Justices Won’t Budge on Teamsters’ Labor Fight

     (CN) – A Teamsters union failed Monday to entice a second look by the Supreme Court at their fight with a California construction company that wants strike damages.



     Last year, the high court reverseda 9th Circuit decision that ordered the dispute between Granite Rock and Teamsters Local 287 to arbitration. Since no binding contract existed at the time of the strike, it is up to the courts to decide the issue of damages suffered by the employer.
     The chapter of International Brotherhood of Teamsters had called a strike against Granite Rock in June 2004 after contract renegotiations had ended in an impasse.
     Granite Rock reached a new agreement the following month, but Local 287 refused to be held responsible for any strike damages Granite suffered during the negotiation period. When Granite said it would pursue damages, the union revived the strike companywide, leading to a dispute regarding when and if the new bargaining agreement had ever been ratified.
     Granite filed a federal complaint against the union, seeking damages for breach of the contract’s “no-strike” clause and asking for an injunction against the ongoing strike. It claimed the harm dispute should be arbitrated under the new bargaining agreement. The union insisted that there was no agreement because it had never been ratified, giving no basis to Granite’s claims.
     A San Jose federal judge declined to send the issue to arbitration, but the 9th Circuit reversed. A three-judge panel ruled that the ratification-date dispute was a matter for an arbitrator to resolve under the arbitration clause in the bargaining agreement.
     The Supreme Court reversed in June 2010. The ratification date “requires judicial resolution here because it relates to [the union’s] arbitration demand in a way that required the District Court to determine the agreement’s ratification date in order to decide whether the parties consented to arbitrate the matters the demand covered,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote.
     In May 2011, the 9th Circuit acceded to that command and sent the dispute back to District Court for further proceedings.
     Justices Sonia Sotomayor and John Paul Stevens had partially dissented from the 2010 reversal, stating that “the parties clearly agreed in the [collective bargaining agreement] to have this dispute resolved by an arbitrator, not a court.”
     Though Sotomayor and Stevens did not comment on the union’s unsuccessful petition Monday, the court did note that Justice Elena Kagan was not involved in the consideration or decision of the matter.

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