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Local 377, RWDSU, UFCW v. 1864 Tenants Association

March 1, 2007

LOCAL 377, RWDSU, UFCW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
1864 TENANTS ASSOCIATION DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sand, J.

OPINION

Plaintiff, Local 377, RWDSU, UFCW, a union representing a residential superintendent, commenced this action under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185 (2000) to confirm an arbitration award against defendant, 1862-66 Third Avenue HDFC, Inc.,*fn1 his employer. Before the Court are plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

I.

The facts are not in dispute. Defendant employer voluntarily entered into a collective bargaining agreement that plaintiff union negotiated on behalf of a single residential superintendent.*fn2 By its terms, the collective bargaining agreement covered the period from June 1, 2001 to May 31, 2004. The agreement provided that at its expiration, the parties would meet to renegotiate a new agreement and that if they were unable to agree on new contract terms, the dispute should be submitted to binding interest arbitration. Upon the expiration of the agreement, a dispute arose and the parties were unable to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement to cover the superintendent. The union submitted the dispute for arbitration before the New York State Employment Relations Board. The employer, though it had adequate notice, did not participate in the arbitration in any way and did not appear at the scheduled hearing on October 11, 2005. On October 24, 2005, the arbitrator issued a written award imposing on the employer the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement covering the superintendent. The employer has refused to comply with the award. Plaintiff petitioned this Court to confirm the award.

II.

Both parties agree that the central issue is whether an interest arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement covering only a single employee is enforceable. The employer argues that the collective bargaining agreement, and therefore the arbitration clause, is invalid under the "single-employee unit rule." The union contends that despite the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) unwillingness to certify single-employee units, the collective bargaining agreement is a valid contract and, even if unenforceable under federal law, is enforceable under New York state statutory and common law.

A. Jurisdiction

Though the parties do not contest the Court's subject matter jurisdiction, we note preliminarily that the Court has jurisdiction under § 301 of the LMRA. Section 301(a) gives the federal courts jurisdiction over "[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce.without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties." 29 U.S.C. § 185. While the NLRB will not exercise jurisdiction over representational disputes involving bargaining units with less than two employees, see, e.g., Stack Electric, 290 N.L.R.B. 575, 577 (1988), courts in the Ninth and Seventh Circuits have held that the district courts have jurisdiction over § 301 actions even where the contract involved covers only a single employee. General Teamsters Union Local No. 174 v. Trick & Murray, Inc., 828 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1987); Motion Picture Projectionists & Video Technicians, Local 110 v. Fred Corp., 845 F. Supp. 1255, 1257-58 (N.D. Ill. 1994). Like these courts, we note that the jurisdiction of the district courts is independent from the jurisdiction of the NLRB, and read the broad grant of jurisdiction in § 301 to include suits on contracts covering a single employee.

It is well established that federal courts have jurisdiction under § 301 to review labor arbitration awards as arbitration is a matter of contract. Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582 (1960).

B. Preemption

The union argues that, federal law notwithstanding, collective bargaining agreements covering a single-employee unit are enforceable as a matter of New York law. The union points to In re New York State Labor Relations Board v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 52 N.Y.S.2d 590, 593 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1944), where a New York court held that, at least in some circumstances, an employer could be compelled to bargain with a union representing single-employee units under the New York State Labor Relations Act, Labor Law § 700. Further, the union argues that the collective bargaining agreement is enforceable as a matter of state contract law.

The union argues that under San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236 (1959), state law is not preempted because entering a collective bargaining agreement covering a single-employee unit is neither prohibited nor protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). We need not, however, reach the question of Garmon preemption in this case. State law is clearly preempted by § 301.*fn3

The Supreme Court has made clear that, in addition to granting jurisdiction to the federal courts, § 301 creates a body of substantive federal common law governing the interpretation of labor agreements. See Local 174, Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 103-04 (1962); Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 456-57 (1957). Section 301 preempts state law for claims arising out of a contract between an employer and a labor organization. See Franchise Tax Bd. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 23 (1983); Lucas Flour, 369 U.S. at 103-04.

The dispute in this case is over a right created only by a contract between a union and an employer-the right to enforce an arbitration award. Section 301 preempts state statutory and contract law and the Court must look to federal common law to determine the validity of the arbitration provision of the collective bargaining agreement. The union's arguments under state law are inapposite.

III.

Having determined that state law is preempted, we turn now to federal law. The employer argues that it is not bound by the interest arbitration clause because the collective bargaining agreement was void under the "single-employee unit rule." The NLRB has long held that it is not an unfair labor practice for an employer to refuse to bargain with a union representing a single-employee unit. Nor does it violate the statutory duty to bargain under ยง 8(a)(5) for an employer to repudiate a collective bargaining agreement covering only a single-employee unit. The employer contends that this Court should go one step further and hold that such a collective bargaining agreement is void ...


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