864 F.2d 927 (1st Cir. 1988), 88-2012, Independent Oil and Chemical Workers of Quincy, Inc. v. Procter & Gamble Mfg. Co.

Docket Nº:88-2012.
Citation:864 F.2d 927
Case Date:December 28, 1988
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Page 927

864 F.2d 927 (1st Cir. 1988)


Plaintiff, Appellant,



No. 88-2012.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 28, 1988

Heard Nov. 4, 1988.

Joanne F. Goldstein with whom Janet Linder, Boston, Mass., and Law Office of Joanne F. Goldstein were on brief for plaintiff, appellant.

Kevin P. Light with whom Choate, Hall & Stewart, Boston, Mass., was on brief for defendant, appellee.

Before BOWNES and SELYA, Circuit Judges, and CAFFREY, [*] Senior District Judge.

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SELYA, Circuit Judge.

A labor union, the Independent Oil and Chemical Workers of Quincy, Inc. (IOCW), sued for injunctive relief in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, seeking to preserve extant working conditions. The union complained that the employer, Procter & Gamble Manufacturing Co. (P & G), was on the verge of implementing changes in rules governing work shifts, safety, and employee dress in its Quincy facility. These incipient changes, the IOCW charged, would cause hardship to its members, irremediable even under the arbitration scheme provided by the collective bargaining agreement (Agreement) then in effect. The district court, following two hearings attended by briefs, arguments, and affidavits, determined that it lacked jurisdiction to issue the requested injunction. IOCW v. P & G, No. 88-2048-MC, slip op. (D.Mass. Oct. 3, 1988) . We affirm.


The Agreement encompassed much of the work force at the employer's plant. It contained conventional grievance and arbitration provisions dealing with disputes over working conditions. This case presented such a dispute. In 1986, P & G began to explore restructuring its work force, looking toward increased efficiency. The key concept was the formation of "work teams" which would operate in rotating shifts, a distinct departure from existing practice. The neoteric approach contemplated that individuals would rotate among the day, evening, and red-eye shifts every two weeks. Shift swapping was to be drastically curtailed--so drastically, in fact, that the restriction was tantamount to a prohibition. All in all, the work team concept dramatically curbed the hitherto free-and-easy ability of employees to arrange and rearrange their shift assignments to accommodate their personal desires.

Following some interaction with IOCW, the depth of which is left unrevealed by the record, P & G announced in mid-1988 that, union objections notwithstanding, it would impose the changes in the near future. At the same time, the employer also announced that the rules governing employee dress were to be modified, ostensibly for safety reasons.

The union attacked on two fronts. While grieving the proposed changes, it also sued in district court. Alleging that irreparable harm was threatened because the new work rules and schedules would severely disrupt members' lives, IOCW sought to preserve the status quo pending arbitration. Its affidavits suggested that certain workers would undergo manifold privations: being forced to quit second jobs, encountering difficulties with child care, enduring physical and mental hardships, and the like. The common denominator of the variegated affidavits was the claim that, absent injunctive relief, the affiants' personal lives would be jolted and their beliefs compromised. P & G asserted that the arbitral process could adequately address--and redress--any legitimate grievances. It filed counter affidavits which framed matters in kinder and gentler terms, emphasized the long lead-time provided, and stressed the efforts that the company had made (and would be willing to make) to assist employees and ensure a comfortable transition to the new format.

The district court, mindful of the interdictory provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, 29 U.S.C. Secs. 101 et seq., 1 took note of the circumscribed nature of its inquiry. IOCW v. P & G, slip op. at 1. Alluding to the evidence and arguments presented, the court held that the harms envisioned by plaintiff were insufficient to "justify ignoring the limitations imposed" by 29 U.S.C. Sec. 101, and thus could not confer the equitable

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jurisdiction necessary to grant the sought-after relief. IOCW v. P & G, slip op. at 2. This appeal ensued.


We scrutinize a district court's decision to grant or deny a preliminary injunction under a relatively deferential glass. Absent mistake of law or abuse of discretion, we will not interfere. E.g., In re Rare Coin Galleries of America, Inc., 862 F.2d 896, 900 (1st Cir. 1988); Hypertherm, Inc. v. Precision Products, Inc., 832 F.2d 697, 700 (1st Cir.1987); Massachusetts Ass'n of Older Americans v. Sharp, 700 F.2d 749, 751 (1st Cir.1983); Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts v. Bellotti, 641 F.2d 1006, 1009 (1st Cir.1981). Here, there was no misapprehension of law. The only real question is whether the district judge misused his discretion in evaluating the circumstances and calibrating the scales.

