Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, No. 87 C 7994 -- William T. Hart, Judge.
Cudahy, Posner and Easterbrook, Circuit Judges.
Plaintiff-appellant Chicago Typographical Union No. 16 (the "Union") commenced this action to compel the defendant-appellee, Chicago Sun-Times, Inc. (the "Sun-Times"), to arbitrate a dispute over the proper interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement.*fn1 The district court found that the parties were not in "controversy [or] . . . disagreement as to interpretation or enforcement of the terms of th[e] Agreement" as required by the contract's arbitration clause. The court refused to order arbitration of what it considered a non-existent dispute. It therefore dismissed the Union's complaint with prejudice. This appeal followed. We affirm.
The contract between the Union and the Sun-Times contains what is commonly known as a "most favored nation" clause.*fn2 Under this provision, the parties have agreed that if more advantageous terms or conditions of employment are "granted" by the Union to the Chicago Tribune (the "Tribune"), the Sun-Times will be allowed to implement the same terms and conditions or their equivalent.
The Union has been involved in continuing controversies with the Tribune over the last several years. The last collectively bargained agreement between the Union and the Tribune expired on January 14, 1983. After an impasse in bargaining had been reached, the Tribune posted its "final offer" of work terms and conditions on January 15, 1985. Negotiations continued, but to no avail; the Union declared a strike on July 18, 1985. On February 10, 1986, the Union submitted an unconditional offer to return to work. Since that time, various union members have returned to work in the Tribune's composing room. The Union takes the position that its members' return to work under the terms unilaterally imposed by the Tribune does not constitute a "grant" of wage concessions by the Union, as that term is used in the most favored nation clause of the Union's agreement with the Sun-Times.
On August 21, 1987, Jack Nettis, Director of Personnel and Labor Relations for the Sun-Times, sent a letter to Dave Donovan, President of the Union. The letter recited that
In recent weeks, we have learned that there may have been actions taken by the Chicago Typographical Union No. 16 in 1986 or 1987, regarding terms and conditions of employment at the Chicago Tribune, that affect certain rights of the Chicago Sun-Times, Inc., under the labor contract between Chicago Sun-Times, Inc. and Chicago Typographical Union No. 16. In order to properly administer our labor contract and to insure the protection of the Company's rights under the labor contract, we request the Union provide us with the following information.
The letter went on to request various "correspondence, proposals and agreements" between the Union and the Tribune, relating to the terms and conditions of employment of the Union's members in the Tribune's composing room.
Donovan responded on August 24. He stated that he "was not aware 'that there may have been actions taken by Chicago Typographical Union No. 16 in 1986 or 1987, regarding terms and conditions of employment at the Chicago Tribune.'" Donovan thanked Nettis for his "interest and concern," but otherwise provided no information concerning the terms and conditions under which members of the Union were working at the Tribune.
The correspondence assumed a somewhat less cordial character on August 31, when Nettis replied to Donavan's missive. Nettis reiterated the information request, noting that the information was required "in order to enable the Chicago Sun-Times, Inc., to administer the labor unit rate and protect its rights." Nettis also asserted that Donovan's "degree of awareness concerning the actions of Chicago Typographical Union No. 16 is not relevant to and does not relieve the Union of the Union's obligation to respond to the Company's legitimate information request." Nettis therefore requested that the Union promptly respond to the initial request for information.
On September 3, Donovan sent letters to Nettis and to Robert Page, the President and Publisher of the Sun-Times. The letter to Nettis stated that
Your letter of August 21, 1987, followed by your letter of August 31, 1987, and your recent actions in unilaterally cutting wages of the Mailers' bargaining unit portends the same action by the Chicago Sun-Times for its composing room employees under your interpretation of the "Uniformity of Agreement" of our contract (Section 7). The Union disputes your position that our contract grants authority to the Chicago Sun-Times to lower wages to . ...