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Wackenhut Corp. v. Local 1

July 17, 2006

THE WACKENHUT CORP., PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOCAL 1, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

An arbitrator adjudicating a grievance filed by Local 1 of the Service Employees International Union, challenging The Wackenhut Corporation's discharge of employee Tammy Nodine, sustained the grievance and ordered Wackenhut to reinstate Nodine and pay her lost wages. Wackenhut filed suit seeking to vacate the arbitrator's decision. Local 1 filed a counterclaim seeking enforcement of the decision. Both Wackenhut and Local 1 have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Wackenhut's motion and grants Local 1's motion.

Facts

Wackenhut provides security services at the Dresden nuclear power plant in Morris, Illinois. Local 1 is a labor union that represents the security officers employed by Wackenhut.

Wackenhut and Local 1 entered into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on March 26, 2003. The relevant portions of the CBA include Article 2, which discusses the rights reserved to management, including the "right to discipline, suspend or discharge employees for just cause," and Article 6, Section 3, which provides that

[t]he award of such arbitrator shall be in writing and shall be final and binding upon the Employer, the Union, and the Security Officer involved. The arbitrator may consider and decide only the particular grievance presented in the written stipulation of the Employer and the Union and the arbitrator's decision shall be based solely upon the interpretation of the provisions of this Agreement. The arbitrator shall not have the right to amend, take away, modify, add to, change or disregard any of the provisions of this Agreement. In the event that an arbitrator shall determine that a Security Officer has violated an Employer rule, regulation, or policy for which said Security Officer was charged, the arbitrator shall not have the right to reduce, modify, or in any way alter the penalty assessed by the Employer.

Wackenhut employed Nodine as a security officer at the Dresden plant from June 18, 2001 through February 7, 2005. Security officers' duties include raising and lowering retractable "active vehicle barriers" at the plant's entry gates. Security officers were trained twice on operating these devices: in October 2004 after the barriers were installed, and in December 2004 after the barriers were accidentally deployed at four other Wackenhut sites.

Prompted by the incidents at other sites, Wackenhut also issued a memo to all security officers on December 10, 2004, specifying a series of required steps and communications before activating a barrier. Among these was a "STAR Self-Check,"*fn1 which required security officers to be "100 percent sure that the action to be taken is correct before manipulation of any equipment." See Opinion and Award at 5. The memo informed security officers that Wackenhut would treat failure to follow the procedures as a Level 1 incident under the progressive discipline provision of its Policy and Procedure Manual, for which termination was a possible penalty. Wackenhut held meetings to inform security officers about the memo's contents, and the security officers signed statements acknowledging that they had read and understood the memo.

On January 20, 2005, Nodine was stationed at Tower Nine of the Dresden plant, and a fellow employee, Mike Borello, was stationed about one hundred yards away at Tower One. As a Waste Management truck was entering the plant, Nodine and Borello apparently followed the required procedures until the final step. Borello radioed Nodine to close the gate behind the truck. Nodine did not perform a STAR self-check, which required her to stop and think before operating the control. Instead, she immediately hit the button that raised the barrier, rather than the button to close the gate. The barrier hit and broke one of the control arms on the truck; some of the barrier's surface was also damaged.

Nodine and Borello reported the incident to management. Wackenhut administered fitness for duty tests, which included drug and alcohol testing. Nodine and Borello both passed these tests. They each provided incident reports and submitted to interviews by their supervisors. Wackenhut sent both employees home on the date of the incident but recalled Borello the next work day. Following several days of internal review, Wackenhut terminated Nodine on February 7, 2005.

Nodine filed a grievance with Local 1 on February 10, 2005. The arbitrator heard the grievance on June 24, 2005. On August 29, 2005, the arbitrator issued an opinion and award sustaining the grievance on the ground that Wackenhut lacked just cause for termination. He directed Wackenhut to reinstate Nodine to her former or equivalent employment and reimburse her lost wages.

On November 18, 2005, Wackenhut filed a petition with this Court seeking to vacate the arbitrator's award. Local 1 filed a counterclaim seeking to enforce the award. Both sides have moved for summary judgment.

Discussion

Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In reviewing an arbitrator's decision, a court generally does not review the arbitrator's factual findings absent allegations of dishonesty or fraud, which have not been made ...


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