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Local 702 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. Illinois Consolidated Telephone Co.

July 14, 2008

LOCAL 702 INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ILLINOIS CONSOLIDATED TELEPHONE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Reagan, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

On May 21, 2007, Plaintiff, Local 702 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ("Local 702" or "the Union"), filed a three-count complaint against Defendant, Illinois Consolidated Telephone Company ("ICTC"), pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., and Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 185. The action now proceeds on the Union's amended complaint, filed July 31, 2007, (Doc. 20) and on ICTC's counterclaim, filed December 14, 2007 (Doc. 34). In Count I of the amended complaint, the Union seeks an order vacating Arbitrator Bruno Kozlowski's ("Kozlowski") award and directing ICTC to participate with the Union in requesting a new arbitrator. In the alternative, in Count II, the Union seeks the enforcement of its interpretation of the award - that Kozlowski ruled in its favor on the issue of whether ICTC could transfer Illinois NOC work to the Texas NOC. As a third alternative, in Count III, the Union seeks an order directing ICTC to proceed to arbitration on the Union's two-part grievance filed March 27, 2007.*fn1 In ICTC's counterclaim, it seeks to enforce its interpretation of Kozlowski's award and to cause Local 702 to cease and desist its pursuit of a second, unilateral and duplicative arbitration.

ICTC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Consolidated Communications Holdings, Inc. ("Consolidated"). The Union and ICTC are parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA" or "Agreement"). The parties' current CBA, effective November 15, 2005, through November 15, 2008, governs the terms and conditions of employment for ICTC employees, including those who work at ICTC's Network Operations Center ("NOC") in Mattoon, Illinois. Doc. 20, Exhibit 1. In April, 2004, Consolidated completed its purchase of Texas-based TXU Communications ("TXU"). TXU maintains a NOC in Lufkin, Texas. In 2006, Consolidated adopted a plan to integrate the functions of the Illinois NOC and the Texas NOC, including transfer of bargaining unit work from the Illinois NOC to the Texas NOC.

The Union filed a series of grievances protesting this transfer of bargaining unit work. The grievances were consolidated into one class action grievance which was arbitrated by Kozlowski, an impartial arbitrator chosen from a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service panel, according to the terms of the CBA. On March 1, 2007, Kozlowski issued his Opinion and Award. Doc. 2, Plaintiff's Exhibit 1.

The Union asserts that the award should be vacated because it fails to resolve the sole issue presented and is ambiguous, factually inaccurate and incomprehensible. ICTC proposes seeking clarification by resubmitting to Kozlowski the issue the parties originally asked him to decide. The Union rejects this offer as futile, and as risking further confusion and an arbitrary interpretation of the facts. ICTC rejects the Union's proposal to submit the issue to another arbitrator.

The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are fully briefed, and, after a hearing on July 2, 2008, the Court rules as follows.

II. Legal Standard and Analysis

The Seventh Circuit has clarified that the "usual Rule 56 standard of review applies to cross-motions for summary judgment." Int'l Brotherhood of Elec. Workers v. Balmoral Racing Club, Inc., 293 F.3d 402, 404 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians v. Voigt, 700 F.2d 341, 349 (7th Cir. 1983). Thus, in evaluating the Union's arguments for summary judgment and determining whether a genuine issue of material fact remains, the Court construes the record in the light most favorable to non-movant ICTC. In evaluating ICTC's motion and determining whether a genuine issue of material fact remains, the Court construes the record in the light most favorable to non-movant the Union.

In Count I, the Union seeks to vacate the arbitration award under 9 U.S.C. § 10, which provides that an arbitration award may be vacated "where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter was not made." The Union wishes to select an arbitrator from a new panel and to proceed to arbitration again on the issue previously presented to Kozlowski.

The Supreme Court, in Major League Baseball Players Ass'n v. Garvey, 532 U.S. 504 (2001), delineated judicial review of labor-arbitration decisions as follows:

Judicial review of a labor-arbitration decision pursuant to such an agreement is very limited. Courts are not authorized to review the arbitrator's decision on the merits despite allegations that the decision rests on factual errors or misinterprets the parties' agreement. We recently reiterated that if an 'arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority,' the fact that 'a court is convinced he committed serious error does not suffice to overturn his decision.' It is only when the arbitrator strays from interpretation and application of the agreement and effectively 'dispense [s] his own brand of industrial justice' that his decision may be unenforceable.When an arbitrator resolves disputes regarding the application of a contract, and no dishonesty is alleged, the arbitrator's 'improvident, even silly, factfinding' does not provide a basis for a reviewing court to refuse to enforce the award. Garvey, 532 U.S. at 509 (internal citations omitted).

Thus, the Court cannot review the merits of an arbitrator's award even if a party to the award alleges factual errors or misinterpretation of the underlying contract if the arbitrator is "arguably construing" the contract and "acting within the scope of his authority." Allowing courts the "final say" on the merits of a grievance would undermine arbitration.

As amplified by the Seventh Circuit, while "[a]n arbitrator's authority is limited to interpretation and application of the CBA, ...'as long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority, that a court is convinced he committed serious error does not suffice to overturn his decision.'" Local 15, Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO v. Exelon Corp. 495 F.3d 779, 784 (7th Cir. 2007) (citations and quotations omitted). Therefore, even if the Court were convinced - which it is not - that Kozlowski committed serious error, it could not overturn his decision because it is evident from his Opinion and ...


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