American Commercial Barge Lines Co. v. Seafarers Intern. Union of North America, Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters Dist., AFL-CIO

Citation730 F.2d 327
Decision Date23 April 1984
Docket NumberAFL-CIO,No. 83-3088,83-3088
Parties116 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2201, 101 Lab.Cas. P 11,074 AMERICAN COMMERCIAL BARGE LINES COMPANY, Inland Tugs Company, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. SEAFARERS INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA, ATLANTIC, GULF, LAKES AND INLAND WATERS DISTRICT,, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

James M. Altman, New York City, Louis L. Robein, Jr., New Orleans, La., for defendants-appellants.

Andrew C. Partee, New Orleans, La., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Before BROWN, WISDOM and JOHNSON, Circuit Judges.

JOHN R. BROWN, Circuit Judge:

This is a suit by a group of employers seeking to enjoin collective bargaining demands of several unions and their strikes aimed at causing the employers to contribute to union pension and welfare trust funds. The employers contend that the trusts violate Sec. 302(c) of the Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA) both on their face and as administered. The employers also seek damages for the strike. We hold that Sec. 302(e), which regulates the structure and administration of employee trust funds, does not create a private action for damages in favor of employers. We further hold that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has taken jurisdiction over two unfair labor practice cases brought by the unions against the employers for ceasing contributions to the funds and creating their own funds, should decide in the first instance whether the strikes are permissible at this point.


Plaintiffs-appellees (Employers), are five companies engaged in the business of transportation by barges and towboats along this country's inland waterways--American Commercial Barge Line Company (ACBL), Inland Tugs Company (ITC), Mac Towing, Inc. (MAC), Louisiana Dock Company, Inc. (LDC), and American Commercial Terminals, Inc. (ACT). The defendants-appellants (Unions) are two labor organizations, the Seafarers International Union of North America, Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters District, AFL-CIO (SIU) and the United States Industrial Workers, Service, Transportation, Professional and Government of North America (UIW).

For more than twenty years the SIU has been the exclusive collective bargaining representative of unlicensed employees aboard towboats and barges operated by ITC and its predecessor barging companies. Similarly, the UIW has been the long-time exclusive collective bargaining representative of production and maintenance employees of LDC at its Harahan, Louisiana and Cairo, Illinois facilities and of the same unit of ACT employees at its Louisville, Kentucky facility. Because the UIW is chartered by and affiliated with the SIU and because ITC, LDC and ACT all are affiliated companies owned by the same parent corporation, the two collective bargaining relationships between the Employers and the Unions are integrally related.

For approximately two decades, as part of successive SIU-ITC collective bargaining agreements, ITC has been required to contribute and in fact has contributed to five labor-management trust funds created pursuant to Sec. 302(c)(5)-(6) of the Labor-Management Relations Act (Act): 1 The Seafarers Welfare Plan, the Seafarers Pension Plan, the Seafarers Hiring Hall Trust Fund, the Seafarers Vacation Plan, and the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship. Similarly, as part of successive collective bargaining agreements between UIW, on the one hand, and LDC and ACT, on the other, for many years LDC and ACT have been required to contribute and in fact have contributed to the UIW Welfare Plan and the UIW Pension Plan, also labor-management trust funds created pursuant to Sec. 302(c)(5) of the Act. During the many years that ITC, LDC and ACT made regular contributions to the appropriate funds, they did not question the lawfulness of the funds until negotiations in late 1979.

In September, 1979, SIU began negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement to replace the existing agreement, which was to expire on December 30, 1979. SIU requested that ITC make increased contributions to the trust funds, but ITC refused. No progress had been made in the negotiations when the existing agreement expired. ITC immediately ceased contributing to the trust funds and later established its own fund for administering employee benefits without union representation or consent. On July 14, 1980, the SIU employees began a strike to compel the Employers to continue contributing to the original funds. There is still no collective bargaining agreement between SIU and ITC.

