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United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union v. TriMas Corp.

July 3, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 06 C 32-Theresa L. Springmann, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cudahy, Circuit Judge.


Before CUDAHY, POSNER, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

The defendant TriMas Corporation (TriMas) owns a number of heavy manufacturing plants in the Midwest. In July 2003, it signed a neutrality agreement with an organization whose name is a "mouthful"-the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (Union). In essence, TriMas agreed to cooperate with Union efforts to organize its workforce, at least within certain parameters. The agreement specified that any disputes regarding the terms of the agreement would be settled by arbitration.

In 2005, the Union informed TriMas of its intention to organize the Rieke plant, a TriMas facility in Auburn, Indiana. The Union believes that the Rieke plant is a "covered workplace" subject to the provisions of the agreement requiring neutrality. TriMas, however, refused to accord neutrality to the Union. TriMas claimed that the plain language of the neutrality agreement was not controlling because the neutrality agreement had been modified by an oral side agreement. The modified agreement applied to only three or four plants, it argued, and the Rieke plant was not one of them. When the Union insisted that they submit the dispute to arbitration, TriMas again refused. It characterized the dispute as one involving the "scope" of the agreement itself and so claimed that it had no duty to submit it to arbitration.

The Union then brought this action in federal court to compel arbitration under the Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA). See 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted the Union's motion. TriMas now appeals, claiming that the district court "ignored" the extrinsic evidence that would have established the existence of the side agreement. We believe that the district court was correct in finding that the dispute was covered by the language of the arbitration clause and in leaving consideration of the extrinsic evidence to the arbitrator.


Heartland Industrial Partners (Heartland) is an investment banking fund that was set up to facilitate investments in the heavily unionized "smokestack" industries of the Midwest. Heartland's president, David Stockton, wanted to foster a positive relationship with the Union and sought an early agreement on neutrality with respect to organizing matters. Stockman met with Ron Bloom, the Special Assistant to the President of the Union, whom Stockman knew from the days when they both worked as investment bankers. On November 27, 2000, Heartland signed a neutrality agreement with the Union (Heartland Agreement), which actually consisted of a long letter from Stockman to Union President Leo Girard as well as a framework agreement. Heartland agreed to remain neutral during union organizing efforts and to recognize a union if a majority of employees signed cards authorizing the Union to represent them. The Heartland Agreement also provided that it would be binding on business enterprises that Heartland owned, directed or controlled.*fn1 Heartland also agreed that, when new companies came under Heartland control, Heartland would direct them to execute their own neutrality agreements with the Union. For example, when Heart-land acquired control of a company called Metaldyne Corporation (Metaldyne), Metaldyne immediately executed its own neutrality agreement with the Union.

In early 2002, the Union launched a campaign to organize workers at a Metaldyne plant in Hamburg, Michigan. Although the drive was ultimately successful, it left a bitter feeling on both sides. The Union claimed that Metaldyne had not cooperated during its organizing efforts, while Metaldyne complained that the Union had not given it proper warning before beginning the campaign. If it had been given proper warning, Metaldyne claimed, it could have warned the Union that sentiment at the Hamburg plant was more staunchly anti-union than at other plants.

In late September 2002, Stockman and Bloom began discussing ways to avoid a repetition of the Hamburg debacle. They reached an informal agreement regarding the "sequencing" of future organizing drives in order to ensure that the plants targeted for organizing were amenable to such efforts. A series of meetings and conference calls followed. Stockman sent a memorandum that outlined the sequencing arrangement to key officials throughout his company. Stan Johnson, then the Director of Organizing for the Union, also sent out a memorandum to his colleagues. On October 31, 2002, the key players met at the Detroit Airport to finalize these plans. In preparation for the meeting, Stockman had composed a memorandum that reflected his understanding of the agreements made with Bloom (Airport Memorandum). The memorandum was distributed to all the parties at the airport meeting. The union never signed it, however, and no other written agreement was executed as a result of the meeting. As we shall see, the parties dispute the precise nature of the agreement reached at the Detroit Airport. TriMas claims that the parties agreed to narrow the application of the Heartland Agreement to a short list of plants, while the Union claims that the parties agreed informally on the order in which the first plants would be organized.

TriMas Corporation was created as a spin-off from Metaldyne shortly before the airport meeting, which TriMas President Grant Beard attended. TriMas is a subsidiary of Heartland and, on July 11, 2003, more than eight months after the airport meeting, TriMas and the Union executed a neutrality agreement. The TriMas Neutrality Agreement consisted of two complimentary agreements: the "Framework for a Constructive Bargaining Relationship" (Framework Agreement) and a side letter agreement (Side Letter). The text of this agreement is similar to the Heartland Agreement. It includes an arbitration clause that reads, in relevant part, as follows: "Any alleged violation or dispute involving the terms of this Framework Agreement may be brought to [arbitration]." Like the Heartland Agreement, it also contains an integration clause that forbids oral modifications to the contract.

But things did not go smoothly. In the summer of 2004, the parties had a dispute over the applicability of the TriMas Agreement to a TriMas plant in Frankfort, Indiana. TriMas refused to cooperate with Union efforts to organize the plant. The parties also disagreed in September 2004 about the Agreement's applicability to a TriMas plant in Houston, Texas. The Union filed a grievance under the dispute resolution provisions of the Agreement but TriMas refused to go to arbitration. TriMas insisted that the TriMas Agreement applied only to the three plants agreed upon at the airport meeting (Goshen, Wood Dale and Longview) and one plant agreed upon at a later date (Frankfort). TriMas asserted that it had no duty to arbitrate the applicability of the agreement to other plants. The Frankfort suit was settled on April 7, 2005, although both parties still clung to their own interpretations of the Neutrality Agreement.

TriMas owned a subsidiary, Rieke Corporation, which operated a manufacturing facility in Auburn, Indiana. The Union tried to get assurances from TriMas that it would remain neutral during the effort at Rieke, but TriMas officials refused. TriMas also refused to submit the dispute to arbitration.

On February 1, 2006, the Union filed the present action under ยง 301 of the LMRA to compel TriMas to submit to arbitration. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment on November 14, 2006. On February 22, 2007, the district court denied TriMas's motion for summary judgment ...

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