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International Chemical Workers Union v. Basf Wyandotte Corp.

September 25, 1985

INTERNATIONAL CHEMICAL WORKERS UNION (AFL-CIO), LOCAL NO. 227, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, CROSS-APPELLANT
v.
BASF WYANDOTTE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, CROSS-APPELLEE



Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Miner, J.) confirming and enforcing arbitration award in favor of the plaintiff. Affirmed in part, reversed in part.

Author: RE

BEFORE: VAN GRAAFEILAND and PRATT, Circuit Judges, and RE, Chief Judge, United States Court of International Trade.*fn*

RE, Chief Judge :

Defendant, BASF Wyandotte Corporation (BASF), appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, confirming and enforcing an arbitration award which awarded back pay and reinstatement to a discharged employee. Plaintiff-appellee, International Chemical Workers Union, Local 227 (the Union), appeals from the district court's denial of the Union's motion for attorney's fees. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the award of back pay up to and including August 31, 1984. That portion of the judgment requiring reinstatement and back pay after August 31, 1984 is reversed. The district court's denial of attorney's fees is affirmed.

Background

On December 16, 1982, Edsall Walker, a janitor who was covered by a collective bargaining agreement between the Union and BASF, was discharged allegedly for loafing and sleeping on the job. Contending that there was no good and sufficient reason for his termination, Walker pursued the company's grievance procedures without success. Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, the Union requested arbitration of the dispute, and sought back pay and reinstatement for Walker.

In a written opinion dated May 5, 1984, the arbitrator found that Walker had been improperly discharged, and ordered back pay and reinstatement. When BASF refused to reinstate Walker or provide back pay, the Union brought this action to confirm and enforce the award pursuant to section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 185 (1982). BASF cross-petitioned to vacate the award.

The case was complicated, however, when, on September 1, 1984, subsequent to the arbitrator's award but prior to the district court's decision, the Union and BASF entered into a new collective bargaining agreement in which Walker's position was eliminated from the bargaining unit. In its motion to vacate the award before the district court, BASF contended that the arbitrator exceeded her authority and jurisdiction, that her findings were so patently erroneous as to indicate partiality, and that she was guilty of misconduct. Alternatively, BASF argued that the new collective bargaining agreement made reinstatement and back pay after August 31, 1984, impossible.

The district court rejected BASF's challenges to the validity of the arbitrator's award. In addition, the district court held that, notwithstanding the elimination of Walker's position in the new agreement, BASF was required to reinstate Walker. Since the court found BASF's position in the litigation justifiable, it denied the Union's motion for attorney's fees.

On appeal, the defendant, BASF, challenges only that part of the district court's order which requires reinstatement and back pay after August 31, 1984. It does not challenge that portion of the judgment which awards back pay from the date of the discharge up to and including August 31, 1984. Since the district court properly upheld that portion of the arbitrator's award, that portion of the judgment requiring back pay until and including August 31, 1984, is affirmed.

The questions presented on appeal are: (1) whether the district court erred in requiring reinstatement and back pay after the date of the new collective bargaining agreement, and (2) whether the Union is entitled to payment of attorney's fees.

Since we hold that the elimination of Walker's position in the new collective bargaining agreement presents a new and distinct issue, neither covered nor contemplated by the arbitration award, we reverse that portion of the district court's judgment which ordered reinstatement and back pay after August 31, 1984. We also conclude that, since BASF has presented substantial issues in this litigation, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Union's motion for attorney's fees.

Reinstatement

It is well recognized that it is not within the province of the federal courts to review the merits of an arbitration award. See, e.g., United Steelworkers v. American Manufacturing Co., 363 U.S. 564, 569, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1403, 80 S. Ct. 1343 (1960); National Union of Elevator Constructors, AFL-CIO v. National Elevator Indus., Inc., 772 F.2d 10, at 6030 (2d Cir. 1985). Since arbitration is essential to this nation's system of labor-management relations, in cases in which the arbitrator acts within the authority granted by contract, the courts must defer to the arbitrator's decision. United Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. ...


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