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Batesville Casket Company, Inc. v. United Steelworkers of America

December 4, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Carter



This is an action filed by an employer, plaintiff Batesville Casket Company, Inc., to vacate (with an opposing counterclaim by defendant labor union, United Steel Workers of America, to enforce) a labor arbitration award. On July 26, 2007, the District Court held a status conference in which arose the question of whether limited discovery is needed or should be permitted in the instant case. By order dated July 27, 2007 [Doc. 16], the District Court directed the parties to brief this issue, and they have done so. This matter was then referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for appropriate action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(A)- (C). [Doc. 34].

I. The Discovery Issue

Batesville Casket Company, Inc. (hereinafter "Plaintiff") asserts it seeks limited discovery narrowly tailored to the pleadings. Specifically, the requested discovery requires Defendant to explain certain denials in its Answer. Defendant United Steel Workers of America, Local Union No. 9137 (hereinafter "Defendant") counters that discovery is inappropriate as the Court's authority to review the decision of the arbitrator is extremely narrow, citing United Paperworkers v. Misco, 484 U.S. 29 (1987). Defendant asserts it is "one of the narrowest standards of judicial review in all of American jurisprudence," citing The Lattimer-Stevens Co. v. USWA, 913 F.2d 1166, 1169 (6th Cir. 1990). The record before the reviewing court is limited to the "record before the arbitrator," citing JCI Communications, Inc. v. IBEW, Local 103, 324 F.3d 42, 49-50 (1st Cir. 2003). Therefore, Defendant opposes Plaintiff's request for limited discovery.

The underlying dispute which was the subject of binding arbitration concerns whether certain overtime payments should have been made to tool crib attendants on weekends under a 1999 Collective Bargaining Agreement (1999 CBA). The limited issue before this Court is whether the Arbitrator exceeded his authority when he extended his award to resolve future incidents which arguably would be governed by the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement (2005 CBA).

Factual Background

The Manchester, Tennessee facility of Batesville Casket Company, Inc. manufactures steel burial caskets (Doc. 17-2, p. 134). Approximately 520 employees work at the facility, 380 of whom are represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the Defendant (Id. at 135; Doc. 17-3, p. 1). The Manchester facility contains a tool crib, which is a locked supply area containing materials used either to produce caskets or to maintain the equipment that produces caskets (Doc. 17-2, pp. 60, 135). The inventory in the tool crib is tracked through a computer program (Id. at 136-37). Plaintiff employs tool crib attendants who are responsible for processing parts into and out of the tool crib inventory (Id. at 136-145). If no attendant is on duty, employees typically record their transactions into a log and when the tool crib attendant returns to work, he will "issue" the parts into the computer program (Id. at 76, 78-79). When tool crib attendants worked on weekends they were paid overtime wages.

On September 5, 1999, Plaintiff and Defendant entered into the 1999 CBA, which governed certain terms and conditions of the bargaining unit employees' work (Docket 17-3, p. 6). The 1999 CBA provided for the arbitration of any grievances relating to the violation of an "express provision of [the 1999 CBA] by an act or omission occurring during the term of [the 1999 CBA]." The term of the 1999 CBA expired on September 4, 2005 (Id., Art. 21).

On January 8, 2005, and on January 26, 2005, Defendant filed grievances alleging that Plaintiff had violated the 1999 CBA by not scheduling tool crib attendants for weekend overtime and that supervisors and maintenance employees wrongfully performed tool crib duties when the ordinary tool crib attendants were unavailable (Doc. 17-4). Defendant argued that tool crib attendants were entitled to work weekends whenever maintenance employees were scheduled to work (Id at 1, 3). The grievances requested that the affected tool crib attendants be paid for time they missed for work that they allegedly were not properly offered and assigned pursuant to Defendant's interpretation of the 1999 CBA (Id.).

In response, Plaintiff maintained that the grievances were without merit because the 1999 CBA gave it broad discretion to determine when and how to schedule the workforce (whether straight time or overtime) and that there was nothing in the 1999 CBA prohibiting it from deciding not to schedule tool crib attendants to work overtime (Id. at 2, 4-7). Further, Plaintiff argued that its staging practice did not deprive the tool crib attendants of work that they exclusively had performed in the past (Id.). The parties were not able to resolve these matters through the normal grievance procedures. On March 11, 2005, Defendant submitted the grievances to arbitration (Docket 18-2).

The 1999 CBA was scheduled to expire while the grievances were pending, and during this period, the parties began negotiations on the terms of a new CBA. Plaintiff asserts Defendant specifically proposed to add language to the new CBA that would "allow tool crib attendants to work weekends when maintenance is scheduled to work." (Exhibit A, p. 5). This, says Plaintiff, was the underlying issue in the arbitration (Doc. 17-2, pp. 22-23; Doc. 17-4, pp. 1-7). Plaintiff argues they rejected this proposal and Defendant's proposed language was not included into the new CBA when it was adopted on September 5, 2005 (2005 CBA). (Doc. 18-3; 18-4).

Arbitration Proceedings and Award

On February 2, 2006, the arbitrator, Roger C. Williams (the "arbitrator"), conducted a hearing regarding the grievances (Doc. 17-2). During the hearing, Plaintiff asserts there was no testimony or evidence submitted by the parties that Plaintiff agreed to include matters arising under the 2005 CBA in the pending arbitration (Id. at ...

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