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 over whether a particular ship, the Liberty Peace, is
covered by the parties' existing collective bargaining
agreement. The question before the Court is whether the
threshold issue of whether the ship is covered by the
contract needs to be determined under the arbitration
provision in the contract, or whether the coverage dispute
must be decided first by the courts.
October 19, 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 (“LMRA”),
29 U.S.C. § 185. Compl. [Dkt. # 1] ¶ 1. The union
alleges that Liberty refused to arbitrate the coverage
dispute in accordance with the collective bargaining
agreement, and it seeks an order compelling arbitration.
Id. ¶¶ 25-30. After Liberty answered the
complaint, see Ans. [Dkt. # 6], plaintiff moved for
judgment on the pleadings. Pl.'s Mot. for J. on the
Pleadings [Dkt. # 10] (“Pl.'s Mot.”);
Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 10-1]
the collective bargaining agreement contains a broad
arbitration provision that was intended to resolve exactly
the sort of contract interpretation dispute present here, the
Court will grant plaintiff's motion and refer the matter
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;
Ans. ¶ 2. Liberty is a shipping company that operates
various seagoing vessels, and many of its employees are
represented by MEBA. Compl. ¶ 3; Ans. ¶ 3.
the past thirty years, the parties have been engaged in a
collective bargaining relationship with respect to employees
working on certain vessels managed by Liberty. Compl. ¶
6; Ans. ¶ 6. In 1988, MEBA and Liberty became
signatories to two collective bargaining agreements, the
1986-1990 Tanker Vessels Master Agreement, and the 1986-1990
Dry Cargo Vessels Master Agreement. Compl. ¶ 8; Ans.
¶ 8; Ex. A to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-1] (“Tanker Master
Agreement”); Ex. B to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-2] (“Dry
Cargo Master Agreement”). These agreements cover
“all licensed marine engineers employed” on
either “U.S. flag ocean-going tanker vessels, ”
or “US flag ocean-going, dry cargo and passenger
vessels” owned or operated by Liberty. Tanker Master
Agreement § 36(a); Dry Cargo Master Agreement § 41.
January 23, 2012, the parties signed a Memorandum of
Understanding (“2012 MOU”). Compl. ¶ 11;
Ans. ¶ 11; Ex. C to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-3]
(“MOU”). That agreement governs three vessels, the
Prestige New York, “operating under a Maritime Security
Program (MSP) Agreement with the United States Government,
” and two other vessels, the Liberty Pride and Liberty
Promise, “both eligible for MSP Agreements but
currently operating without the benefit of any.” MOU at
1. The MSP is a federal program that provides payment to
certain vessel operators in order to assure the government
that it will have access to vessels and crew in times of war
or national emergency. Compl. ¶ 13; Ans. ¶ 13.
2012 MOU acknowledges and incorporates the parties'
previous agreements, see MOU at 1 (“Whereas,
the Company and MEBA are party to a Memorandum of
Understanding dated September 23, 2005, as amended; various
Side Letters, dated June 8, 2005, October 28, 2005, and July
14, 2010, respectively; and Letters of Understanding, dated
July 7, 2009, and February 21, 2010, respectively; and
arbitration awards, if any.”), and it states that
“[e]xcept as expressly modified by this MOU, all other
terms and conditions of employment of the [collective
bargaining agreements], side letters, and letters of
understanding are unchanged and shall remain in full force
and effect.” Id. § 3(a). Accordingly, the
grievance and arbitration procedures contained in the Tanker
and Dry Cargo Master Agreements remain binding. See
Compl. ¶ 9; Ans. ¶ 9. Both agreements require that
“[a]ll disputes relating to the interpretation or
performance of th[e] Agreement shall be determined” by
an arbitration board consisting of two MEBA representatives
and two Liberty representatives. Tanker Master Agreement
§ 2(a)-(b); Dry Cargo Master Agreement § 2(a)-(b).
If the arbitration board cannot resolve the grievance by
mutual agreement or majority vote, an agreed-upon arbitrator
is authorized to render a final, binding decision. Tanker
Master Agreement § 2(b); Dry Cargo Master Agreement
24, 2017, Liberty notified MEBA by letter that it was going
to charter a foreign car/truck carrier vessel and operate it
under a U.S. flag. Compl. ¶ 12; Ans. ¶ 12; Ex. D to
Compl. [Dkt. # 1-4] (“Ex. D”) at 1. It claimed
that this vessel would not fall under the parties'
collective bargaining agreement, as modified by their MOUs,
because the ship was not going to be enrolled in the MSP
program “for the foreseeable future.” Compl.
¶ 13; Ans. ¶ 13; Ex. D at 1. Liberty offered to
amend the terms of the 2012 MOU to cover the new vessel so
long as certain non-negotiable conditions were met. Compl.
¶ 14; Ans. ¶ 14; Ex. D at 3. It also stated that if
the union agreed to the amendment but wished “to
reserve its right to assert that the terms of the 2012 MOU
apply to the vessel to be reflagged, ” Liberty would
“agree to arbitrate” that issue subject to
certain conditions as well. Comp. ¶ 14; Ans. ¶ 14;
Ex. D at 3.
union disagreed with Liberty's position and insisted that
the new vessel was covered by the parties' agreements.
Compl. ¶ 15; Ans. ¶ 15; Ex. E to Compl. [Dkt. #
1-5]. One week later, the parties met to discuss the matter,
but they failed to reach a resolution. See Compl.
¶¶ 17-18; Ans. ¶¶ 17-18.
as the agent of a third party, now manages a vessel named the
M/V Liberty Peace (“Liberty Peace”).
See Compl. ¶ 18; Ans. ¶ 18. The third
party entered into labor agreements with American Maritime
Officers and Seafarer's International Union rather than
with MEBA. Compl. ¶¶ 17-18; Ans. ¶¶
August 31, 2017, MEBA submitted a grievance to Liberty
claiming that Liberty violated the collective bargaining
agreement. Compl. ¶ 19; Ans. ¶ 19; Ex. G to Compl.
[Dkt. # 1-7] (“Ex. G”). The letter also included
a demand for arbitration to resolve the contractual dispute.
Compl. ¶ 19; Ans. ¶ 19; Ex. G. While the parties
have been engaged in the exchange of information and
documents, Liberty has not processed the grievance and the
parties have not engaged in arbitration. Compl. ¶¶
20-23; Ans. ¶¶ 20-23; see Ex. H to Compl.
[Dkt. # 1-8].
October 19, 2017, MEBA filed suit in this Court to compel
arbitration, Compl., and it has moved for judgment on the
pleadings. See Pl.'s Mot. The union argues that
it is entitled to an order compelling arbitration as a matter
of law based on the terms of the collective bargaining
agreement between the parties. Pl.'s Mot. at 1; Pl.'s
Mem. at 1, 9-10. Defendant opposed the motion, arguing that
no obligation to arbitrate has arisen because “no
collective bargaining agreement or other contract between the