The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the decision by a trial court to dismiss a company’s state law claims against a labor union, finding those claims are preempted by a decision of the National Labor Relations Board.
Engineered Steel Concepts, owned by Tom Anderson, negotiated with Steven Parks, a business agent for a union, to have union members drive trucks hauling a by-product of the steel-making process. Anderson had two agreement options: a Section 8(f) general construction agreement, applicable to employers who are primarily in the building and construction industry; and Section 9(a), a commodity hauling agreement. Anderson signed the Section 8(f) agreement under the belief that this was the best agreement since the work would be temporary.
After the by-product hauling project ended, the company told the union employees that no other work was available. The union filed a charge against ESC with the National Labor Relations Board claiming the employees were unjustly terminated. An administrative law judge found that the company couldn’t have entered into a Section 8(f) agreement and treated the agreement instead like the Section 9(a) agreement. Under Section 9(a), ESC couldn’t terminate the agreement at the end of the project. The ALJ found ESC violated several sections of the National Labor Relations Act.
Anderson and the company then alleged three counts against Parks and the union, including fraud in inducement of the contract. The trial court granted the union’s request to dismiss the complaint under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The appellate judges found in Engineered Steel Concepts, Inc., ESC Group Limited, and Tom Anderson v. General Drivers, Warehousemen, and Helpers Union Local 142, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Steven Parks, that the National Labor Relations Act preempted the state claims. The three state law claims against Parks and the union are essentially based on the exchange between Anderson and Parks in deciding which agreement to use. These issues were before the ALJ for resolution of the NLRB complaint.
“As such, it would be impossible for a state court to determine the merits of Anderson and the Company’s allegations without becoming an obstacle to the federal objective of having the NLRB exclusively 'oversee and referee' the collectively bargaining process between these two entities,” wrote Judge Edward Najam.