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WILLIAMS v. UAW LOCAL 501

December 28, 1993

GEORGE A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED AUTO WORKERS LOCAL 501, AFL-CIO; ROBERT SCHUMAN, President of United States Auto Workers Local 501; JOSEPH JASTRZEMSKI, Individually and as Chairman of United Auto Workers Local 501; BELL AEROSPACE TEXTRON DIVISION OF TEXTRON, INC.; and THE INTERNATIONAL UNION UNITED AUTOMOBILE AEROSPACE & AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA, Defendants.


CURTIN


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN T. CURTIN

(1) two breaches by Bell of the collective bargaining agreement between Bell and Williams' local union, United Auto Workers Local 501 ("Local 501"). Item 1, Ex. 1, Complaint, PP 14, 21;

 (2) a breach of the duty of fair representation by Local 501; by defendant Robert Schuman, a former President of Local 501; by defendant Joseph Jastrzemski, Chairman of Local 501; and by defendant International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America ("UAW"). Id. PP 25-26; and

 (3) a claim that Bell and the union defendants conspired to deprive him of his rights as an employee and union member. Id. PP 31-33.

 The Union (UAW, Local 501, and Joseph Jastrzemski) has moved for dismissal of the complaint and for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and 56, on the grounds that Williams has failed to exhaust his internal union remedies, that portions of his claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and that he has no separable cause of action for conspiracy. Item 10. Defendant Robert Schuman has failed to appear in the action. *fn2" Bell has filed notice that it agrees with and does not oppose the Union's motion for summary judgment, and that it requests dismissal of the complaint for the reasons set forth by the Union in its motion papers. Item 19.

 Williams opposes the Union's motion, largely by arguing that there are factual issues in dispute sufficient to preclude summary judgment. Item 26, p. 1.

 BACKGROUND

 Williams began working at Bell in October 1967. Twenty-five years later, on October 8, 1992, he was notified that he was being "surplused" from his position, effective October 13, 1992.

 At the time he was laid off, Williams was working as an Electrician Specialist, job classification 49-2. On a number of occasions during the four-year period preceding his layoff, he had filed grievances complaining that unauthorized persons of other job classifications were performing classification 49-2 work. Item 22, P 23 and Ex. J. He claims that as a result of the filing of these grievances, and of his insistence that they be properly processed, Local 501 and Bell were hostile towards him. Item 22, P 22. Allegedly, he had had heated exchanges with the Chairman of Local 501, defendant Joseph Jastrzemski, and with a Union steward, Christopher Marshcke, concerning the "illegal assignments of work by the Company and failure of the Local Union to protect [his] interests and others in like position." Id. P 24; see also, Items 23, 24.

 On receiving notice of his layoff, Williams filed a grievance, claiming that he was being "illegally surplused" from his classification and that persons in other job classifications were "illegally" doing classification 49-2 work. Item 22, PP 4-5 and Ex. A. The grievance was denied on October 27, 1992; and as a result defendant Joseph Jastrzemski, Chairman of Local 501, requested arbitration. Id. P 6 and Ex. A.

 It is not clear whether or not further steps were taken towards obtaining arbitration. However, Williams evidently soon became concerned that Local 501 was failing to properly protect his interests. On December 11, 1992, he wrote to Local 501 through his attorney, Angelo Massaro, requesting that the union "process the grievance in accordance with the provisions of the [Collective Bargaining] Agreement." Item 22, PP 7-8 and Ex. B. A copy of this letter was sent to the local UAW (International) representative. Id. P 9 and Ex. C. Williams also notified Bell of his concerns in a letter dated December 10, 1992. Id. P 10 and Ex. D.

