The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has overturned a ruling barring two labor benefits disputes between teamsters from being handled in arbitration.
The court vacated the district court’s finding that the Union Trustees of Western Pennsylvania Teamsters’ internal dispute over the benefits trust was not appropriate for arbitration.
According to Third Circuit Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie’s opinion, the trustees were deadlocked on two motions: one seeking to approve compensation to eligible trustees for attendance at fund meetings and the other looking for clarification on eligibility requirements for employer trustees. In each case, the group was split in half over the issue of whether the court should appoint an arbitrator to settle the dispute.
The first dispute centered on paying each teamster $600 for each monthly trustee meeting attended. The union trustees were for it while the employer trustees were not.
The second dispute emerged from the first, and revolved around the definition of an employer trustee and whether it means they “must be a full-time employee of a contributing employer to the fund.”
As both issues neared arbitration, the parties hit a stalemate.
Beginning with the compensation issue, Vanaskie said the trust agreement specifically provides that such disputes would be resolved through arbitration.
“This dispute over the proper interpretation of the trust agreement is well-within the power of the trustees to decide, and because the presumption of arbitrability applies, we presume it is also within the mandate of the arbitrator to break this deadlock,” Vanaskie said.
On the second point, clarifying the requirements for employer trustees, Vanaskie said, “The deadlocked vote seeks to confirm whether the union trustees’ theory that employer trustees must be full-time employees of a contributing employer is a proper interpretation of the terms of the trust agreement. This is a matter of contractual interpretation, and as we explained with regard to the compensation deadlock, the trust agreement specifically provides that ‘the trustees shall have full and exclusive authority to determine all questions or controversies … arising … in connection with [the fund] or the operation thereof’ including questions of ‘construction of the provisions of this trust agreement and the terms used herein.’”
The union trustees were represented by Joseph J. Pass of Jubelirer, Pass & Intrieri. The employers were represented by Robert Prorok of Cohen & Grigsby. Neither responded to requests for comment.