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Independent Chemical Corp. v. Local Union 807

April 21, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, U.S. District Judge


Independent Chemical Corporation ("ICC"), a company that manufactures and mixes chemicals for industrial cleaners and food additives, moves to vacate an arbitration award, issued on February 2, 2005, rendered in favor of Local Union 807 ("Local 807"). Local 807 cross-moves to have the award confirmed. The arbitration award calls for the reinstatement, with back pay, of an employee who was prohibited from returning to work after ICC discovered that he had been indicted for several felonies. The award was issued pursuant to the grievance and arbitration provisions of the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between ICC and Local 807.*fn1 ICC argues that the arbitration award should be vacated because (1) the arbitration panel exceeded its powers, and (2) the award violates public policy. The court held oral argument on this matter on February 21, 2006, at which both sides presented thorough and well-prepared arguments. As explained below, the court denies ICC's motion to vacate the arbitration award and grants Local 807's cross-motion to confirm it.

I. Facts

Anthony Bennett ("Bennett"), a member of Local 807, was hired by ICC on June 28, 2000 to work at the ICC warehouse, which has no security personnel. Bennett worked primarily the second shift, from around noon to 9:00 p.m., with limited supervision after 5:00 p.m. Bennett handled materials such as ammonium nitrate, peroxide, alcohols and solvents, oxidizers, caustics, corrosives, sodium hydrochloride, sulfuric acid, hydrochloride, hydrochloric acid, and ammonias (the "Materials").

Following oral argument, the court asked the parties to submit a stipulation describing Bennett's duties in more detail.

In his normal workday, Bennett routinely handled the Materials, relabeling, transferring materials from one container to another, including from 55 gallon to 5 gallon drums, took samples from various drums for customers and suppliers, opened and closed these containers, drove a forklift, lifting both by hand and by forklift and hi-lo machines containers and pallets of boxes and drums of these Materials, carried boxes, bottles and drums of these Materials within and between the Company's three warehouse buildings, onto and off of customer and supplier trucks, received these Materials from outside delivery persons in bags, boxes, drums and on pallets, and gave these Materials to outside drivers, both by hand and on pallets by forklift. (3/31/06 Stipulation ¶ 5.) Bennett "routinely worked in the back of the warehouse, repacking pallets, transferring, mixing and labeling the Materials." (Id. ¶ 6.) Bennett did not have the Department of Transportation-mandated certifications required for him to drive delivery trucks to and from customers on public roads. However, from time to time, Bennett "worked as a helper on delivery trucks making deliveries and picking up product over the road, arranging and moving these Materials, organizing and strapping them down inside the backs of trucks and moving them between truck and customer locations, and he drove tractor trailers containing such Materials within the ICC warehouse compound." (Id. ¶ 8.) Bennett had access to and possession of keys for the vehicles he drove within the warehouse compound and on which he helped make deliveries.

ICC submitted several letters documenting warnings given to Bennett in late 2003 and February, March, and July 2004 for lateness, disappearances during shifts, improperly loading chemicals, and violating company phone use policies. Warehouse manager Joseph Siachitano reports that, when he suspended Bennett for misloading chemicals in December 2003, Bennett "got in [his] face and screamed at [him] saying 'you can't do this' and 'who are you to threaten me,'" screaming at Siachitano for about fifteen minutes in front of the entire night shift. (Siachitano Aff. ¶ 3.) Siachitano again suspended Bennett around mid to late February 2004, and, upon giving Bennett the suspension letter, Bennett threw the letter at Siachitano. When Siachitano told Bennett to pick up the letter, Bennett said "you can go fuck yourself." (Id. ¶¶ 4--5.) Siachitano reports being "fearful" of Bennett, that he has seen Bennett punch a steel forklift at work, that other employees have expressed a fear of Bennett,*fn2 and that other employees told him that Bennett once brought a nine millimeter gun to work. (Id. ¶ 7.) Siachitano also learned from the Union Delegate, Kevin Broudy, that Bennett had beaten a woman during work, grabbing her by the throat and kicking and punching her in the face. (Id. ¶ 9.) The woman, not an employee, had twice smashed into Bennett's car in front of the warehouse.

On or about July 22, 2004, Bennett was arrested for shooting his common law wife in front of their daughter. According to Detective James R. Woods, Bennett admitted to him that he shot the victim and discarded the firearm in the building's trash compactor. (Pet'r Ex. A.5.) Bennett was indicted for attempted murder in the second degree (a class B felony), assault in the first degree (a class B felony), criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree (a class C felony), reckless endangerment in the first degree (a class D felony), and endangering the welfare of a child (a class A misdemeanor).*fn3 The incident was reported in the press, including by the New York Daily News, the New York Sun, and the New York Post. ICC stated at oral argument that Bennett had been released on bail and was awaiting trial. Since then, the court has learned that, on April 12, 2006, Bennett was acquitted of all felony charges and convicted on two counts: criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree and endangering the welfare of a child. Bennett is presently scheduled for sentencing on May 23, 2006.

Between July 22 and August 11, 2004, ICC claims that Bennett was absent from work voluntarily on "disability leave." On August 11, 2004, attorneys for ICC sent a letter to Bennett stating that he would "not be allowed to return to work at the Corporation pending determination of felony charges" brought against him. (Pet'r Ex. A.7.) The letter explained:

Independent Chemical Corporation is required both by law and by its union contract with Local 807 Teamsters union to provide and insure a safe workplace for its employees and to take all necessary steps to avoid dangerous conditions of work, danger to person or property, and harm to customers and the general public as well as to employees. The nature of your alleged violent crimes may reasonably create feelings of danger and fear among your fellow employees, supervisors, office workers and others, so as to interfere with the proper operation of the Corporation's business. Given the nature of the Corporation's product and your work in the warehouse, involving the storage, mixing and movement of dangerous chemicals, particularly in this time of heightened terrorism alert, the Corporation can not allow you to return to work unless and until you are cleared of the charges.

(Id.) ICC Vice-President Jonathan Spielman reports that, after this incident, warehouse manager Joseph Siachitano reported that "several of the warehouse employees were afraid for their safety if Bennett returned to work." (Spielman Aff. ¶ 7.)

On August 13, 2005, Local 807 filed a grievance on behalf of Bennett, alleging violation of "Article 44 but not limited too [sic]" of the CBA because of "'unjust suspension[.]' Griev[a]nt not allowed back to work after disability leave." (Pet'r Ex. C.) As remedy, Local 807 requested that Bennett "be made whole for all lost wages & benefits [and] health welfare & pension contributions [and] . . . be reinstated at [the] worksite as soon as possible." (Id.)

The grievance was presented to an arbitration panel on February 2, 2005, pursuant to Article 45 of the CBA, which states that decisions by such panel "shall be final and binding upon the parties" absent deadlock. After a two-hour hearing, the arbitration panel issued a one-page decision, finding "no violation [of] Article 44 [but] the claim of the Union is upheld." ...

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