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W-I Canteen Service Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board

decided: September 25, 1979.


Petitioner for Review and Cross Application for Enforcement of an Order of the National Labor Relations Board.

Before Pell, Sprecher and Wood, Circuit Judges.

Author: Pell

The petitioner, W-I Canteen Service, Inc. (Canteen), seeks review of an order of the National Labor Relations Board. The Board has cross-applied for enforcement of its order. The Board found that Canteen violated sections 8(a) (1) and (3) of the National Labor Relations Act by discharging and otherwise penalizing employees for engaging in a sympathy strike. The determinative issue is the legality of the strike under two collective bargaining agreements negotiated by the petitioner and Retail Clerks Local 1354. Canteen argues that the agreements clearly and unequivocally waived the right to engage in sympathy strikes at its premises and that the Board's interpretation of the agreements was erroneous. Also at issue is the Board's determination that Canteen violated section 8(a)(1) of the Act by coercively interrogating one of its employees about her union activities.

I. Facts

A. The Collective Bargaining Agreements

The petitioner, Canteen, services and maintains vending machines in the Rockford, Illinois, area. At its Rockford plant, Canteen and the Retail Clerks Union Local 1354 have been parties to three separate collective bargaining agreements covering three separate bargaining units. One agreement covers the service and maintenance unit. Members of this unit report to Canteen's Rockford facility to pick up goods for delivery to the premises of customers. Three members of this unit report directly to a nearby Chrysler plant and remain there all day without reporting to the Canteen Rockford facility. Another bargaining agreement covers members of the bakery unit, which produces some of the goods sold in the vending machines. The third agreement covers clerical workers. The service and maintenance agreement (Service Agreement) was first negotiated in 1968 and was renegotiated in 1969, 1972, and 1975. The bakery unit agreement (Bakery Agreement) was first negotiated in 1968 and was renegotiated in 1971 and 1974. The clerical unit agreement was entered into for the first time in 1976.

The 1975 Service Agreement, which covers the events at issue here, contains the following no-strike provision:



The Company and the Union agree that there will be no strike or lockout during the life of this Agreement so long as the Company and the Union abide by the terms of this Agreement or submit to arbitration any differences which may arise which are not covered by this Agreement.

The following two provisions, appearing in separate articles of the same agreement, relate to picket lines:



SECTION 3. The Company will not, as a condition of continued employment, require the employees to cross any picket line established on or in front of the premises of any other company. The individual or concerted refusal to pass such a picket line shall not constitute grounds for discipline, discharge, and is not to be considered as violating any provision written or implied which prohibits the Union from striking.



SECTION 9. In the event of a strike or lockout of any certified Union, it shall not be considered a violation of this Agreement for the members of the Union to refuse to deliver goods or service machines where such controversy is on. The Union agrees, however, that the accounts in the Company must be serviced and they will not in any way attempt to interfere with such servicing by Company personnel other than employees covered by this Agreement.

An arbitration article in the 1975 Service Agreement permits either party to initiate arbitration in the event of proper exhaustion of preliminary procedures. The scope of the arbitration provision is defined in this way:

The arbitrator shall have authority and jurisdiction to determine the propriety of the interpretation and/or application of the Agreement respecting the grievance in question, but he shall not have the power to alter or modify the terms of the Agreement. With respect to arbitrations involving discharge or discipline . . . the arbitrator shall determine if the discharge . . . was for just cause. . . .

The no-strike clause of the 1974 Bakery Agreement covering the events at issue here is identical to the Service Agreement provision quoted above. The scope of the arbitration clause also is identical to the clause in the Service Agreement. The Bakery Agreement, however, has no picket line permission clause.

B. Past Conduct Under the Contracts

The service and maintenance unit in Rockford has twice in the past engaged in a strike: during negotiations leading to their 1972 agreement and during negotiations leading to their 1975 agreement. The 1972 strike lasted two to three weeks. The 1975 strike lasted only a few days.

During the 1972 strike, the service and maintenance unit employees picketed the Rockford premises. Canteen's bakery did not operate, except to service the few contract obligations requiring performance during a strike. These obligations were carried out by supervisory personnel. None of the bakery unit employees crossed the picket line during the strike.*fn1 No bakery employee was subjected to discipline for failure to report to work during the period of the strike.

In 1973, Canteen discharged the service and maintenance employees who worked full-time at the Chrysler plant when they refused to cross a picket line established by auto workers at that plant. The employees protested and were reinstated. Canteen issued a written ...

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