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Printing Specialties and Paper Products Union Local 680 v. Nabisco Brands Inc.

decided: November 3, 1987.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 85 C 8828, Marvin E. Aspen, Judge.

Coffey and Manion, Circuit Judges, and Eschbach, Senior Circuit Judge.

Author: Coffey

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

Appellant Printing Specialties and Paper Products Union Local 608 ("the Union") appeals from the district court's ruling that a dispute between the Union and Nabisco Brands over pension benefits was not arbitrable under their collective bargaining agreement. We affirm.


According to the stipulated facts in this case, Nabisco and the Union entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the employees at Nabisco's mill and printing plant in Marseilles, Illinois. In addition to establishing terms for working conditions, the collective bargaining agreement contained a broad arbitration clause that provided for an internal grievance process followed by final binding arbitration regarding disputes arising under the agreement. Specifically, Article 9 of the agreement required arbitration for "any grievance or misunderstanding involving wages, hours or working conditions which any employee may desire to discuss and adjust with the Company ...." The agreement also included a passing reference to the Company pension plan that states, "The Company agrees to continue its present Pension Plan in full force and effect for the term of the agreement." This is the only mention in the agreement of pensions.

The Pension Plan covers both union and non-union employees at Nabisco facilities nationwide, including some represented by ninety-six bargaining units as well as employees not represented by unions. The Plan provides that it is to be administered by a Pension Committee and an Employee Benefits Committee,*fn1 and that the duties of administration include the interpretation of Plan provisions dealing with eligibility, service, vesting, and determination of benefits. One such benefit listed in the Pension Plan is a special early retirement benefit for those employees whose services are "terminated because of the elimination of [their] employment duties . . . ." Under the provisions of the Plan, an employee who has been denied a benefit claim may initiate or invoke an internal appeal procedure with the filing of a request for review by the Committee.

The instant dispute arose at the time of Nabisco's sale of its Marseilles plant to Federal Paper Board Company in December of 1984. Federal offered employment to all Nabisco employees at the Marseilles plant and agreed to recognize the Union as the exclusive bargaining agent for those employees. Despite Federal's offer of employment, several individuals regarded Nabisco's sale of the plant as a "job termination" and claimed an entitlement to the special early retirement benefit contained in the Pension Plan. When these employees applied to receive the benefit through the Pension Plan procedures, the Pension Committee denied their claims, reasoning that the employment duties were not terminated because Federal had offered the workers continued employment. The Pension Committee's conclusion was upheld by the Employee Benefits Committee on review.*fn2

The Union chose to pursue a different route to resolve the conflict. It filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement, contesting Nabisco's denial of early retirement benefits on behalf of the union members. Nabisco denied that the collective bargaining agreement covered the disputed pension benefits and refused to arbitrate the grievances.

The Union sued Nabisco in district court pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 185,*fn3 to compel arbitration. The district court granted Nabisco's motion for summary judgment, holding that the dispute over eligibility for the pension benefits was not covered under the collective bargaining agreement and thus not arbitrable under the language or terms of the agreement. In making this determination, the court reviewed the language of the collective bargaining agreement, the language of the Pension Plan, the bargaining history of the Union and Nabisco, and the independence of the administration of the Pension Plan from the administration of the collective bargaining agreement. The court concluded that Nabisco and the Union never intended the arbitration language in the collective bargaining agreement cover a disputed pension benefits question, and the Union appeals.


In the Steelworkers Trilogy,*fn4 the Supreme Court announced the proper standard in a Section 301 suit for determining the parties' rights and obligations to arbitrate grievances under a collective bargaining agreement. In United Steelworkers of American v. American Manufacturing Co., 363 U.S. 564, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1403, 80 S. Ct. 1343 (1960), the Court stated:

"The function of the court is very limited when the parties have agreed to submit all questions of contract interpretation to the arbitrator. It is confined to ascertaining whether the party seeking arbitration is making a claim which on its face is governed by the contract .... The moving party should not be deprived of the arbitrator's judgment, when it was his judgment and all that it connotes that was bargained for."

Id. at 567-68. "An order to arbitrate the particular grievance should not be denied unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute. Doubts should be resolved in favor of coverage." United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Co., 363 U.S. 574, 583, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1409, 80 S. Ct. 1347 (1960) (footnote omitted). Nevertheless, the Court has noted that "'arbitration is a matter of contract and a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit.'" AT & T ...

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