United States District Court, District of Columbia
DISTRICT NO. 1, PACIFIC COAST DISTRICT, MARINE ENGINEERS' BENEFICIAL ASSOCIATION AFL-CIO, Plaintiff,
LIBERTY MARITIME CORPORATION, Defendant.
BERMAN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case involves a dispute between a labor union and a shipping
company. On August 14, 2017, plaintiff District No. 1,
Pacific Coast District, Marine Engineers' Beneficial
Association AFL-CIO (“MEBA” or “the
union”) brought this action against defendant Liberty
Maritime Corporation (“Liberty”) pursuant to
Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.
§ 185. Compl. [Dkt. # 1] ¶¶ 1, 34. MEBA
alleges that Liberty refused to arbitrate a dispute as
required by the terms of their collective bargaining
agreement (“Agreement”), and it seeks an order
compelling arbitration. Compl. ¶¶ 9,
35-37. Liberty answered the complaint, see Ans.
[Dkt. # 5]; Am. Ans. [Dkt. # 7], and plaintiff has moved for
judgment on the pleadings. Pl.'s Mot. for J. on the
Pleadings [Dkt. # 8] (“Pl.'s Mot.”);
Pl.'s Mem in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 8-1]
union contends that it is entitled to an order compelling
arbitration as a matter of law based on the terms of the
Agreement. Pl.'s Mem. at 1-2. Liberty has opposed the
motion, arguing that arbitration is premature because the
union failed to negotiate in good faith prior to invoking the
arbitration clause. Def.'s Opp. to Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. #
9] (“Def.'s Opp.”) at 1, 7-18. But the union
maintains that the determination of whether the parties have
engaged in good faith negotiations is itself a question that
must be decided by an arbitrator, and not by the Court, under
the terms of the Agreement. Pl.'s Mem. at 15. It also
seeks attorneys' fees to cover the cost of bringing this
case and preparing the instant motion. Id.
the Court agrees that the predicate question of whether the
parties complied with the good faith negotiation requirement
in the wage reopener provision of the Agreement must be
resolved by an arbitrator, it will grant plaintiff's
motion for judgment on the pleadings, enter judgment in favor
of MEBA, and enjoin Liberty from refusing to participate in
the arbitration of the parties' wage dispute on the
grounds that the union failed to engage in good faith
negotiations before invoking the arbitration clause. But the
union's request for attorneys' fees will be denied.
MEBA is a labor union that represents employees in the U.S.
maritime industry who are located at ports throughout the
United States and on oceangoing vessels. Compl. ¶ 2.
Liberty is a shipping company that operates various seagoing
vessels, and many of its employees are represented by MEBA.
Id. ¶ 3.
January 23, 2012, MEBA and Liberty signed a Memorandum of
Understanding (“MOU” or “Agreement”),
a collective bargaining agreement that is in effect until at
least June 15, 2019. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9; Ex. A to Compl.
[Dkt. # 1-1] (“MOU”) at 1. The Agreement contains
a “wage reopener provision, ” which states that
“[e]ither party may reopen this Agreement, effective as
of October 1, 2015, by giving the other party written notice
at least 60 days and no more than 90 days prior to the
reopener date.” MOU § 3(f); Compl. ¶ 10.
According to the MOU, “[i]n the event the Agreement is
reopened, the parties agree to negotiate over the wages,
benefits, and other economic terms and conditions for
subsequent years of the extended Agreement.” MOU §
3(f); Compl. ¶ 11. The Agreement goes on:
If, after engaging in good faith negotiations . . . the
parties are unable to reach an agreement regarding changes in
wages, benefits or other economic terms and conditions, the
parties agree to submit on an expedited basis their dispute
to a mutually selected arbitrator in accordance with the
provisions set forth in the [collective bargaining
agreement]. The arbitrator's decision will be final and
binding on the parties.
MOU § 3(g); Compl. ¶ 12.
letter on January 24, 2017, MEBA notified Liberty of its
intent to reopen the Agreement for negotiations pursuant to
the wage reopener provision, and it proposed several
available dates for conducting the negotiations. Compl.
¶ 13; Ex. B to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-2]; see Am.
Ans. ¶ 13; Def.'s Opp. at 3. One week later, MEBA
provided Liberty with its first bargaining proposal. Compl.
¶ 14; Am. Ans. ¶ 14. The pleadings contain
considerable detail about what happened next.
parties exchanged emails concerning the proposal over the
course of the next month. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16; Am. Ans.