Judicial discretion is necessarily broad--but it is not absolute. Abuse occurs when a material factor deserving significant weight is ignored, when an improper factor is relied upon, or when all proper and no improper factors are assessed, but the court makes a serious mistake in weighing them. See In re San Juan Dupont Plaza Hotel Fire Litigation, 859 F.2d 1007, 1019 (1st Cir.1988); United States v. Hastings, 847 F.2d 920, 924 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 109 S.Ct. 308, 102 L.Ed.2d 327 (1988); see generally Anderson v. Cryovac, Inc., 862 F.2d 910, 915 (1st Cir. 1988) (equating abuse of discretion with court's commission of "a meaningful error in judgment"); In re Josephson, 218 F.2d 174, 182 (1st Cir.1954) (similar).


In this case, the judge's exercise of his discretion must be viewed against a specialized backdrop. In an arena where collective bargaining is the preferred method of dispute resolution, the nation's labor policy counsels that district courts be chary about intruding into the field. See Local Lodge No. 1266, IAM v. Panoramic Corp., 668 F.2d 276, 279 (7th Cir.1981) (discussing policies of judicial restraint, voluntary arbitration, and party prerogatives). Such caution is abundantly justified by the long, sometimes tragic, history of premature judicial intervention in labor-management controversies. While we recognize that every dispute between labor and management contains the seeds of human discord, courts should intervene only when necessary to preserve the mechanisms of peaceful arbitration or when circumstances of imminent, irremediable harm threaten. See generally Buffalo Forge Co. v. United Steelworkers, 428 U.S. 397, 96 S.Ct. 3141, 49 L.Ed.2d 1022 (1976); Boys Markets, Inc. v. Retail Clerks Union, Local 770, 398 U.S. 235, 90 S.Ct. 1583, 26 L.Ed.2d 199 (1970).

Given the weighty reasons supporting refrainment, it is unsurprising that restraining orders addressed to arbitrable matters are seldom to be had. The availability of injunctive relief in this context represents an exception to the strong prohibition contained in 29 U.S.C. Sec. 101. The sole raison d'etre for the exception is to "enforce[ ] the obligation that the [recalcitrant party] freely undertook under a specifically enforceable agreement to submit disputes to arbitration." Boys Markets, 398 U.S. at 252-53, 90 S.Ct. at 1593 (footnote omitted); see also Buffalo Forge, 428 U.S. at 408, 96 S.Ct. at 3148. 2 Because the exception cannot be allowed to engulf the rule, it must be tightly confined. Injunctions of this sort are, quite appropriately, a rarity. Unless some plain necessity exists, the escape hatch remains shut.

With these general principles in mind, we turn to the specifics of this appeal.

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In order to gain the injunction, it was incumbent upon the IOCW to demonstrate, first, that its grievance was arbitrable. Boys Markets, 398 U.S. at 247-49, 90 S.Ct. at 1590-92. Once that showing was made, the union had the heavy burden of satisfying equitable criteria of irreparable harm and imbalanced hardships. 3 See, e.g., Panoramic, 668 F.2d at 283.

The parties before us agree that the dispute underlying this case is arbitrable, and neither has disclaimed its obligation to proceed in that forum. We can, therefore, go directly to the second, more nettlesome, aspect of the inquiry. Complicating our task is a lack of uniformity in existing descriptions of the exception to 29 U.S.C. Sec. 101. Our sister circuits seem split as to when, and under what circumstances, equity allows courts to infiltrate the Boys Markets environment. Compare, e.g., Lever Brothers Co. v. International Chemical Workers Union, Local 217, 554 F.2d 115 (4th Cir.1976) with Amalgamated Transit Union, 1384 v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 550 F.2d 1237, 1239 (9th Cir.) (on remand), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 837, 98 S.Ct. 127, 54 L.Ed.2d 99 (1977). We have yet to choose between the differing formulations.

In selecting an approach to the problem, we pause for a moment at the analytic threshold. We recognize that the Boys Markets injunction embodies a curious legal paradox. Generally speaking, arbitration is a contractually-based device designed to permit dispute resolution without the time, trouble, trappings, and tariffs characteristic of legal actions. See, e.g., Scherk v. Alberto-Culver Co., 417 U.S. 506, 510-11, 94 S.Ct. 2449, 2452-53, 41 L.Ed.2d 270 (1974). Virtually by definition, the scope of arbitration is in most settings restricted to matters of contract. Yet the field of labor relations has been plowed in a somewhat different furrow, for the juxtaposition between the scope of collective bargaining agreements and arbitral jurisdiction must be fashioned not under contract-law doctrine alone, but within the framework of the nation's statutory labor laws. See, e.g., Nolde Brothers, Inc. v. Local...

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