 On December 15, 1992, Local 501 and Bell executed an agreement, evidently without Williams' knowledge, to merge job classification 49-2, Electrician Specialist, with classification 230-1A, Precision Instrument Maker, A.A. Item 22, P 11 and Ex. E. The stated purpose of the merger agreement was "to resolve certain seniority versus classification/work assignment issues." Id. Under the terms of the agreement, all 230-1A employees "in-house" had their job seniority maintained at their then current levels. The two affected 49-2 employees -- Williams and one other -- "would be assigned a job seniority date which would make them the next 230-1A's recalled, should a recall occur." Id.

 Williams claims that the merger agreement, which was entered into pursuant to Article XXV of the collective bargaining agreement, see Item 13, PP 2-3, violated the Grievance Procedure (Article V) and the Arbitration Procedure (Article VI) of the collective bargaining agreement, *fn3" that it failed to protect his job seniority and unit seniority while benefiting and protecting union officials and their families, and that it was executed out of hostility and in bad faith. Item 22, PP 25-43.

 In a letter dated December 24, 1992, nine days after execution of the merger agreement, Williams' attorney was advised by Local 501 President, defendant Robert Schuman, that Williams' employment status "is being resolved by United Auto Workers Local 501 through the grievance procedure." Item 22, P 13 and Ex. F. No mention was made of the merger agreement.

 On December 29, 1992, Williams' attorney sent a letter to Schuman at Local 501 requesting, inter alia, that he be advised of "the date when the grievance will be processed." Item 22, P 15 and Ex. G. A copy of this letter was sent to the local UAW (International) representative. Id. P 16 and Ex. H. It seems that neither Local 501 nor the UAW representative responded to the letter. Id. P 17.

 The merger agreement was ratified by unanimous vote at a special ratification meeting of the Local 501 membership on January 10, 1993. Item 17, P 8 and Ex. D. *fn4" The minutes of the meeting make it plain that the purpose of the agreement was "to settle grievances filed by George Williams, as well as grievances filed by Barb Wood." Id. It is not clear what steps Local 501 officials took to inform the membership in general, or Williams in particular, that the January 10, 1993, meeting was to be held, or what its purpose was. However, Williams was evidently unaware that the meeting was to take place, or at least that its purpose was to ratify an agreement that was intended to settle his grievance. Item 22, PP 17-19.

 In a letter dated January 14, 1993, Williams was informed by Local 501 Chairman Jastrzemski that his grievance had been settled as a result of the merger of the 49-2 and 230-1A job classifications. Item 22, P 18 and Ex. I. Dissatisfied with this result, Williams commenced the present action by filing a complaint, on or about April 8, 1993, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Niagara. Item 1, Ex. 1. The action was later removed to this court, on petition of the defendants. Items 1, 3.

 The defendants have moved for summary judgment. They do not challenge, in this motion, Williams' claims of breach of contract and breach of fair representation. Rather, they argue that Williams has failed to exhaust his internal union remedies. They maintain that under the UAW Constitution there are elaborate complaint and appeal procedures by which the actions of a local union and its officers may be challenged; that members are required to fully exhaust these appeal procedures before commencing an action in a court or administrative agency; that Williams never invoked any of the appeal procedures open to him; and that since Williams failed to pursue a remedy through the UAW, this action should be dismissed. See Item 11, pp. 3-5.

 The first step in the union appeal process is for a member to challenge local union actions at a membership meeting. Item 11, p. 3. If the membership rejects the challenge, or does not act, the member has the right to appeal to the International Executive Board of the UAW ("IEB"). Id. at 3-4. Appeal to the IEB generally results in a hearing, at which the member has a right to representation by counsel, to submit evidence, and submit a brief. Id. at 4. If the member is dissatisfied with the result at the IEB, he or she may appeal either to the Convention Appeals Committee ("CAC"), a body composed of elected delegates from each UAW region, or to the Public Review Board ("PRB"), which consists of a panel of distinguished individuals independent of the union. Id. See also, Items 15 and 16. Both the CAC and the PRB have authority to award money damages. Id.

 Williams does not claim to have attempted to exhaust his union remedies. Rather, he opposes summary judgment by maintaining that ...


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