¶¶ 15-16. While the union claims that Liberty did
not provide a counterproposal during this time, and that it
did not suggest any dates for the start of the negotiations,
see Compl. ¶¶ 15-17, Liberty asserts that
it responded to MEBA's proposal by requesting
information, and that MEBA refused to provide it with the
information it needed in order to bargain. Am. Ans.
¶¶ 15-17; see also Def.'s Opp. at 3.
March 10, 2017, MEBA sent Liberty a letter asserting that it
had attempted to negotiate in good faith, but because Liberty
had not yet engaged in negotiations, the union intended to
invoke section 3(g) of the MOU and begin arbitration
proceedings. Compl. ¶¶ 18-19; Ex. C to Compl. [Dkt.
# 1-3]; see Am. Ans. ¶¶ 18-19. MEBA
attached another bargaining proposal to the letter, which it
characterized as the union's “last, best and final
offer” that it would present to the arbitrator. Compl.
¶¶ 18-19; Ex. C to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-3];
see Am. Ans. ¶¶ 18-19.
counsel then contacted Liberty and invited its assistance in
selecting an arbitrator. Compl. ¶ 20; Am. Ans. ¶
20. Liberty rejected the arbitration demand and subsequently
transmitted its first counter-proposal and offered to meet
with MEBA and negotiate. Compl. ¶ 21; Am. Ans. ¶
then offered a third proposal, and the parties met on April
18, 2017 to begin negotiations. Compl. ¶ 22; Am. Ans.
¶ 22. At the end of the meeting, Liberty responded with
its second counter-proposal. Compl. ¶ 22; Am. Ans.
¶ 22. In response, MEBA gave Liberty the fourth and
fifth versions of its proposal. Compl. ¶ 23; Am. Ans.
13, 2017,  the parties met for a second negotiation
session to discuss the new terms. Compl. ¶ 24; Am. Ans.
¶ 24. During the meeting, Liberty gave MEBA its third
counterproposal, and the parties set a future meeting date
for July 18, 2017. Compl. ¶¶ 23, 27; Am. Ans.
¶¶ 23, 27. Prior to the July meeting, MEBA
responded to Liberty's third counter-proposal with a
sixth proposal for Liberty's review. Compl. ¶ 27;
Am. Ans. ¶ 27.
12, 2017, Liberty notified MEBA that it would not participate
in the upcoming meeting because it did not want to engage in
wage negotiations until a pending grievance issue involving
both parties had been resolved. Compl. ¶ 28; Am. Ans.
¶ 28. MEBA immediately objected, and it insisted that
Liberty's decision to suspend negotiations
“amount[ed] to a failure to bargain in good
faith.” Compl. ¶ 29; Ex. D to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-4];
see Am. Ans. ¶ 29. MEBA then again invoked
section 3(g) of the Agreement and sought to bring the wage
reopener dispute before an arbitrator. Compl. ¶ 30; Ex.
D to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-4].
17, 2017, Liberty rejected MEBA's demand for arbitration.
Compl. ¶ 31; Ex. E to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-5]; Am. Ans.
¶ 31. Liberty stated in a letter that the demand for
arbitration was premature, and it explained that the
grievance had to be decided first because resolution of the
contract interpretation issue at stake could “have a
major economic impact which will affect [the] wage re-opener
discussions.” Ex. E to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-5] at 2.
point, the union went to court. On August 14, 2017, it filed
a complaint seeking to compel arbitration of the wage
reopener issues. Compl. And on November 6, 2017, while the
case was pending, the parties settled the grievance that
Liberty had cited as the reason for putting negotiations on
hold in July. Decl. of Counsel William G. Miossi in Supp. of
Def.'s Opp. [Dkt. # 9-1] (“Miossi Decl.”);
Ex. A to Miossi Decl.; Def.'s Opp. at 6.
November 8, 2017, then, Liberty notified MEBA that it was
prepared to restart the wage reopener negotiations. Ex. A to
Miossi Decl. [Dkt. # 9-1]. But MEBA refused to continue
negotiations, see Ex. B to Miossi Decl. [Dkt. #
9-1]; Ex. C to Miossi Decl. [Dkt. # 9-1]; Ex. D to Miossi
Decl. [Dkt. # 9-1], explaining that “[t]he fact that
[Liberty] is now willing to bargain does nothing to absolve
its conduct that has placed the parties in this
situation.” Pl.'s Reply in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot.