The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES A. LEGGE
Petitioners are an employer association and one employer member of that association. They bring this action to compel the respondent labor unions to arbitrate grievances brought by the employer under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The employer filed ten grievances, but respondents declined to participate in the procedures to submit the grievances to an arbitrator. Respondents contend that the CBA allows only unions or union members, and not employers, to initiate grievances and proceed to arbitration.
This dispute about arbitrability is governed primarily by the CBA, which describes the jurisdiction and procedures for arbitration. This court has jurisdiction over this dispute by virtue of Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185.
The case is presently before the court on petitioners' motion for summary judgment. The motion was opposed, briefed, argued and submitted for decision. The court requested additional briefing on the appropriate standard for this court's review of the CBA, specifically whether the court may be depart from the face of the CBA and look at extrinsic evidence in aid of its interpretation. That briefing was concluded. The court has reviewed the CBA, the arguments of counsel and the applicable authorities.
Petitioners contend that the language of the grievance and arbitration clauses in the CBA permits arbitration to be initiated by the union, by an employee, or by the employer, and that the employer's right to initiate grievance and arbitration procedures is an issue of law. Respondents contend that there is a fact issue as to whether the parties intended that the CBA allow arbitration by an employer, and that the court should look outside of the CBA to the history of the dealings between the parties. Respondents contend that there has never been a grievance initiated by an employer in the bargaining history of CBA and its predecessor agreements. Petitioners concede that fact, but contend that it is legally irrelevant under the language of the CBA itself.
Whether a dispute is within the jurisdiction of grievance and arbitration under a CBA is generally a question of law for a court to resolve. Westinghouse Hanford Co. v. Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, 940 F.2d 513, 516 (9th Cir. 1991).
The starting point is the language of the CBA, particularly the grievance and arbitration clauses. In this case, those clauses do not expressly address the question of whether an employer can or cannot initiate a grievance and arbitration. The language is nevertheless important.
Article 1 establishes a joint committee which directs an adjustment board to administer the grievance and arbitration procedures. The agreement states the following regarding the jurisdiction of the committee:
This Committee shall hear all charges of violation of this Agreement concerning Drywall Contractor Association members and non-member signatory contractors doing drywall work.
(CBA, Art. 1, § 2.) That language, standing alone, is broad enough to encompass grievances brought by an employer.
The arbitration provisions are defined in greater detail in Article 13A: