Balsavage v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., Civ. No. 88-1709 (CSF).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Writing for the CourtRobert H. Simandl, Livingston, N.J., for Ryder Truck Rental, Inc
Citation712 F. Supp. 461
PartiesJoseph BALSAVAGE, Plaintiff, v. RYDER TRUCK RENTAL, INC., and Automotive Mechanics Local Union No. 477, International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, Defendants.
Docket NumberCiv. No. 88-1709 (CSF).
Decision Date11 May 1989


John A. Sweeney, Sweeney & Sweeney, Mount Holly, N.J., for Joseph Balsavage.

Karen Honeycutt, Roseland, N.J., and Patricia McConnell, Vladek, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C., New York City, for Automotive Mechanics Local Union No. 477, Intern. Ass'n of Machinist and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO.

Robert H. Simandl, Livingston, N.J., for Ryder Truck Rental, Inc.


CLARKSON S. FISHER, District Judge.

Before the court is the motion of defendant, Automotive Mechanics Local Union No. 447, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, ("AMLU"), for summary judgment.1 The court has considered the parties' submissions. For the reasons discussed below, AMLU's motion is denied.

The parties agree on the events which began this lawsuit. Plaintiff, Joseph Balsavage, was a mechanic with co-defendant, Ryder Truck Rental, Inc. ("Ryder"), from October 5, 1976, to January 7, 1986. During the relevant times Balsavage was a member of AMLU, and the terms of his employment were governed by the collective bargaining agreement between that organization and Ryder. On January 7, 1986, Ryder terminated Balsavage's employment.

The parties disagree on certain events between Balsavage's January, 1986, discharge and the filing of his complaint. Balsavage contends that on January 23, 1986, a meeting was held between Ryder representatives and AMLU delegates to discuss his discharge. Plaintiff claims that shortly after the meeting, AMLU representative John Scarfi promised Balsavage that AMLU would arbitrate his grievance against Ryder. AMLU has presented testimony to the effect that no such meeting took place; Scarfi himself has stated that he had absolutely no contact with Balsavage regarding his discharge.

Balsavage's subsequent attempts to contact AMLU about Scarfi's promise were met with silence. Between April 2 and April 8, 1986, Balsavage acquired a grievance form from AMLU. He completed the form and returned it to the union by registered mail. By June of 1986, Balsavage concluded that AMLU was not going to fulfill its agent's promise. Over one year later, on November 18, 1987, Balsavage filed suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, against both defendants. His case was removed to this court in April of 1988.

AMLU's motion poses the sole issue of whether this suit is barred by the statute of limitations. Before addressing this question, however, a brief discussion of the legal background is appropriate. A person's ability to labor is his property; he may exercise his own rights in fixing the terms and conditions under which this ability is to be exercised. See U.S. Const. Art. I, sec. 10; Adair v. United States, 208 U.S. 161, 172, 179, 28 S.Ct. 277, 279, 282, 52 L.Ed. 436 (1908), overruled on other grounds, Phelps Dodge Corp. v. N.L.R.B., 313 U.S. 177, 187, 61 S.Ct. 845, 849, 85 L.Ed. 1271 (1941); Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518, 607, 4 L.Ed. 629 (1819). Under our national scheme of labor legislation, however, a union may acquire and exercise these individual rights by operation of the law.

Once a union attains representative status, the law makes it the sole agency through which negotiations for a person's work are made, and by which his rights are protected. See Bowen v. United States Postal Serv., 459 U.S. 212, 225 & n. 14, 103 S.Ct. 588, 596 & n. 14, 74 L.Ed.2d 402 (1983); DelCostello v. International Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164 n. 14, 103 S.Ct. 2281, 2290 n. 14, 76 L.Ed.2d 476 (1982) (both cases outlining collective bargaining power of union management). In this regard, the union may maintain a "closed shop," wherein no one may work unless he joins the organization. Wallace Corp. v. N.L.R.B., 323 U.S. 248, 250-51, 65 S.Ct. 238, 239, 89 L.Ed. 216 (1944); Apex Hosiery Co. v. Leader, 310 U.S. 469, 504, 60 S.Ct. 982, 998, 84 L.Ed. 1311 (1940). Congress enacted this legislation to serve the "national interest in industrial peace." Phelps Dodge, 313 U.S. at 183, 61 S.Ct. at 847.

