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COOK v. GRISTEDE BROS.

June 4, 1973

John Cook, as President of General Warehousemen's Union Local 852, IBT, Petitioner-Respondent
v.
Gristede Brothers, Division of The South-Land Corporation, Respondent-Petitioner


Cooper, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: COOPER

COOPER, District Judge.

The petition before us is for an order staying arbitration between Local 852, General Warehousemen's Union (hereafter the "Union"), petitioner herein, and respondent, Gristede Bros. (hereafter the "Company"). In addition, respondent has moved for leave to file a supplemental answer the resolution of which is dependent upon the merits of the petition itself. We deal with both hereinafter.

 For the reasons set forth below, respondent's motion is denied and the petition for an order staying arbitration is granted.

 The Union and the Company are parties to a collective bargaining agreement covering warehouse employees of the Company at its Bronx, New York, warehouse. The underlying dispute concerns whether or not the Company has the right to change its method of buying products and product lines. It is undisputed that the proposed change in operation would result in a permanent lay-off of employees (represented by the Union) whose terms and conditions of employment are covered by the agreement. The issue before us is whether the dispute aforementioned is subject to compulsory arbitration under the agreement.

 The Union, seeking to stay arbitration, contends that the arbitration clause is clearly and specifically limited in scope and should therefore not be extended by implication to cover the instant controversy. The Company contends that the federal labor policy favoring arbitration should govern and the dispute interpreted as falling within the purview of the arbitration clause, limited on its face though it may be. The Company focuses upon the broad no-strike, no-lockout clause of the agreement (Article XXIV) and contends that the arbitration clause must be mutually co-extensive therewith.

 There is great wisdom in the strong federal policy promoting industrial peace through collective bargaining agreements. A major tool in achieving this objective is the grievance machinery established by the parties to resolve disputes as an integral part of the collective bargaining process. See the "Steelworkers Trilogy": United Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1424, 80 S. Ct. 1358 (1960); United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Nav. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1409, 80 S. Ct. 1347 (1960); United Steelworkers of America v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1403, 80 S. Ct. 1343 (1960). However, this machinery and its applicability to disputes must rest upon the consent of the parties as expressed in, or implied from, their agreement; it is not imposed by law. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 11 L. Ed. 2d 898, 84 S. Ct. 909 (1964); International. Union of Electrical Radio and Machine Workers v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 218 F. Supp. 82 (S.D.N.Y. 1963). In determining whether a grievance is arbitrable, the Court must not concern itself with the merits of the particular grievance. Where the relevant language of the agreement is unambiguous and subject to only one interpretation the Court should not look to bargaining history as a source of contradictory evidence regarding the intent of the parties. United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., supra; Strauss v. Silvercup Bakeries, Inc., 353 F.2d 555 (2d Cir. 1965); United Mineworkers of America v. Bridgeport Gas Co., 328 F.2d 381. Our Judge Weinfeld put it plainly:

 
Its sole inquiry is restricted to whether the parties did agree to arbitrate the grievance. The issue is to be decided within the framework of their collective bargaining agreement. And when the parties have entered into a comprehensive arbitration provision, any challenge that a grievance is not intended to be covered thereunder must find support in unmistakably clear language of exclusion; arbitration of a particular dispute is to be ordered unless it may be said with positive assurance that it is excluded by the contract. Whatever doubts exist as to whether the grievance is within the ambit of the arbitral process are to be resolved in favor of coverage.

 International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., supra at 84.

 No such comprehensive arbitration provision exists here. The agreement provides for arbitration solely and exclusively with respect to discharge of an employee for just cause. The resolution of no other contest or dispute is provided for thereunder. The exclusive provision reads as follows:

 
Article XXIII
 
Discharge
 
(A) Any employee may be discharged by the Company for just cause.
 
(B) The Union may, not later than five (5) days after any discharge or suspension, discuss the reason for discharge with the Company.
 
(C) In case of failure to agree, both parties agree to refer the matter to the New York State Mediation Board for arbitration in accordance with the Board's procedures. The Arbitrator's decision shall be rendered as ...

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