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Judges: Dispute can be arbitrated

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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A union and the owner of the facility the union wants to organize can proceed to arbitration to decide whether the facility is a covered workplace under an agreement requiring neutrality, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

In United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union v. TriMas Corporation, No. 07-1688, the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW) brought an action in federal court to compel arbitration under the Labor-Management Relations Act after TriMas Corporation refused to submit a dispute with the union to arbitration.

USW informed TriMas, which was a subsidiary of Heartland Industrial Partners, it wanted to organize a TriMas plant in Auburn, Ind., which it believed was considered a "covered workplace" subject to the provisions of an agreement executed between TriMas and USW that required neutrality by TriMas when organizing. The agreement also included an arbitration clause.

USW and Heartland agreed the company and its subsidiaries would remain neutral during organization efforts and would recognize a union if the majority of employees agreed to have USW represent them. The company had its subsidiaries execute agreements with USW directly.

Later, leaders from Heartland and USW wrote a memorandum outlining which plants could be targeted for unionizing based on how amenable the plants would be to the efforts. The Auburn plant wasn't listed in the memorandum. USW never signed the memorandum and no other written agreement about the issue was executed.

When USW tried to get assurances from TriMas that it would remain neutral during an organizing effort at the Auburn plant, TriMas refused; the company also refused to submit the dispute to arbitration, arguing that the Auburn plant wasn't a "covered workplace" under the agreement between TriMas and USW as a result of the memorandum.

USW filed suit in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division, which granted USW's motion for summary judgment.

The District Court was correct in granting summary judgment for USW, compelling arbitration, and refusing to consider evidence submitted by TriMas because the evidence was irrelevant to the question of the arbitrability because it didn't have to do with the interpretation of the arbitration clause itself, wrote Judge Richard Cudahy. Under the language of the agreement between TriMas and USW, the Auburn plant would be a "covered workplace" because the agreement doesn't list specific plants that it covers.

"Because this dispute is covered by the plain language of the arbitration clause and by nothing else, it should be submitted to arbitration," he wrote.
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