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MUSTO v. TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA

September 27, 2004.

GIULIO MUSTO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO, LOCAL 501 TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO and AMERICAN AIRLINES, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID TRAGER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiffs Giulio Musto, Aurea Avila, Donna Bates, Ana Garcia, Joseph Duncan, Herbert Carrillo, Agnes Dallas, Dave Denny, Alfonso Ferguson, Angela Taylor Headley, Cameron King, Colin Mayers, Federico Paul, Irwin Roberts, Jose Rodriguez, Renford Scott and Claudine Smith ("plaintiffs") brought this action against defendants Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO ("TWU") and Transport Workers Union of America, Local 501 ("Local 501") (collectively "unions"), as well as American Airlines ("American"), alleging violations of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. ("RLA"). Plaintiffs claim that TWU and Local 501 breached their duty of fair representation by deliberately eliminating their jobs in the course of negotiations with American that led to their being laid off in December 2002, and by failing to represent plaintiffs in their grievances following the layoffs. Plaintiffs further claim that, in December 2002, American improperly laid them off and thereby breached a collective bargaining agreement and certain Letters of Understanding incorporated by that agreement. Accordingly, plaintiffs seek from the unions damages for lost wages, benefits, consequential damages and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages. Plaintiffs also seek that reinstatement by American without any loss of wages, benefits or seniority, and make them whole for loss of wages and benefits.

Pending before the court are (1) defendant TWU's motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); (2) Local 501's motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); and (3) American's motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

  Background

  The following facts are taken from plaintiffs' amended complaint and are presumed to be true for purposes of these motions to dismiss. Plaintiffs are former employees of American who were represented in collective bargaining by the TWU and Local 501. (Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") ¶ 26). American and TWU are parties to a collective bargaining agreement covering the "Title II Utility Men" job classification. (Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss Claims Against American Airlines ("Def. American's Mem. of Law"), at 1). American and TWU are also parties to a separate collective bargaining agreement covering "Title III" Fleet Service Clerks. (Id. at 1). Local 501 has, on behalf of TWU, administered, for certain purposes, the collective bargaining agreements for Title II and Title III employees at John F. Kennedy International Airport ("JFK") and LaGuardia Airport ("LGA") in New York. (Id. at 1).

  On August 15, 1995, American and TWU entered into a Letter of Understanding ("the August 1995 letter") which eliminated the "Title II" Building Cleaner and "Title II" Utility Men classifications, except at American's operations at the airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma (TULE). (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30-31, and Ex. A). The letter provided that "[t]he Company may contract out work formerly performed by Building Cleaners and Utilitymen (except at TULE), after protecting incumbent employees" as outlined in the letter (Id., Ex. A). The letter further stated that "[i]ncumbent Utilitymen will be moved to Plant Maintenance Man positions, if qualified, or to FSC [Title III Fleet Service Clerk] positions, however no employee will be forced to relocate to another station" (Id.). This letter of agreement was incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement covering Title II employees in 1995. (Def. American's Mem. of Law, Ex. A, at 8).

  On August 15, 1995, plaintiffs Giulio Musto, Aurea Avila, Donna Bates, Ana Garcia, and Joseph Duncan were employed by American in the "Title II" Utility Man classification at LaGuardia Airport. (Am. Compl. ¶ 28). That same day, plaintiffs Herbert Carrillo, Agnes Dallas, Dave Denny, Alfonso Ferguson, Angela Taylor Headley, Cameron King, Colin Meyers, Frederico Paul, Irwin Roberts, Jose Rodriguez, Renford Scott, and Claudine Smith were employed by American in the "Title II" Utility Man classification at Kennedy Airport. (Am. Compl. ¶ 29).

  As a result of the August 15, 1995 letter of understanding, the "Title II" Utility Man classification was eliminated to allow for jobs in that classification to be contracted out, and the Utility Men were given the option of transferring to one of three other classifications: (1) the Plaint Maintenance classification, which was also part of the "Title II" group of job classifications; (2) the "Title II" Cabin Cleaner classification (a new position that involved performing some of the work done by Fleet Service employees who were part of the "Title III" classification, but at a lower pay rate than "Title III" Fleet Service employees); or (3) the "Title III" Fleet Service classification (Def. American's Mem. of Law 4). All of the plaintiffs transferred to the "Title II" Cabin Cleaner classification. (Am. Compl. ¶ 34).

