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Cannery Workers, Processors, Warehousemen & Helpers v. Diamond Foods

December 2, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge


Plaintiff Cannery Workers, Processors, Warehousemen and Helpers, Teamsters Local 601, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (the "Union") and Defendant Diamond Foods, Inc. ("Diamond") have filed cross motions for summary judgment. (Docket Nos. 16, 21.) The cross motions were heard on November 23, 2009. The issue to be decided is whether an arbitrator has authority under the parties' collective bargaining agreement to determine what issues are within the scope of the grievances the Union seeks to arbitrate. For the reasons stated below, summary judgment is granted in favor of the Union.

I. Legal Standard

The party seeking summary judgment "bears the initial burden to demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact." Horphag Research Ltd. v. Garcia, 475 F.3d 1029, 1035 (9th Cir. 2007).

If this burden is satisfied, "the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. (citations and quotations omitted). "Mere argument, [however,] does not establish a genuine issue of material fact to defeat summary judgment." MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511, 518 (9th Cir. 1993). The evidence is to be viewed, and all reasonable inferences drawn, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See T.W. Elec. Service, Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630-31 (9th Cir. 1987).

II. Background

The Union is an unincorporated labor organization affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters that represents employees in the canning and food processing industry for collective bargaining purposes. (Def.'s Response to Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ("SUF") ¶ 1.) Diamond and the Union are parties to a collective bargaining agreement that became effective on March 28, 2005 (the "CBA"). (Id. ¶ 4.) The CBA establishes a grievance process for resolving disputes arising under the CBA that culminates in final binding arbitration. (Reyes Decl., Ex. A (the CBA))

On February 1, 2008, the Union filed a grievance form on behalf of Diamond employee Ernestine Mcklin, in which it states: "[t]he company has informed [Ms.] Mcklin that she has lost her benefits due to her demotion as a result of the layoff. This is a violation of the CBA." (Def.'s Response to Pl.'s SUF ¶ 14; Reyes Decl., Ex. B.) The Union filed another grievance form on February 12, 2008, on behalf of "Local 601," in which it alleges that Diamond violated the grievance procedures in Article VIII of the CBA, in part, by failing to timely respond to Ms. McKlin's February 1st grievance. (Reyes Decl., Ex. C.)

The Union filed an additional grievance form on behalf of Ms. McKlin and "all affected" employees on February 13, 2008, stating: "[t]his is an amendment of the original grievance filed under [Ms.] Mcklin. The Union has learned that the benefits for many other people will be impacted by [Diamond's] lay off. Therefore, the amendment of this grievance is to change the grievance filing to 'ON BEHALF OF ALL AFFECTED.'" (Reyes Decl., Ex. D.)

Diamond's Vice President of Operations wrote a letter to the Union's Business Agent on March 17, 2008, in which Diamond denied the Union's February 13th grievance, stating, Diamond's "position is that there is no contractual violation." (Reyes Decl., Ex. E.) The Union responded in a letter dated March 8, 2008, in which it informed Diamond that "the Union has decided to move [the] grievance to Federal Mediation in accordance with Article IX, of the [CBA]." (Reyes Decl., Ex F.)

At an arbitration hearing before Arbitrator Charles Askin on March 6, 2009, a dispute arose between the Union and Diamond concerning the scope of the grievances and matters that could be presented to the arbitrator. (Def.'s Response to Pl.'s SUF ¶¶ 24, 28; Reyes Decl., Exs. G, H.) Since Diamond refused to allow the arbitrator to resolve the dispute, the arbitration hearing was suspended. (Def.'s Response to Pl.'s SUF ¶¶ 29-31.) After this suspension, the Union and Diamond exchanged letters which reflect their respective accounts of what transpired at the March 6th arbitration proceeding. (Reyes Decl., Exs. G, H.)

The Union's attorney "set forth [his understanding] of the dispute that led to the suspension of the [arbitration] proceedings" in a letter dated March 9, 2009, stating:

The Union proposed that the following two issues be submitted to the Arbitrator for decision:

1. Did [Diamond] fail to comply with the time limits under Article 8, Section 8.01 of the [CBA], and if so, has it waived ...

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