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Unite Here Local 23 v. I.L. Creations of Maryland Inc.

United States District Court, D. Columbia

December 11, 2015

UNITE HERE LOCAL 23, Plaintiff,

          For Unite Here Local 23, Plaintiff, Counter Defendant: Arlus Jeremiah Stephens, MURPHY ANDERSON, PLLC, Washington, DC USA.

         For Il Creations of Maryland Inc., Counter Claimant, Defendants: Russell B. Berger, Offit Kurman, P.A., Baltimore, MD USA.



         Defendant I.L. Creations of Maryland Inc. (" IL Creations" ) is a food-service company that entered into a collective bargaining agreement (" CBA" ) with a labor union, Plaintiff Unite Here Local 23 (" Unite Here" ), pertaining to the employment of some of IL Creations's employees. In the fall of 2013, Unite Here filed a grievance pursuant to procedures outlined in the CBA, asserting that IL Creations was tasking non-union workers at its United States Department of Agriculture (" USDA" ) location with work that is reserved for union members under the CBA. Thereafter, IL Creations and Unite Here engaged in arbitration as prescribed in the CBA, and the arbitrator ultimately and generally resolved the dispute in Unite Here's favor. When IL Creations responded by expressly refusing to comply with the arbitrator's ruling absent a court order, the instant action followed; Unite Here seeks to enforce the arbitrator's judgment pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (" LMRA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 185. (Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ ¶ 1-5.)

         Before this Court at present is Unite Here's motion to confirm the arbitration award and also its request for an award of attorneys' fees. (Pl.'s Mot. to Confirm Arbitration Award & for an Award of Attorneys' Fees (" Pl.'s Mot." ), ECF No. 7; Pl.'s Mem. in Support of Pl.'s Mot (" Pl.'s Mem." ), ECF No. 7-1.) IL Creations opposes the motion (Def.'s Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. (" Def.'s Opp'n" ), ECF No. 15), and has also filed a separate counterclaim (Def.'s Answers, Aff. Defenses & Countercl. (" Def.'s Countercl." ), ECF No. 10), asserting that the arbitrator's award should be vacated on the grounds that the arbitrator lacked jurisdiction to resolve the dispute and that, in any event, the arbitrator's decision is substantively flawed because it deviates impermissibly from the terms of the CBA. Because this Court finds that arbitration awards are entitled to extreme deference; that IL Creations has forfeited any challenge to this arbitrator's jurisdiction to rule; and that IL Creations's attack on the arbitrator's decision comes nowhere near to overcoming the high barrier to judicial overrides of arbitrator decisions, Unite Here's motion to enforce the arbitration award will be GRANTED and IL Creations's counterclaim will be DISMISSED. In addition, as explained below, this Court concludes that Unite Here is entitled to recoup reasonable attorneys' fees that this case forced it to incur. A separate order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The CBA at issue in the instant case establishes that Unite Here members must be the individuals who perform certain positions and duties at various IL Creations facilities. ( See Collective Bargaining Agreement (" CBA" ), Ex. A to Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 7-4, at 5, 8.)[1] Specifically, and as relevant here, the agreement states that " [IL Creations] shall recognize [Unite Here] as the representative of all [IL Creations] employees . . . in the classifications listed in Exhibit B, or in classifications called by different names when performing similar duties" in various IL Creations facilities, including those in the District of Columbia. ( Id. at 5.) Exhibit B to the CBA lists sixteen different " job classifications" within the bargaining unit of represented employees, including Head Cook, Cook, Grill Cook, and Junior Cook. ( Id. at 32.) Unite Here and IL Creations also signed a Memorandum of Agreement that supplements the CBA--titled Appendix 7--that applies only to bargaining-unit employees at IL Creations's USDA location and lists similar job-classification breakdowns as those listed in Exhibit B. ( See id. at 44 (listing, inter alia, " First Cook" and " Cook" positions).)

         The CBA also establishes processes for grievances and arbitration. For example, the agreement lays out a two-step process for grieving " any dispute arising out of the expressed terms or conditions contained within th[e] [CBA]" and makes clear that this process must be followed at the outset. ( Id. at 21-22.) First, any grievance must be " submitted in writing to the General Manager within [ten] calendar days of its occurrence or of the date when the employee or the Union first became aware of the circumstances giving rise to the alleged grievance." ( Id. at 22.) Next, if step one is insufficient to resolve the matter, the grievance has to be " submitted in writing to the District Manager . . . within [seven] calendar days after receipt of the [General Manager's response]." ( Id.) The CBA also directs that, if need be, the matter may subsequently be " referred by [Unite Here] for final decision and determination to an impartial arbitrator[,]" whose decision would " be final and binding on [IL Creations], [Unite Here], and [any employees] involved." ( Id.) Finally, these provisions direct that the arbitrator does not have " the ability or power to in any way modify, change, restrict, or extend any of the terms of [the CBA,]" and that " [f]ailure to file a grievance or to proceed to the next step within the prescribed time limits shall constitute a waiver of all rights to grieve and arbitrate such matters." ( Id. at 22-23.)