  On September 17, 1996, the System Board of Adjustment ("SBA"), a dispute resolution board required by the RLA and jointly set up by the employer and the union, held a hearing on a grievance brought by the Union on behalf of "Title II" Utility Men who transferred into the "Title II" Cabin Cleaner classification pursuant to the August 1995 letter.*fn1 The Union grieved the fact that following implementation of the August 1995 agreement the Company was paying former Utility Men now working as Cabin Cleaners lower wages than it had paid before the agreement. On October 16, 1996, the SBA issued an Award ("1996 Arbitration Award"), which reinstated the Title II Utility Man classification and reassigned Title II Cabin Cleaners to a new Title II Utility Cabin Cleaner classification, and provided that they could be "cross-utilized" by doing work in any other classification, so long as they were qualified (Def. American's Mem. of Law 5).

  Subsequent to the Award, plaintiffs were cross-utilized by American under the "Title III Fleet Service Clerk" ("FSC") classification (Am. Compl. ¶ 35). "At no time since August 15, 1995 have any of the [p]laintiffs performed work other than [Title III] Fleet Service Clerk work." (Id. ¶ 37). On December 4, 1997, American Airlines and TWU entered into a Letter of Understanding ("December 1997 letter") designed to permit employees in the paintiffs' classification to transfer into Title III Fleet Service Clerk positions as vacancies occurred in the Fleet Service Clerk classification. (Id. ¶ 38, and Ex. B).

  On November 11, 2002, American and TWU signed a Letter of Understanding ("November 2002 letter") in which they agreed to discontinue the Title II Utility Man classification for the performance of Cabin Cleaner work at JFK and LaGuardia (Def. American's Mem of Law 6, and Ex. C). By notice dated November 25, 2002, American informed plaintiffs that, due to a workforce reduction, December 13, 2002 would be their last day of employment as Title II Cabin Cleaners. (Am. Compl. ¶ 40, and Ex. C). American gave plaintiffs the option of filling out an election form by December 2, 2002, but in the end terminated all plaintiffs — even those who filled out and returned the form — with the close of their December 13, 2002 shifts. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44).

  On December 19, 2002, plaintiffs from JFK station submitted their grievances to the Local 501 representative for submission to American, and on December 20, plaintiffs from LGA station submitted theirs. (Id. ¶¶ 45-46, and Ex. E). On December 20, American denied the JFK plaintiffs' grievances, and on January 3, 2003, the company denied the LGA plaintiffs' grievances. (Id. ¶ 48, and Ex. F). Subsequently, several of the plaintiffs in this action asked officials at Local 501 and at TWU to pursue their claims in arbitration, but the union officials ignored or dismissed these requests (Id. ¶¶ 50-56). On May 8, 2003, plaintiffs commenced the instant suit.

  Discussion

  (1)

  Statute of Limitations

  Initially, defendants argue that plaintiffs' duty of fair representation claim is time barred since the relevant statute of limitations is six months and the claims accrued in 1995 (Memorandum of Defendant Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO in Support of its Motion to Dismiss ("TWU Mem. of Law") 4-6; Defendant Local 501's Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion to Dismiss the Complaint ("Local 501 Mem. of Law") 6-8). It is indeed well established that the applicable statute of limitations for claims of breach of the duty of fair representation is six months. See DelCostello v. Int'l Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 169-71 (1983) (holding that six-month limitations period of the National Labor Relations Act applies to claims of breach of duty of fair representation). The six-month statute of limitations for claims of breach of the duty of fair representation also applies to employees such as plaintiffs who were covered by the Railway Labor Act. See Gvozdenovic v. United Air Lines, Inc., 933 F.2d 1100, 1106 (2d Cir., 1991). "[T]he cause of action accrues no later than the time when plaintiffs knew or reasonably should have known that such a breach [of the duty of fair representation] had occurred." Ramey v. Dist. 141, Int'l Ass'n of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, No. 99-4341, 2002 WL 32152292, at *6 (E.D.N.Y., Nov. 4, 2002) (Korman, C.J.) (quoting Cohen v. Flushing Hosp. and Medical Center, 68 F.3d 64, 67 (2d Cir. 1995)), aff'd 378 F.3d 269 (2d Cir. 2004).

