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COTTRELL v. CANDY WORKERS UNION

March 19, 1986

ROBERT COTTRELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CANDY WORKERS UNION, LOCAL 342 OF THE BAKERY, CONFECTIONERY AND TOBACCO WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION AFL-CIO-CLC, AND PAUL F. BEICH COMPANY, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, District Judge.

OPINION ORDER

Discharged employee vs. his union.

Defendants move for summary judgment.

Robert Cottrell brings this action against his employer, the Paul F. Beich Company (Beich), for breach of a collective bargaining agreement under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185. He also sues the Candy Workers Union Local 342 of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco International Union, AFL-CIO-CLC (union), charging that it breached its duty of fair representation by: (1) failing to prosecute a grievance to arbitration, and (2) not allowing Plaintiff to pursue arbitration on his own behalf after the union's refusal to do so.

Mr. Cottrell worked for Beich from 1979 to April of 1984 and was, during his employment with Beich, a member of the union. A collective bargaining agreement governs the relationship between Beich, its employees, and the union. Pursuant to the agreement, Beich employees are required to abide by certain work rules, one of which prohibits fighting.

While at work on April 17, 1984, Plaintiff was attacked by John Boylan, a fellow employee, and a fight ensued. According to Plaintiff's complaint, the attack was unprovoked, and Plaintiff fought only to the extent necessary to defend himself.

Two days later, on April 19, Beich discharged both Plaintiff and Boylan for their involvement in the altercation. Although company work rules prohibit fighting, Plaintiff filed a grievance, claiming that he was wrongfully discharged in that he was merely protecting himself from an unprovoked attack.

After Cottrell filed his grievance, a meeting was convened between union and company representatives, and Cottrell and Boylan, as required by the grievance procedure contained in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Mr. Gene Midden, the union's international representative, was also at the meeting. According to Cottrell, his presence was required because the union recognized that Beich was setting a precedent by terminating an employee for fighting, something that had not previously been done.

At this meeting and in a series of subsequent meetings provided for by the CBA (referred to as "steps"), Mr. Midden argued that on previous occasions employees had fought but had never been discharged. Beich, however, took the position that in these other alleged fights, management was never informed of the incidents when they occurred and there had been no proof that such fighting ever actually took place. After a series of meetings, Beich refused to change its position. It was therefore left to the union to decide whether to accept the company's position or take the matter to arbitration. After allowing Cottrell to address the union's general membership, the union executive committee decided to drop the matter and not take the issue to arbitration.

Cottrell claims that the manner in which his grievance was handled evidences that the union did not meet its duty to fairly represent him. He first alleges that he was not given adequate time to prepare his case before the grievance meetings were held and that the meetings themselves lasted only a couple of minutes. Cottrell further states that not only was his participation in the meetings discouraged, but he was even asked to leave the room during discussions.

Cottrell further alleges that the union did not prosecute his grievance to arbitration because of the union officers' belief that Cottrell was a troublemaker. As evidence of this alleged personal animus against Cottrell, Plaintiff points to certain comments made by Mr. Midden to union president Virden about Cottrell's inability to get along with other employees. (Plaintiff denies that this was in fact the case, and argues that the unanimous vote of the union membership to send his case to arbitration contradicts the allegation that he does not get along with the other employees.)

The union, on the other hand, argues that it fully considered the merits of Cottrell's grievance. For instance, the union notes that Cottrell was given an opportunity to state his case before the general membership, whereupon the membership unanimously voted to authorize the union's executive board to consult with legal counsel and proceed to arbitration if necessary. Thereafter, the executive committee consulted with at least two attorneys as well as with Mr. Midden before determining that the union would not be successful in arbitrating the matter.

Although the union felt that a penalty less than termination was appropriate, they decided that in view of the fact that a physical exchange of blows occurred, it would not be in the overall best interests of the union and its members to pursue the matter to arbitration. The union was also apparently concerned about the danger of losing a case involving fighting in that it could set a precedent for future discharges on this basis.

In addition to the union's failure to prosecute his grievance to arbitration, Cottrell charges that the union breached its duty of fair representation by refusing to allow Plaintiff to arbitrate on his own behalf pursuant to Article XIV of the CBA. After the union's decision not to pursue the grievance, Cottrell sent a letter to the union requesting that he be allowed to individually arbitrate the grievance. The union, however, responded by a letter informing him that he had "exhausted his union remedies." According to Plaintiff, this letter was written despite Ms. Virden's deposition testimony that she was aware of a provision in the CBA allowing an individual employee to proceed to arbitration on his own with union approval; but that she did not know what to do with the request. Plaintiff states that instead of acting on the request herself or seeking the advice of counsel, she merely let the union's international vice president interpret ...


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