vacate Greenberg's award, naming both BAC and SST as Respondents, and all parties now move for summary judgment regarding the award's enforceability. See ECF Nos. 1, 11 & 13.

II. Analysis

A. Deferential Review

In a recent opinion, curiously omitted from Petitioner's Motion, this Circuit provided a comprehensive discussion of the " extremely deferential standard of review for labor arbitration decisions." Nat'l Postal Mail Handlers Union v. Am. Postal Workers Union, 589 F.3d 437, 439 (D.C.Cir.2009). A labor arbitrator's decision " must be upheld so long as it ‘ draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement.’ That standard is met ... if the arbitrator ‘ premise[d] his award on his construction of the contract.’ " Id. at 441 (quoting United Steelworkers of Am. v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 597 & 598, 80 S.Ct. 1358, 4 L.Ed.2d 1424 (1960)).

Courts " are not authorized to review the arbitrator's decision on the merits despite allegations that the decision rests on factual errors or misinterprets the parties' agreement." Major League Baseball Players Ass'n v. Garvey, 532 U.S. 504, 509, 121 S.Ct. 1724, 149 L.Ed.2d 740 (2001). If an arbitrator is " even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority," then a court may not overturn his decision, even if the court is convinced the arbitrator committed " serious error." Id. (quoting E. Associated Coal Corp. v. United Mine Workers of Am., Dist. 17, 531 U.S. 57, 62, 121 S.Ct. 462, 148 L.Ed.2d 354 (2000)) (internal quotation marks omitted). A court may vacate a labor arbitration award " only when the arbitrator strays from interpretation and application of the agreement and effectively ‘ dispense[s] his own brand of industrial justice.’ " Id. (quoting Enterprise Wheel, 363 U.S. at 597, 80 S.Ct. 1358); see also Allied Pilots Ass'n v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 734 F.Supp.2d, 90, 96-98 (D.D.C.2010).

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In sum, as this Circuit noted in Nat'l Postal, the " relevant question under the Supreme Court's precedents is not whether the arbitrator erred— or even seriously erred— in interpreting the contract. Rather, the question is whether the arbitrator was ‘ even arguably construing or applying the contract.’ " 589 F.3d at 441 (quoting Garvey, 532 U.S. at 509, 121 S.Ct. 1724). Significantly, " [c]ourts do not review the substantive reasonableness of a labor arbitrator's contract interpretation. This extraordinarily deferential standard is essential to preserve the efficiency and finality of the labor arbitration process." See id. (internal citations omitted). This deference ensures that the judiciary does not usurp the function entrusted to the arbitrator. See Garvey, 532 U.S. at 510, 121 S.Ct. 1724; see also Allied Pilots Ass'n, 734 F.Supp.2d at 96-98 (recognizing that policy of settling labor disputes by arbitration would be undermined if courts could disturb merits of awards).

Petitioner acknowledges the substantial deference that the Court must afford the arbitrator's decision, but contends that even under such a standard, the award cannot stand since " [n]arrow review— even extremely narrow review— does not mean ‘ no review.’ " Pet.'s Mot. at 8; see also Pet.'s Opp. at 3 (" a United States District judge wields a gavel, not a rubber stamp" ); Verizon Washington, D.C. Inc. v. Commc'ns Workers of America, AFL-CIO, 571 F.3d 1296, 1304 (D.C.Cir.2009) (Henderson, J., concurring) (noting that while courts ...

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