Contract negotiations between UIW and LDC and ACT also snagged on the issue of employer contributions to their employee trust funds. After the existing agreement expired on August 19, 1981, negotiations ceased. LDC and ACT ceased contributions to the existing trust funds and established their own plans for providing employee benefits without union representation.

The Unions, SIU and UIW, separately filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, claiming, among other things, that their respective Employers' cessation of contributions to the existing employee benefit funds and the establishment of new funds during the collective bargaining process without bargaining to impasse was a refusal to bargain collectively in good faith in violation of Sec. 8(a)(5) of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 158(a)(5). The General Counsel of the NLRB issued unfair labor practice complaints. 2 In each of these NLRB proceedings the employers admitted the facts, but claimed that their acts did not violate the law.

On March 13, 1983, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Thomas Johnson issued a decision in the unfair labor practice proceedings between SIU and ACBL, ITC and MAC. He found that MAC and ITC had violated their duty to bargain under Sec. 8(a)(5) of the NLRA by unilaterally ceasing to contribute to the SIU-related funds and by implementing their own funds to provide ITC employees with pension benefits. Although he stated that he lacked authority to determine if the SIU-related funds violate Sec. 302, he found the Employers' claim of illegality under Sec. 302 to be "inconsistent with the fact [MAC and ITC] had contributed to those same trust funds for years without questioning their legality or show[ing] any valid reason to question them now." Moreover, the ALJ went on to examine several of the allegations of improprieties in the funds and found them to be either unpersuasive or not supported by any evidence. Based on these findings, the ALJ recommended that the NLRB order MAC and ITC to "restore making contributions to the [SIU-related funds] ... and pay into the appropriate trust funds all those contributions they have failed to pay since April 6, 1980."

On November 8, 1983, ALJ Linton issued his decision in the UIW proceeding. He also found that the Employers had committed an unfair labor practice under Sec. 8(a)(5) both by ceasing contributions and by establishing its own fund. He likewise recommended that the NLRB order the employers to resume contributions to the original funds, and pay back the sums it would have become liable to pay to the funds since it ceased contributions. ALJ Linton's conclusion in the UIW proceeding was based, at least partly, on his holding that the collective bargaining contract had never expired because of the illegal position taken by the Employer regarding the scope of the bargaining unit. Thus, he found there was no valid impasse.

The Employers filed this action in the District Court on January 8, 1981. In this suit, the Employers seek to enjoin the Unions from making collective bargaining demands and striking in support of demands that the Employers continue contributing to seven labor-management trust funds, and to obtain an award of compensatory damages caused by a past strike in support of such demands. The Employers claim that they are entitled to such injunctive relief under Sec. 302(e) of the Labor-Management Relations Act and to damages based on a judicially-implied cause of action under Sec. 302(e), because on the face of the trust documents and as administered the trust funds do not comply with certain requirements of Sec. 302(c)(5)-(6) of the Act.

Unions moved to transfer venue to the Eastern District of New York, primarily on the ground that the trust funds were all located in that judicial district. On April 15, 1981, the district court denied the Unions' motion to transfer relying on the Employers' representation that the purpose of this lawsuit is not to cure the trust funds' alleged defects, nor to obtain a declaration that the funds either on their face or as administered are invalid. The Employers insisted that this suit focused instead only on injunctive relief from the Unions' insistence to the point of strike during the collective bargaining process that Employers make contributions to the trust.

On April 10, 1981, while the venue motion was under consideration, the Unions moved to dismiss the complaint herein or, alternatively, to stay the prosecution of this lawsuit on three principal grounds. First, the District Court's jurisdiction over this lawsuit is preempted by the NLRB's exclusive jurisdiction over unfair labor practices. Second, even assuming, arguendo, that the District Court has jurisdiction, these proceedings should be stayed pending the NLRB's expert determination as to issues which are crucial to this lawsuit and which were then and still are pending before the NLRB. Third, the Employers' request for compensatory damages should be dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted, since Sec. 302(e) of the Act does not permit such a remedy and no such remedy should be judicially-implied. In a Memorandum and Order entered on August 20, 1982, the District Court denied the Unions' motion with respect to the Employers' requests for injunctive relief, but...

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