716 F.2d 1476 (6th Cir. 1983), 81-1718, International Union, United Auto., Aerospace, and Agr. Implement Workers of America (UAW) v. Yard-Man, Inc.

Docket Nº:81-1718.
Citation:716 F.2d 1476
Case Date:September 09, 1983
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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716 F.2d 1476 (6th Cir. 1983)

4 Employee Benefits Ca 2108



and Local 134, UAW, Plaintiffs-Appellees,


YARD-MAN, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 81-1718.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 9, 1983

Argued Sept. 3, 1982.

Certiorari Denied Jan. 23. 1984.

See 104 S.Ct. 1002.

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Joseph Kochis, Garan, Lucow, Miller, Seward, Cooper & Becker, Mark R. Bendure (argued), Gromek, Bendure & Thomas, Detroit, Mich., for defendant-appellant.

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Nancy J. Schiffer, Detroit, Mich., Leonard Page (argued), UAW Intern. Union, Detroit, Mich., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Before KENNEDY, Circuit Judge, BROWN, Senior Circuit Judge, and HOLSCHUH, District Judge. [*]


Yard-Man appeals the District Court's grant of summary judgment that it breached its collective bargaining agreement with appellees, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW or Union) and its Local 134, UAW, by terminating the life and health insurance benefits of Yard-Man's retired employees at the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement and in substituting the payment of present cash value for its bargained obligation to purchase annuities to fund supplemental pensions. We affirm the District Court's holding that the retirees are entitled to continued insurance benefits but reverse its holding that Yard-Man could not, even with the consent of its pensioners, substitute cash value for annuities.

In August 1974, Yard-Man and the UAW entered into a collective bargaining agreement covering employees at Yard-Man's Jackson, Michigan, plant. The contract bore a stated expiration date of June 1, 1977. Less than a year after the signing of the contract the plant closed.

In April 1977, Yard-Man notified its Jackson retirees that existing health and life insurance benefits would terminate upon the collective bargaining agreement's expiration. Soon thereafter, the UAW filed grievances claiming that Yard-Man's unilateral action in terminating the retirees' life and health insurance violated that agreement. When Yard-Man refused to arbitrate, the UAW filed this action under Sec. 301(a) of the National Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 185 (1976), seeking to compel arbitration. Alternatively, it sought on behalf of the retirees specific performance of Yard-Man's obligation to provide health and life insurance benefits beyond the term of the collective bargaining agreement. It also sought damages to compensate retirees who had paid insurance premiums or medical expenses since the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.

In a second count, the UAW requested specific performance of Yard-Man's acknowledged obligation under the collective bargaining agreement to purchase annuities to fund its supplemental pension plan. After this suit was filed, and without notice or consultation with the UAW, Yard-Man distributed lump sum payments of the present value of the supplemental pension rights directly to each retiree.

The UAW waived its demand for arbitration and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Relying solely upon the language of the collective bargaining agreement, the District Court found that Yard-Man breached its contractual obligations when it cancelled the retirees' insurance upon expiration of that agreement. Yard-Man was ordered to provide health and life insurance for its retirees and their dependents, and to reimburse employers for losses due to termination of this insurance. The District Court also found that Yard-Man had failed to purchase annuities to fund the supplemental pension plan. It rejected Yard-Man's claim that it had performed this obligation by paying the cash value of the annuities to individual employees. The court ordered Yard-Man to purchase the collectively bargained annuities upon repayment by retirees of the lump sum distributions theretofore made. Damage questions were reserved.

The District Court certified its judgment under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1292(b) as a decision involving a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion. This court permitted

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Yard-Man's appeal from the summary judgment, granting specific performance on both counts, and the UAW's cross-appeal from that portion of the District Court's judgment requiring repayment of the cash distribution made in lieu of supplemental pension annuities, as a condition of receiving such an annuity.

Resolution of the UAW's claim of lifelong insurance benefits for retirees requires interpretation of key contractual language in the collective bargaining agreement. The Union's second claim, the undisputed failure by Yard-Man to purchase the annuities called for in the collective bargaining agreement, requires evaluation of Yard-Man's affirmative defense of substituted performance and the legitimacy of offering such performance directly to the retirees after suit had been filed and without notice to the union.

