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Graphic Communication Union v. Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 16, 2019

GRAPHIC COMMUNICATIONS UNION LOCAL 17-M, Plaintiff,
v.
OUR SUNDAY VISITOR, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HOLLY A. BRADY, JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on competing motions for summary judgment asking the Court to enforce divergent interpretations of an arbitration award. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff Graphic Communications Union Local 17-M's (the “Union”) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21) will be granted, and Defendant Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.'s (“OSV”) Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 27) will be denied.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. THE TERMINATION

         The Union and OSV have a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) that covers OSV's production and maintenance employees at its facility in Huntington, Indiana. Paragraph 16 of the CBA establishes a grievance and arbitration procedure culminating in the “final and binding” resolution of grievances before an arbitrator selected from a panel submitted by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (“FMCS”).

         On December 10, 2015, OSV terminated one of the Union's members, Jennifer Pohler (“Pohler”). The Union filed a grievance protesting Pohler's discharge on December 15, 2015. On January 22, 2016, the parties held a third-step grievance meeting as required by the CBA. During that meeting, the parties agreed to reinstate Pohler on January 25, 2016, but without backpay for the period between the termination and Pohler's reinstatement date. However, OSV subsequently disclaimed the agreement, claiming that its representative at the meeting did not have authority to resolve the grievance. In response, the Union advanced the grievance to arbitration for the purposes of enforcing the parties' agreement.

         B. THE ARBITRATION AWARD

         The parties attended an arbitration hearing before Arbitrator Robert Brookins on June 2, 2017. On September 21, 2017, Arbitrator Brookins issued his Opinion and Award which concluded that the parties had reached a binding agreement during the January 22, 2016, meeting. In relevant part, the Opinion and Award found:

Based on the foregoing analysis and discussion in this opinion, the Undersigned holds that [OSV's representative at the third-step meeting] had at least apparent authority to (and indeed did) adopt the Agreement on January 22, 2016 to reinstate the Grievant without back pay. The Agreement, therefore, binds the Union and OSV. The Undersigned further holds that [OSV's representative] shall: (1) Reduce the Agreement to writing as promised and, (2) Reinstate the Grievant, forthwith, without backpay pursuant to the Agreement.

         (ECF No. 28-2, p. 13) (original emphasis). As suggested by its capitalization, Agreement is a defined term in the Opinion and Award. As stated by Arbitrator Brookins:

[OSV's representative] then agreed with the Union that mitigating circumstances did, indeed, justify reinstating the Grievant, albeit without backpay (“the Agreement”). Accordingly, [OSV's representative] promised to draft a letter (“the Letter”) on January 22, 2016, memorializing the Agreement and to actually reinstate the Grievant on Monday, January 25, 2016.

(Id. at 4) (original emphasis).

         The parties drew different conclusions regarding the meaning of Arbitrator Brookins' direction that Pohler be reinstated “without backpay pursuant to the Agreement.” OSV believed that Arbitrator Brookins intended for Pohler to be reinstated with no backpay whatsoever. The Union, on the other hand, interpreted Arbitrator Brookins' Opinion and Award to direct that Pohler be reinstated without backpay from the date of her discharge until January 25, 2016 (when she would have been reinstated pursuant to the Agreement), but with backpay from January 25, 2016, until the date of her actual reinstatement.

         On September 28, 2017, the Union sent an email to Arbitrator Brookins seeking clarification on the phrase “without backpay pursuant to the ...


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