         The dispute that prompted the instant litigation began in November of 2013. ( See Compl. ¶ 11; Arbitrator's Op. & Award, Ex. B to Pl.'s Mot. (" Award" ), ECF No. 7-5, at 3.) It is undisputed that, at its USDA location, IL Creations assigned certain positions " to individuals . . . who were not members of the bargaining unit" (Def.'s Opp'n at 6; see also Pl.'s Mem. at 5), and that these positions all required performing some type of chef work ( see Def.'s Opp'n at 6 (listing the individuals' position titles as " Asian Chef," " Chinese Sous Chef," " Salad Chef," " Salad Sous Chef," and " Sous Chef for the American Department" )). According to Unite Here, this meant non-bargaining-unit employees were " perform[ing] work reserved for Union-Represented employees" -- i.e., work similar to the duties of the positions listed in Exhibit B and Appendix 7 of the collective bargaining agreement--in violation of the agreement. (Compl. ¶ 11; see also Award at 3.) Unite Here initiated a grievance process that was unsuccessful ( see Award at 3), and the parties proceeded to arbitration ( see Compl. ¶ 12).

         During the evidentiary hearing that the arbitrator held in July of 2014, both parties presented evidence and arguments in support of their positions. Unite Here reiterated its contention, supported by evidence, that IL Creations had violated the CBA by permitting non-bargaining-unit employees to perform certain jobs. ( See Award at 4-6.) IL Creations contended, inter alia, that the individuals in the challenged positions were not, in fact, performing bargaining-unit work; that the present organizational structure was essential to proper performance of IL Creations's food-service duties; and that, in any event, the current setup was not adversely affecting any union workers. ( See Def.'s Opp'n at 6; IL Creations's Post-Hearing Brief, Ex. D to Pl.'s Reply, ECF No. 16-2, at 3.) Moreover, and significantly for present purposes, nothing in the post-hearing brief that IL Creations submitted or in the record before this Court indicates that IL Creations challenged the arbitrator's power to render a decision on this dispute.

         On July 10, 2015, the arbitrator rendered a decision that largely favored Unite Here. The arbitrator began by laying out the relevant provisions and position restrictions contained in the CBA ( see Award at 3, 8), and then evaluated each of the disputed positions in comparison to Exhibit B and Article 7's job classifications and the qualities of the individuals actually working in the disputed positions ( id. at 9-12). Ultimately, the arbitrator found that IL Creations had violated the CBA with respect to four of the five disputed positions; that is, that the job descriptions of those positions demanded bargaining-unit work and should have been performed by bargaining-unit workers. ( See id. at 11-13; see also id. at 11 (noting that the qualities required to perform the positions " approximate[d] the requirements demanded of Head Cooks [and] Cooks" ).) With respect to the fifth position, which was referred to as the " Asian Chef" position, the arbitrator did not entirely accept IL Creations's contention that the job demanded skills " so unique and extraordinary" that it could be performed by non-bargaining-unit individuals consistent with the CBA, but concluded that the particular individual who held the position at the time of the dispute likely possessed a unique set of skills that IL Creations could not afford to lose, and thus determined that that individual should be " grandfather[ed]" into-- i.e., permitted to stay in--the position until the CBA's termination date in January of 2016. ( Id. at 12.) Furthermore, to remedy the CBA violations, the arbitrator ordered that the four other positions be reclassified as " Head Cook" positions; posted as open within fifteen days; and filled within fifteen more days in accordance with the procedures set forth in the CBA. ( Id. at 13-14.)

         Less than one week later, IL Creations informed Unite Here in writing that it did not intend to comply with the arbitrator's decision and award. (Email from Matthew Yoo to Emilio Abate on July 16, 2015 (" Yoo Email" ), Ex. C to Pl.'s Br., ECF No. 7-6, at 2 (stating that IL Creations " do[es] not have to follow the decision until a court order affirming the decision" ). Consequently, Unite Here filed the instant lawsuit, invoking a section of the LMRA that grants federal district courts statutory jurisdiction to enforce labor-arbitration awards. ( See Compl. ¶ ¶ 4-5); see also United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., AFL-CIO v. Operative Plasterers' & Cement Masons' Int'l Ass'n of the U.S. & Can., AFL-CIO, 721 F.3d 678, 686-87, 406 U.S.App.D.C. 46 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), (c)). Shortly after filing the complaint, Unite Here submitted a motion to confirm the arbitration award. ( See Pl.'s Mot.) That motion is ripe for the Court's review, as is the counterclaim that IL Creations has filed, which requests that this Court vacate the award. ( See Def.'s Countercl.; see also Pl.'s Answer to Def.'s Countercl., ECF No. 14.)


         The " paramount goal" of the LMRA is " the promotion of labor peace through the collective efforts of labor and management." Titanium Metals Corp. v. NLRB, 392 F.3d 439, 447, 364 U.S.App.D.C. 69 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To this end, few principles are as well established as the general federal policy preference for " the peaceful resolution of labor disputes through arbitration" --a process that, when properly used, helps " resolve industrial strife quickly and inexpensively." Office and Prof'l Emps. Int'l Union, Local 2 v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 724 F.2d 133, 137, 233 U.S.App.D.C. 1 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (citation omitted). LMRA case law uniformly recognizes that judicial second-guessing undercuts the goal of resolving disputes through arbitration. SeeUnited Paperworkers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 36, 108 S.Ct. 364, 98 L.Ed.2d 286 (1987) (" The federal policy of settling labor disputes by arbitration would be undermined if courts had the final say on the merits of the awards." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); see alsoTeamsters Local Union No. 61 v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 272 F.3d 600, 604, 348 U.S.App.D.C. 198 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (same). Moreover, given that arbitration is an optional alternative to judicial resolution of disputes--a matter of contract that the parties negotiate over and jointly accept in the context of reaching a CBA, seeAT & T Techs., Inc. v. Commc'n Workers, 475 U.S. 643, 648, 106 S.Ct. 1415, 89 L.Ed.2d 648 (1986) (citation omitted)--when the ...

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