United States District Court, D. Columbia.
For American Postal Workers Union, Afl-Cio, Plaintiff: Sarah T Kanter, Melinda Kim Holmes, O'DONNELL, SCHWARTZ, & ANDERSON, P.C, Washington, DC USA.
For United States Postal Service, Defendant: Jeremy S. Simon, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC USA.
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.
Granting Defendant's Motion To Dismiss Or, In The Alternative, For Summary Judgment; Denying Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment
Plaintiff, the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO (" APWU" or " Union" ), brought this action against Defendant, the United States Postal Service (" Postal Service" ), ostensibly seeking enforcement of a global settlement agreement that resolved a national level grievance filed under the parties' collective bargaining agreement. The Postal Service has moved to dismiss the action under Rule 12(b)(6), or in the alternative for summary judgment under Rule 56, on the basis that the APWU's lawsuit is not ripe for judicial enforcement because a dispute exists regarding how, if at all, the global settlement was intended to remedy a discrete set of past grievances, and that dispute first must be resolved through the grievance-arbitration process set forth in the collective bargaining agreement. The APWU has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment in which it argues that no dispute exists about the interpretation and application of the global settlement, and as such, further arbitration is not required before the Court can issue an enforcement order. Upon consideration of the parties' motions, the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, and the evidentiary record submitted by both parties to supplement their filings, the Court will grant the Postal Service's motion for summary judgment and deny the APWU's cross-motion for summary judgment.
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
The APWU is an unincorporated labor organization recognized by the Postal Service as the exclusive bargaining representative for postal employees in several categories, including the clerk, maintenance, and motor vehicle crafts. See Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 3; McKinnon Decl., ECF No. 12-4, at ¶ 2. The Postal Service and the APWU are parties to a collective bargaining agreement, called the " 2010 National Agreement," that sets forth the terms and conditions of employment for employees in the bargaining units represented by the APWU, as well as restrictions on the extent to which non-bargaining unit postal employees may perform designated bargaining unit work. See Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 5.
In particular, Article 1.6.B of the 2010 National Agreement states that " [i]n offices with less than 100 bargaining unit employees, supervisors are prohibited from performing bargaining unit work except as enumerated in Section 6.A.1 through 5 above or when the duties are included in the supervisor's position description." Id. ¶ 6; see also Arbitration Award, ECF No. 8-4, Reimer Decl., Ex. 2 at 3. A largely unchanged version of Article 6.1.B has been included in previous collective bargaining agreements between the parties, and the APWU and the Postal Service have gotten into numerous disputes and grievances over the years about the interpretation and application of this provision. See Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ ¶ 7-8.
Disputes about Article 6.1.B and other provisions in the 2010 National Agreement are addressed through the procedure set out in Article 15 of the collective bargaining agreement, which provides for a multi-step grievance process that culminates in arbitration either at the national, regional, or district level depending on the nature of
the underlying disagreement. See generally 2010 National Agreement, ECF No. 8-3, Reimer Decl., Ex. 1. Arbitration at the national level occurs for " cases involving interpretive issues under [the 2010 National] Agreement or supplements thereto of general application." Id. at 32-33 (Art. 15.5.D.1). In contrast, district or regional level arbitration generally concerns disputes about the application of the 2010 National Agreement to particular facts in a specific location. See id. at 28-30 (Art. 15.5.B). Article 15 also includes a mechanism for staying district and regional arbitration when either party gives notice that a new national level dispute involves an interpretive issue under the 2010 National Agreement or one of its supplements. See id. at 29-30 (Art. 15.5.B.5). Finally, Article 15 provides " that in the event of a dispute between the Union and the Employer as to the interpretation of this Agreement, such dispute may be initiated at Step 4 level by either party." Id. at 25 (Art. 15.4.D).
The last national level dispute about Article 1.6.B prior to the 2010 National Agreement was Case Q06-4Q-C 10005587. See Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 9. This dispute involved the Postal Service assigning bargaining unit work to supervisors or postmasters, rather than to bargaining unit employees. See id. Pursuant to Article 15, the APWU and the Postal Service adjudicated the dispute through Arbitrator Shyam Das, see id., and numerous other grievances and disputes between the parties relating to the same or similar issues were stayed pending resolution of the national dispute, see id. ¶ 10. In November 2010, Arbitrator Das issued an arbitration award in Case Q06-4Q-C 10005587 recognizing the APWU's claim that there was a cognizable dispute under the 2010 National Agreement and remanding the dispute to the parties for further discussion in accordance with Article 15's grievance-arbitration process. See id. ¶ 11.
In March 2011, the APWU and the Postal Service agreed to settle the national dispute through the Case Q06-4Q-C 10005587 Global Settlement (" Global Settlement" ). See id. ¶ ¶ 12-13; see also Global Settlement, ECF No. 8-3, Reimer Decl., Ex. 1 at 34-35. The Global Settlement, which became effective on May 23, 2011, established specific limits on the total number of hours of bargaining unit work a postmaster or supervisor can perform per week at different levels of post offices with less than one hundred bargaining unit employees. See Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 16; see also Global Settlement, ECF No. 8-3, Reimer Decl., Ex. 1 at 34-35. Several disputes, however, have arisen regarding the interpretation of provisions in the Global Settlement.
