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Pacific Media Workers Guild v. San Francisco Chronicle

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 9, 2017



          William H. Orrick United States District Judge


         On January 12, 2017, plaintiff Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA 39521 (“the Guild”) filed a petition to compel the San Francisco Chronicle (the “Chronicle”) to submit a Guild member's grievance to arbitration pursuant to the parties' Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”). The Chronicle has moved to dismiss the Guild's petition, arguing that the Guild has failed to state a claim because there is no factual dispute that the Guild's grievance was not timely made, has been abandoned, and is not arbitrable under the CBA. The Guild has alleged facts demonstrating a genuine dispute as to whether its grievance was timely brought and whether the grievance is arbitrable under the CBA. As the parties agree that all issues regarding arbitrability will be decided by an arbitrator, the Guild has stated a valid claim to compel arbitration. The Chronicle's motion to dismiss is DENIED. Because I conclude that the Guild's grievance must be submitted to arbitration, the Guild's petition to compel arbitration is GRANTED.


         The Guild is a Labor Organization that represents media worker employees. The Chronicle is a San Francisco based newspaper and a division of the Hearst Corporation. The Guild and the Chronicle are parties to a CBA which covers some of the Chronicle's employees. See Petition (“Pet.”) Ex. A. (“CBA”) (Dkt. No. 1-1).


         Article VI of the CBA, titled “Grievance and Arbitration Procedure” lays out procedures for settling all grievances arising under the CBA between the parties. CBA Art. VI. This section explains that all grievances must be submitted by written notice “within twenty-one (21) calendar days of when the grieving party knew or should have known of the action or event giving rise to the grievance.” Id. Art. VI (b). Once a grievance has been submitted it may be moved to arbitration by either party “at any time more than fifteen (15) calendar days after receipt of the written notice in (b) above, but in no event later than forty-five (45) calendar days of receipt of such notice.” Id. Art. VI (c). “Any grievance not moved to arbitration within said thirty (30) calendar days shall be deemed abandoned.” Id. “All issues concerning arbitrability shall be submitted only to the arbitrator for decision, and such decision shall be final and binding.” Id. Art. VI (c)(9).


         In January 2015, Gloria La Riva, an employee of the Chronicle and a member of the Guild assumed a new title and position at the newspaper. Pet. ¶11. For salary purposes she was classified as having three years of experience and assigned a wage rate. Id. In January, 2016, after a year of working in this new position, the Guild notified the Chronicle that La Riva was entitled to a wage rate increase so that she would be paid at the wage rate for employees with four years of experience. Id. ¶12. The Chronicle requested to delay meeting about the issue pending a job performance review of La Riva's work. Id. ¶13. Following this performance review and discussions between the parties, the Chronicle refused to provide La Riva with a wage increase. It argued that her wage rate is capped at years. Id. The parties' discussions regarding this dispute ended on May 31, 2016 when the Chronicle definitively rejected the Guild's demand. Pet. Ex. B (Dkt. No. 1-2).

         On June 2, 2016, the Guild filed a formal grievance notice against the Chronicle regarding the dispute over La Riva's wage increase. Id. On July 6, 2016 it moved to send the grievance to arbitration. Pet. Ex. C (Dkt. No. 1-3). The Chronicle has refused to submit this dispute to arbitration, taking the position that the Guild failed to meet the timing requirements laid out in Article VI (b)-(c) for grievance procedures and has abandoned the right to arbitrate the La Riva dispute. Pet. ¶18. The Guild subsequently filed its petition in this court seeking to compel arbitration of the La Riva wage dispute. See Pet. The Chronicle has moved to dismiss the petition.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court must dismiss a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that “allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). There must be “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. While courts do not require “heightened fact pleading of specifics, ” a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570.

         In deciding whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court accepts the plaintiff's allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987). However, the court is not required to accept as true “allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” See In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig., 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008).

         When faced with a petition to compel arbitration a district court “must decide whether the collective bargaining agreement provides for arbitration of the particular dispute.” United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Locals 197, 373, 428, 588, 775, 839, 870, 1119, 1179 & 1532 chartered by United Food & Commercial Workers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO v. Alpha Beta Co., 736 F.2d 1371, 1383 (9th Cir. 1984). “An order to arbitrate the particular grievance should not be denied unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute. Doubts should be resolved in favor of coverage.” United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582-83 (1960). When the parties have agreed to arbitrate questions of arbitrability, “procedural questions, such as whether a contractual grievance procedure has been followed, or the effect of waiver or delay, ” are presumptively also reserved exclusively for arbitration. Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002). A court “may consider a strictly ...

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