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Monday, August 27, 2012

Sixth Circuit Upholds Sanctions and Remands Union Dispute to the NLRB

6th CirIn July, 2009, DiPonio Construction Company, Inc. (DiPonio) terminated its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 9’s (the Union).  The Union brought a claim for unfair labor practices (ULP) before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that DiPonio was required by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to bargain for a new CBA.  Five days before the NLRB filed a ULP complaint against DiPonio, DiPonio sought a declaratory judgment from the district court stating that it had properly terminated the CBA.  When the NLRB moved to dismiss DiPonio’s claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, DiPonio amended its complaint to include a breach of contract claim and filed a motion to stay the NLRB proceedings.  The timing of the contract claim made it seem motivated by a desire to create jurisdiction in federal court over a dispute over which the NLRB would otherwise have exclusive jurisdiction.

The district court granted the NLRB’s motion to dismiss and imposed sanctions against DiPonio under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  DiPonio appealed to the Sixth Circuit and the Union sought further sanctions.  Last month, in DiPonio Constrcution Company, Inc. v. Interaitonal Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 9the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling in its entirety, while refusing to impose further sanctions.  The Sixth Circuit found that the question at issue was primarily one of representation rather than of contractual interpretation, and thus that resolution of the dispute in a federal court was inappropriate. 

The NLRB has exclusive jurisdiction over controversies concerning sections 7 or 8 of the NLRA, but federal courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the NLRB over contracts interpretation issues.  However, where the matter is primarily one of representation instead of contractual interpretation, courts defer to the NLRB. 

The nature of DiPonio’s bargaining obligations depends on whether the parties entered into the CBA pursuant to § 8(f) or § 9(a) of the NLRA.  Section 9(a) requires employers to “bargain with a union that has been designated by a majority of the employees in a unit for the purposes of collective bargaining with the employer,” while section 8(f) “allows unions and employers in the construction industry to enter into CBA’s without requiring the union to establish that it has the support of a majority of the employees in the unit covered by the CBA.”  In short, if the CBA is a § 8 contract, DiPonio has no duty to negotiate for a new CBA, but if it is a § 9(a) contract, it does.

In a 2006 decision, the Sixth Circuit found that a dispute will be treated as “primarily representational” (1) “where the NLRB has already exercised jurisdiction over a matter and is either considering it or has already decided the matter,” or (2) “where the issue is an ‘initial decision’ in the representation area.”  Here, the question of whether the contract was entered into pursuant to § 8(f) or § 9(a) was already before the NLRB (the Union’s ULP Complaint).  Thus, the matter was deemed primarily representational, and the Sixth Circuit handed the case over to the NLRB.

The Sixth Circuit upheld the Rule 11 sanctions that the district court imposed because DiPonio’s breach of contract claim was without merit and was filed in order to delay the NLRB proceedings.

[JT and Christina Phillips]

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