  Defendants argue that plaintiffs' claim amounts to a challenge to the seniority system, and that in such an action the statute of limitations begins to run when the seniority system is adopted (e.g. August 1995), not when the results of that system are later felt (TWU Mem. of Law 4; Local 501 Mem. of Law 7). TWU argues that though American Airlines' November 2002 reduction in force may have heightened plaintiffs' job security concerns, the "source of the plaintiffs' apprehension" was the fact that they had been cross-utilized since August 1995 without accruing any Title III seniority (TWU Mem. of Law 6). Local 501 similarly argues that plaintiffs' claim is about lost seniority rights and that, in effect, plaintiffs are alleging that the reason for their termination was Local 501's failure to ensure that plaintiffs had "`effective seniority' in Title III" when they had no actual Title III seniority as a result of the cross-utilization scheme (Local 501 Mem. of Law 7). As an alternative, American argues that, at the latest, plaintiffs knew from the 1996 Arbitration Award that they could not accrue Title III seniority as Title II Utility workers (Def. American's Mem. of Law 10). Thus, defendants contend that plaintiffs' claims accrued either in August 1995 or in October 1996, when plaintiffs became aware that they would only receive Title II Utility Men seniority while being cross-utilized in Title III Fleet Service Work.

  Additionally, Local 501 argues that plaintiffs' allegations that Local 501 arbitrarily refused to pursue arbitration of plaintiffs' 2002 grievances concerning seniority rights are not actionable since the basis for these claims, plaintiffs' lack of Title III occupational seniority, accrued in August 1995 and is also subject to the six-month statute of limitations as of that date (Local 501 Mem. of Law 8).

  Defendants' arguments that plaintiffs' claims are time-barred are not persuasive. Defendants point to no agreement stating that plaintiffs would not accrue seniority in Title III as of the date that they commence cross-utilization work for Title III.*fn2 The August 1995 letter does not address the seniority implications arising from the cross-utilization scheme. That letter agreement did not even establish the cross-utilization scheme. The August 1995 letter specifically required that Utility Men wishing to perform FSC work would have to "move" to those positions: "Incumbent Utilitymen will be moved to Plant Maintenance Man positions, if qualified, or to FSC positions, however no employee will be forced to relocate to another station." (Am. Compl., Ex. A). In fact, the 1996 Arbitration Award, though it did not actually deal with the question of seniority, observed that employees in the Utility Man position were reluctant to exercise the option of performing FSC work because this would involve transferring to a Title III position and would result in a loss of seniority:
If the Utility Man transferred to Fleet Service, which is a Title III classification, occupational seniority would commence on the day the transfer became effective. . . . Thus, a Utility Man transferring in that manner would lose seniority in bidding for shifts and days off. This fact appears to have reduced considerably the anticipated transfer of Utility Men to the Fleet Service classification. The Company suggested that Utility Men carry their occupation seniority with them into Title III, but the Union found that solution unacceptable because of the backlash it would receive from Title III incumbents.
Def. American's Mem. of Law, Ex. B (1996 Arbitration Award), at 5). The cross-utilization scheme was a product of the 1996 Arbitration Award, which specifically created a system to allow Title II employees to retain their previously accrued Title II seniority while performing Title III work:
All reinstated Utility Men will be cross-utilized under the terms of the current Agreement to any other classifcation, where qualified. . . .
. . .
Nothing in this Award modifies the original contractual agreement between the parties eliminating the Utility Man classification. Former Utility Man work has been contracted out in many instances. This reclassification does not reinstate that work as being covered by the scope of the Maintenance and Related ...

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