Of particular relevance here, one dispute involved the interpretation and application of a clause in the Global Settlement which states that " [a]ll time the supervisor or Postmaster spends staffing the window during the day will be counted towards the permissible bargaining unit work limits." Global Settlement, ECF No. 8-3, Reimer Decl., Ex. 1 at 35. In an arbitration award dated March 2013, Arbitrator Das took the APWU's position in the dispute by finding that this provision applied to all time in which, in the absence of the clerk, the window was open and not just the time in which a postmaster or supervisor actually assisted customers at the window. See Arbitration Award, ECF No. 8-4, Reimer Decl., Ex. 2 at 31-32; see also Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 26. In that same award, Arbitrator Das directed the parties to work on resolving " [i]ssues relating to remedy," and he retained " jurisdiction to decide any remedial issues that the parties are unable to resolve." Arbitration
Award, ECF No. 8-4, Reimer Decl., Ex. 2 at 32.
Following the March 2013 arbitration award, the parties were unable to agree on the appropriate remedy, if any, for the grievances and disputes that predated the award. The disagreement centered on the parties' differing interpretations of the first paragraph in the Global Settlement, which states:
The parties agree that grievance Q06-4Q-C 10005587 will be resolved effective with the signing of this settlement. The parties further understand that any cases held in abeyance pending the outcome of this case will be affected by this settlement. Those cases will be returned to the level they were held for further processing.
Global Settlement, ECF No. 8-3, Reimer Decl., Ex. 1 at 34. Specifically, the parties disagreed about how, if at all, the terms and conditions of the Global Settlement applied to disputes during two timeframes: conduct during the years preceding the effective date of the Global Settlement ( i.e., the period before May 23, 2011); and conduct during the interim period between the Global Settlement and the March 2013 arbitration award ( i.e., the period between May 23, 2011, and March 29, 2013). The term " cases held in abeyance" in the Global Settlement refers to those grievances in the first category -- that is, conduct that predated the Global Settlement. See Postal Service Resp. Brief, ECF No. 8-8, Reimer Decl., Ex. 6 at 7-8.
On August 16, 2013, in response to the APWU's remedy briefing, the Postal Service requested additional arbitration hearing days to develop the record about the proper remedy for the pre-Global Settlement cases held in abeyance. See id. at 6-7. The parties, however, were unable to identify a mutually convenient date within the 2013 calendar year for holding these hearing days. See generally Various Emails between Reimer and Holmes, ECF No. 8-10, Reimer Decl., Ex. 8. On September 12, 2013, the Postal Service's counsel emailed the APWU's counsel to clarify that he sought additional hearing days regarding only the question of the appropriate remedy for conduct preceding the Global Settlement, whereas the question about the proper remedy for conduct during the interim period -- that is, the conduct between the Global Settlement and the March 2013 arbitration award -- could be decided on the existing briefs and arbitration record. Id. at 3-4. The APWU responded by proposing to " separate out and remove" the pre-Global Settlement conduct remedy question, thus giving to the arbitrator only the question of the proper remedy for the interim conduct. See id. The next day, the Postal Service followed up to clarify that the APWU was recommending to bifurcate the issues by having the arbitrator decide the interim period remedy question based on the briefs and leaving the pre-Global Settlement conduct remedy question for " another day." Id. at 1. The APWU replied, " Yes, I think that's right." Id.
In an email on September 25, 2013, the APWU conveyed this understanding to Arbitrator Das, explaining that the parties agreed for him to decide only the interim conduct remedy question at this time. See Email from Holmes to Das, ECF No. 8-11, Reimer Decl., Ex. 9. In accordance with the APWU's directive, the arbitrator issued a supplemental remedy award in October 2013 granting the Union's desired remedy for the interim conduct; specifically, the arbitrator's award provided for, among other things, back pay to the bargaining unit employees who would have been assigned work had it not been performed by a postmaster or supervisor. See Suppl. Remedy Award, ECF No. 8-12,
Reimer Decl., Ex. 10 at 6, 11. As the parties had agreed, the supplemental award did not address the remedy for the pre-Global Settlement cases held in abeyance. See Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 31. To date, no arbitration or additional hearing days have occurred regarding the remedy for pre-Global Settlement conduct. See Reimer Decl., ECF No. 8-2, at ¶ 18; McKinnon Decl., ECF No. 12-4, at ¶ 13.
On October 29, 2013, the APWU filed the instant lawsuit asking the Court to issue a judgment ordering the Postal Service to apply the Global Settlement's work hour limitations and other terms to those grievances and disputes dealing with conduct prior to the settlement that were held in abeyance. See Compl., ECF No. 1, at 7 (" Wherefore" Paragraph). In accordance with that request, the APWU also asks that the Court award damages, including restitution and back pay, to the affected bargaining unit employees in the cases held in abeyance, just as the arbitrator ordered for the interim conduct remedy. See id.
Now before the Court are the Postal Service's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), or in the alternative for summary judgment under Rule 56, and the APWU's cross-motion for summary judgment. Through its motion, the Postal Service disagrees with the APWU's characterization that it merely seeks to enforce the Global Settlement. Instead, the Postal Service argues that the Union is attempting to avoid the collectively bargained-for grievance-arbitration process by having the Court, rather than an arbitrator, resolve the dispute about how, if at all, the Global Settlement was intended to apply to the cases held in abeyance. See Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 8, at 10.
The Postal Service further argues that the APWU has two options for resolving this dispute, neither of which involves a lawsuit in federal court: it can arbitrate the dispute, or it can choose not to arbitrate and waive the issue. See id. Either way, the Postal Service contends, until the interpretive dispute is resolved, this Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the Union's lawsuit seeking enforcement of the Global Settlement. The APWU, on the other hand, argues that no dispute exists between the parties regarding interpretation of the Global Settlement, and as such, the Court should enter judgment in ...