I. The Parties Intended to Create Lifelong Vested Insurance Benefits for the Yard-Man Retirees

The District Court properly recognized that whether retiree insurance benefits continue beyond the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement depends upon the intent of the parties. Clearly the parties to a collective bargaining agreement may provide for rights which will survive termination of their collective bargaining relationship. John Wiley & Sons v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 555, 84 S.Ct. 909, 917, 11 L.Ed.2d 898 (1964). The parties may, for example, provide retiree insurance benefits which survive the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. Upholsterer's International Union v. American Pad & Textile Co., 372 F.2d 427, 428 (6th Cir.1967); International Union, UAW, Local 784 v. Cadillac Malleable Iron Co., Inc., No. G82-75-CA1 (W.D.Mich. April 20, 1982); American Standard, Inc., 57 Lab.Arb. (BNA) 698 (1971) (Warns, Arb.); Roxbury Carpet Co. and Textile Workers of America, AFL-CIO, 73-2 Lab.Arb. Awards (CCH) p 8521 (1973) (Summers, Arb.). Any such surviving benefit must necessarily find its genesis in the collective bargaining agreement. See John Wiley & Sons, supra, 376 U.S. at 550, 555, 84 S.Ct. at 914, 917; Allied Chemical & Alkali Workers v. Pittsburgh Plate Glass, 404 U.S. 157, 181 n. 20, 92 S.Ct. 383, 398 n. 20, 30 L.Ed.2d 341 (1971); Local 1251, International Union, UAW v. Robertshaw Controls Co., 405 F.2d 29, 33 (2d Cir.1968); American Pad, supra, 372 F.2d at 427-28.

The enforcement and interpretation of collective bargaining agreements under Sec. 301 is governed by substantive federal law. Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 456, 77 S.Ct. 912, 917, 1 L.Ed.2d 972 (1957). However, traditional rules for contractual interpretation are applied as long as their application is consistent with federal labor policies. Id. at 457, 77 S.Ct. at 918. See John Wiley, supra, 376 U.S. at 548, 84 S.Ct. at 913; Transportation-Communication Employees Union v. Union Pacific R.R., 385 U.S. 157, 160-61, 87 S.Ct. 369, 371-72, 17 L.Ed.2d 264 (1966); Kellogg Company v. NLRB, 457 F.2d 519, 524 (6th Cir.1972).

Many of the basic principles of contractual interpretation are fully appropriate for discerning the parties' intent in collective bargaining agreements. For example, the court should first look to the explicit language of the collective bargaining agreement for clear manifestations of intent. Kellogg Co., supra, 457 F.2d at 524. The intended meaning of even the most explicit language can, of course, only be understood in light of the context which gave rise to its inclusion. See Randall v. Lodge No. 1076, International Ass'n of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, 648 F.2d 462 (7th Cir.1981); Forrest Industries, Inc. v. Local Union No. 3-436, International Woodworkers of America, AFL-CIO, 381 F.2d 144, 146 (9th Cir.1967); United Steelworkers of America v. American Manufacturing Co., 363 U.S. 564, 570, 80 S.Ct. 1343, 1364, 4 L.Ed.2d 1403 (1960) (Brennan, J., concurring). The court should also interpret each provision in question as part of the integrated whole. If possible, each provision should be construed consistently with the entire document and the relative positions and purposes of the parties.

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Kellogg Co., supra, 457 F.2d at 524. See Randall, supra, 648 F.2d at 466; Florida Canada Corp. v. Union Carbide & Carbon Corp., 280 F.2d 193 (6th Cir.1960). As in all contracts, the collective bargaining agreement's terms must be construed so as to render none nugatory and avoid illusory promises. See Cordovan Associates, Inc. v. Dayton Rubber Company, 290 F.2d 858, 861 (6th Cir.1961). Where ambiguities exist, the court may look to other words and phrases in the collective bargaining agreement for guidance. Variations in language used in other durational provisions of the agreement may, for example, provide inferences of intent useful in clarifying a provision whose intended duration is ambiguous. See American Pad, supra, 372 F.2d at 427-28; Kellogg Co., supra, 457 F.2d at 524. Finally, the court should review the interpretation ultimately derived from its examination of the language, context and other indicia of intent for consistency with federal labor policy. This is not to say that the collective bargaining agreement should be construed to affirmatively promote any particular policy but rather that the interpretation rendered not denigrate or contradict basic principles of federal labor law.

Application of these basic rules of construction to the present case demonstrates the correctness of the District Court's conclusion...

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