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Cowen v. Star Fisheries Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 12, 2017

WILLIAM B. COWEN, Petitioner,




         Before the Court is the Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board's 21st Region's (hereinafter “Petitioner”) petition for a temporary injunction. (ECF No. 1.) Petitioner alleges that Respondent Star Fisheries Inc. (“Star”) has engaged in unfair labor practices against employees affiliated with Teamsters Local 572, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (hereinafter “the Union”). The Union also appears as an amicus curiae in this action. (See ECF No. 22.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS the petition for a temporary injunction.


         Star processes and ships fresh and frozen seafood. (Pet. 2.) It has a longstanding relationship with the Union, which has represented about 27 drivers and six dockworkers at Star for over 20 years. (Id.) However, discord arose between the Union and Star after Star's long-standing owner died and his wife became president and co-owner of the company. (See Mem. in Support of Pet. (“Mem.”) 4, ECF No. 3.) In late 2013, shortly after the change in ownership, the current collective-bargaining agreement between Star and the Union (“CBA”) was nearing its expiration date. (Id.) The Union attempted to open negotiations to renew the CBA. (Id.) Star responded by sending out “Notice of Termination of Agreement” letters to various Union employees. (Pet. Ex. 4 at 60-61, 252, 254, ECF No. 1-1, 1-2.) These letters indicated that Star was not interested in renewing the Union contracts. (See id.) However, once the Union informed Star that it was legally obligated to negotiate, the parties bargained unsuccessfully during 2014 and 2015. (Mem. 5.) On December 18, 2015, the Union went on strike to express frustration with the course of the negotiations. (Id.) The strike lasted through July 7, 2016. (Id.) Petitioner contends that at some point between the end of 2016 and early 2016, the strike was converted to an unfair labor practice strike. (Pet. 3.)

         Petitioner claims that during the strike, Star committed numerous unfair labor practices, including: making coercive statements to strikers in an attempt to influence them to renounce the Union; hiring replacement drivers at cost (buying out contracts from staffing companies); converting those temporary replacements to permanent hires; unilaterally withdrawing from the Union's pension and health and welfare funds; and refusing to reinstate any striking workers. (See generally Pet.) These allegations of unfair practices correspond with various sections from the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”).

         Between June 16, 2016, and December 28, 2016, the Union filed several charges of unfair labor practices against Star, which led to the Petitioner's instigation of a formal hearing before the National Labor Relations Board (“the Board”). (See Pet.) That hearing is currently set for June 12, 2017. (Id.)


         Petitioner seeks an injunction pursuant to Section 10(j) of the Act (29 U.S.C. § 160(j)), which authorizes the Board to “petition any United States district court, within any district wherein the unfair labor practice in question is alleged to have occurred or wherein such person resides or transacts business, for appropriate temporary relief or restraining order.” The district court should look to traditional equitable principles to determine whether injunctive relief is appropriate in the interim. This means that Petitioner must establish: (1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a likelihood of irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) that the balance of equities tips in favor of the injunction; and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. Frankl v. HTH Corp., 650 F.3d 1334, 1355 (9th Cir. 2011). These elements are evaluated on a sliding scale; i.e., if the showing of irreparable harm increases, the required showing for likelihood of success decreases. Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Cotrell, 632 F.3d 1127, 1131-34 (9th Cir. 2011).


         Each of the traditional equitable principles weigh in favor of Petitioner's request, particularly the likelihood of success on the merits factor.

         A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

         It appears all but guaranteed that Petitioner-and the Union-will succeed on the merits before the Board. Likelihood of success in this type of action “is a function of the probability that the Board will issue an order determining that the unfair labor practices alleged by the Regional Director occurred and that the Ninth Circuit would grant a petition enforcing that order.” Frankl, 650 F.3d at 1255. Petitioner need not prove that Star committed the unfair labor practices; to require such a showing would be to conflate likelihood of success with success itself. See Univ. of Tex v. Camenisch, 451 U.S. 390, 394 (1981).

         Here, Petitioner submits evidence in the form of affidavits and declarations detailing Star's unfair behavior during the strike. (See generally Pet. Exs. 1-4, ECF Nos. 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4.) Star does not refute this evidence or provide an opposition to the argument that Petitioner is likely to succeed on the merits. (See Opp'n, ECF No. 15.) Star instead focuses on the “irreparable injury” portion of the analysis. This ignores the “sliding scale” aspect of the inquiry; the fact that there is little contest on the issue of whether Petitioner will ...

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