The union may also possess individual rights to enforce employment contracts. No employee may sue his employer for breach of his employment contract in the first instance; he may sue in his own right only after complying with the grievance procedures agreed upon by the union and his employer. Clayton v. U.A.W., 451 U.S. 679, 696, 101 S.Ct. 2088, 2099, 68 L.Ed. 2d 538 (1981); Nanney v. Chrysler Corp., 600 F.Supp. 1248, 1251-53 (D.Del.1984). As the Supreme Court has said, "`The grievance machinery under a collective bargaining agreement is at the very heart of the system of industrial self-government.'" United Parcel Serv., Inc. v. Mitchell, 451 U.S. 56, 63, 101 S.Ct. 1559, 1564, 67 L.Ed.2d 732 (1982) (quoting United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 581, 80 S.Ct. 1347, 1352, 4 L.Ed.2d 1409 (1960)). This exhaustion requirement is "not a mere ritual or formality. It is a necessary complement to the union's status as exclusive bargaining representative, enabling it to actively participate in the continuing administration of the contract." Abrams v. Carrier Corp., 434 F.2d 1234, 1246 (2d Cir.1970), cert. denied, 401 U.S. 1009, 91 S.Ct. 1253, 28 L.Ed.2d 545 (1971) (citing Republic Steel v. Maddox, 379 U.S. 650, 653, 85 S.Ct. 614, 616, 13 L.Ed.2d 580 (1965)). The union's active participation is required not only by its own status as a collective contractee, but also by the national policy of deterring "`disruptive influences upon both the negotiation and administration of collective agreements,'" Republic Steel, 379 U.S. at 653, 85 S.Ct. at 617 (quoting Teamsters Local v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 103, 82 S.Ct. 571, 576, 7 L.Ed.2d 593 (1962)), by providing for a quick end to employee-employer disputes. United Parcel Serv. v. Mitchell, 451 U.S. 56, 63, 101 S.Ct. 1559, 1564, 67 L.Ed.2d 732 (1981); Abrams, 434 F.2d at 1246.

Moreover, a union's possession of rights is not restricted to its agreement with an employer. Unions possess considerable power over the individual worker. Union membership is not a right, but a privilege. Moynahan v. Pari-Mutuel Employees Guild, Local 280, 317 F.2d 209, 210 (9th Cir.1963), cert. denied, 375 U.S. 911, 84 S.Ct. 207, 11 L.Ed.2d 150 (1963); Hughes v. Local 11, International Ass'n. of Bridge Workers, 287 F.2d 810, 814 (3d Cir.1960), cert. denied, 368 U.S. 829, 82 S.Ct. 51, 7 L.Ed.2d 32 (1961). Consequently, a union may exclude a qualified applicant from membership even though he will be rendered unable to pursue his vocation. Courant v. International Photographers Local 659, 176 F.2d 1000, 1001-03 (9th Cir. 1949), cert. denied, 338 U.S. 943, 70 S.Ct. 429, 94 L.Ed. 581 (1950).

The union also posseses disciplinary authority over its members. Subject to traditional notions of procedural due process afforded a member by statute, Falcone v. Dantinne, 420 F.2d 1157, 1165 (3d Cir.1969), unions may try a member for offenses which only the union may define, and which need not be forbidden by written rules.2International Bhd. of Boilermakers v. Hardeman, 401 U.S. 233, 244-45, 91 S.Ct. 609, 616, 28 L.Ed.2d 10 (1971). The penalties inflicted may include exclusion from union membership. See Id. (union member expelled for striking union superior). In this, as in other matters, union management has great authority; as indicated above, the loss of union membership more often than not means the loss of an individual's livelihood. Falcone v. Dantinne, 420 F.2d 1157, 1163 (3d Cir.1969). See also Sanders v. International Ass'n. of Bridge Workers, 235 F.2d 271, 272 (6th Cir.1956) (upholding expulsion from the union for life).

These characteristics notwithstanding, it must be remembered that unions are not arms of the state. They are simply voluntary, contractual associations of individual workers. See N.L.R.B. v. Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 175, 182-84, 87 S.Ct. 2001, 2007-08, 18 L.Ed.2d 1123 (1967) (stating that relationship of union to its members is one of private contract); Courant, 176 F.2d at 1003 (holding that neither the fifth nor fourteenth amendments apply to union activity). The Supreme Court has, however, recognized that responsibilities accompany the great amount of private power possessed by labor organizations.

In Steele v. Louisville & Nashville Ry. Co., 323 U.S. 192, 65 S.Ct. 226, 89 L.Ed.2d 173 (1944) and Tunstall v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen, 323 U.S. 210, 65 S.Ct. 235, 89 L.Ed. 187 (1944), the Court addressed the power of union management to forfeit the rights of nonmember black workers in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. Id. 323 U.S. at 194-96, 65 S.Ct. at 228-29. The Court upheld the union's right to withhold membership on the basis of race, id., but observed that the union's special role in labor relations required that the organization protect the interests of all workers:

So long as a labor union assumes to act as the statutory representative of a craft, it cannot rightly refuse to perform the duty, which is inseparable from the power of representation conferred upon it, to represent the entire membership of a craft. While the statute does not deny to such a bargaining labor organization the right to determine eligibility to its membership, it does require the union, in collective bargaining and in making contracts with the carrier, to represent nonunion or minority union members of the craft without hostile discrimination, fairly, impartially, and in good faith.

Id. at 204, 65 S.Ct. at 233. The Court concluded that the union was required to permit black workers to comment on the union's proposed changes to the terms and...

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