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Walsh v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 503

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 6, 2017

TIMOTHY WALSH and JAMES WORDEN, Plaintiffs,
v.
INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS LOCAL 503, BRIAN SCOTT, SCOTT JENSEN, ROBERT DECKER, BRIAN MCPARTLAND, PATRICK GREAVEN, and MICHAEL HLAVEC, who are individual representatives of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 503, who participated in the Negotiation of Certain Collective Bargaining Agreements for the Members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 503, including Plaintiffs herein, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Vincent L. Briccetti United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Timothy Walsh and James Worden bring this action against defendants International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 503 (“Local 503”), Scott Jensen, Robert Decker, Brian McPartland, Patrick Greaven, Michael Hlavec, and Brian Scott.[1] Plaintiffs claim defendants breached their duty to represent plaintiffs fairly in connection with collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) negotiations, thereby causing plaintiffs economic harm.

         Before the Court are defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 102) and plaintiffs' cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 112).

         For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is GRANTED and plaintiffs' cross-motion is DENIED.

         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         The parties have submitted briefs, statements of facts, and declarations with supporting exhibits, which reflect the following factual background.[2]

         Local 503 is a labor organization that represents gas and electric utility employees who perform utility work for Orange & Rockland Utilities (“O&R”) and GenOn Energy Services, LLC (“GenOn”), and employees who perform telephone work for Frontier Telephone Company (“Frontier”) and Alteva Telecommunications (“Alteva”). In 2013, smaller bargaining units represented the subunits of Local 503. This action pertains to Unit 503.3, which had thirty-six members who were employed by GenOn. Each subunit, including Unit 503.3, had its own chairperson (who was also a member of the Local 503 Executive Board), vice chairperson, and recorder, and each held its own monthly meetings to address issues particular to the subunit, in addition to the Local 503 general meeting. Each subunit had a bargaining committee to represent the subunit in CBA negotiations with the respective employers. The Local 503 President and Business Representative were members of each subunit's bargaining committee, along with representatives from the subunit.

         Plaintiffs Walsh and Worden, and defendants Jensen, McPartland, Decker, Hlavac, and Greaven are all members of Local 503. Plaintiffs Walsh and Worden and defendants Decker, Greaven, and Hlavac are also members of Unit 503.3 and employees of GenOn at the Bowline Generating Station (“Bowline”) in West Haverstraw, New York. Defendant Jensen has been the President, Business Manager, and Financial Secretary of Local 503 since 2012 and has been a member of Local 503 for approximately twenty-nine years. Prior to serving full-time in his Local 503 leadership roles, Jensen was a Lineman First Class HV (High Voltage) for O&R. McPartland has been the Business Representative of Local 503 for eight years and has been a member of Local 503 since 1983, also serving as its Treasurer for about eight years. Prior to serving full-time as Business Representative, McPartland was an Underground Line Chief for O&R.

         Plaintiff Walsh, a maintenance mechanic at Bowline, has been a member of Local 503 and a GenOn employee since 1987. Plaintiff Worden works in the warehouse at Bowline and has been a member of Local 503 and a GenOn employee since 1989.

         Defendant Decker, an ice technician at Bowline, has been a member of Local 503 for approximately twenty-nine years and has been employed by GenOn and its predecessors since May 1989. Hlavac, an operations technician at Bowline, has been a member of Local 503 and employed by GenOn and its predecessors for thirty-two years. Greaven, an instrumentation technician at Bowline, has been a member of Local 503 for approximately thirty years and has been employed by GenOn and its predecessors for approximately twenty-eight years.

         Other than the ratification meeting on May 7, 2013, plaintiffs Walsh and Worden have not attended Unit 503.3 meetings or Local 503 general meetings for several years, and have never been involved in negotiating a CBA.

         The current litigation arises from the negotiation of the CBA between Local 503 and GenOn for the period May 1, 2013, through April 30, 2016 (the “2013 CBA”). Plaintiffs claim defendants breached the duty of fair representation owed to the members of Unit 503.3 by failing to obtain an extension of a pension provision known as the Rule of 85.

         Appendix C of the CBA between Local 503 and GenOn for the period June 1, 2008 through April 30, 2013 (the “2008 CBA”), contains various pension plan provisions, including the Rule of 85. The Rule of 85 provided that “[e]mployees terminating after June 30, 2008 who will attain age 55 on or before December 31, 2013 and will satisfy the Rule of 85 on or before December 31, 2013 shall be grandfathered into the Rule of 85. Employees must reach age 55 and have years of service and age greater than or equal to 85 by this date to qualify for an unreduced benefit.” (Jensen Decl., Ex. J).

         Appendix C of the CBA refers to the Summary Plan Description (“SPD”) for a more detailed description of the pension plan and its terms, including the Rule of 85. The SPD relevant to this litigation is the SPD to Schedule B, GenOn Mirant Bargaining Unit Pension Plan (For New York Employees Hired Before June 1, 2000, and Who Are Covered by a Collective Bargaining Agreement with I.B.E.W. Local 503), July 2012 (the “GenOn SPD”). Pursuant to the GenOn SPD's Early Retirement provision, employees “are eligible to retire and receive a benefit under the Plan before age 65 if [they] meet the early retirement definition, ” but the benefit will be reduced based on a specified formula unless the employee satisfies the Rule of 85. (Jensen Decl., Ex. L). The “Rule of 85 means that the sum of [the employee's] years of Eligibility Service and [the employee's] age equal or exceed 85.” (Id.). If the employee “terminate[s] prior to reaching [his] Early Retirement Date (i.e., prior to reaching age 55 with 10 years of Accredited Service), [the employee] will not satisfy the Rule of 85.” (Id.). A “Grandfathered Participant” is an employee who will have both attained age 55 and satisfied the Rule of 85 on or before December 31, 2013. (Id.).

         The 2008 CBA was scheduled to expire on April 30, 2013. A bargaining committee, which included Local 503 President Jensen, Local 503 Business Representative McPartland, Unit 503.3 Chairman Decker, Unit 503.3 Vice Chairman Hlavac, and Unit 503.3 Reporter Greaven, was organized to negotiate a new CBA with GenOn (the “Unit 503.3 Bargaining Committee”).

         Prior to negotiations, the Unit 503.3 Bargaining Committee held a strategy meeting during which the Bargaining Committee drafted a list of bargaining proposals, based in part on questionnaires from the Unit 503.3 membership indicating the importance of each bargaining issue. The Bargaining Committee was aware the members of Unit 503.3 considered the Rule of 85 to be an important part of their contract.

         Prior to bargaining, Local 503 and GenOn discussed ground rules for the negotiations, which Decker drafted (the “Ground Rules”). The Ground Rules provided in part that “all current contract language that is unchanged would remain unchanged in the next agreement, unless it contained a sunset clause.” (Jensen Aff. ¶ 10, Ex. M).

         GenOn's negotiators were the Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations from GenOn's parent company, NRG Energy, Inc. (“NRG”), Vince Pepenelli; NRG Labor Relations Specialist, Kim Pavolka; GenOn Human Resources Manager at Bowline, Donna Pizzo; and Bowline Manager, Bill Metzger.

         The negotiations took place during approximately six bargaining sessions, each of which lasted approximately eight to twelve hours, except the last bargaining session which lasted approximately twenty-four hours. At the first bargaining session, the Unit 503.3 Bargaining Committee and GenOn simultaneously exchanged written proposals. Jensen and McPartland negotiated on behalf of the Unit 503.3 Bargaining Committee. Decker, Hlavac, and Greaven were in the bargaining room during each session and participated in the Unit 503.3 ...


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