Connecticut Emp. Union Independent, Inc. v. Connecticut State Emp. Ass'n, Inc.

Decision Date03 March 1981
Citation183 Conn. 235,439 A.2d 321
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties, 113 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2836 CONNECTICUT EMPLOYEES UNION "INDEPENDENT," INC. v. CONNECTICUT STATE EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, INC., et al.

Dennis G. Ciccarillo, Hartford, with whom, on the brief, was Edward T. Lynch, New Britain, for appellant-appellee (plaintiff).

Donald C. Pogue, Hartford, for appellees-appellants (defendants).

Before BOGDANSKI, PETERS, HEALEY, ARMENTANO and WRIGHT, JJ.

ARTHUR H. HEALEY, Justice.

The appeal and cross appeal in this case are generated by disputes between two unions arising out of the claimed breach of a written coalition agreement between them. The two unions involved are the Connecticut Employees Union "Independent," Inc. (CEUI) and the Connecticut State Employees Association, Inc. (CSEA). After a trial, the court below granted injunctive relief and awarded money damages to the plaintiff CEUI. Thereafter, CEUI appealed to this court contesting the extent of the injunctive relief granted and the court's resolution of certain legal questions in construing the coalition agreement. The defendant CSEA cross appealed challenging the issuance of the injunctive relief and the award of damages.

I

The background circumstances are not simple and must be set out in some detail. The plaintiff CEUI and the defendant CSEA are each employee organizations representing the interests of their members in employer-employee relations. At the time of trial the membership of both unions consisted of state employees. 1 In 1975, the General Assembly enacted Public Acts 1975, No. 75-566, which for the first time accorded collective bargaining rights to state employees. See General Statutes §§ 5-270 through 5-280. Pursuant to this legislation, the Connecticut state board of labor relations (the board) designated the following five groups as units of state employees: (1) SE 3450: the Maintenance and Service Unit; (2) SE 3261: the Clerical Unit; (3) SE 3349: the Health Care Non-Professional Unit; (4) SE 3345: the Social and Human Services Unit; and (5) SE 3349: the Health Care Professional Unit. In order to determine who would be the bargaining agents for each of these units, an election was required. Both CEUI and CSEA, along with other unions, sought to become the bargaining agents for these units.

For whatever their reasons, CEUI and CSEA decided to seek certification from the board as joint bargaining agents for all five units. To that end and after much negotiation, CEUI and CSEA executed on December 30, 1976, a written coalition agreement. 2

After the elections were held, the board certified CEUI and CSEA as the exclusive joint bargaining agents for the five units. The coalition of CEUI and CSEA began its duties and negotiated contracts between the employer state of Connecticut and the employee groups. These contracts were to run for a period of two years, starting on July 1, 1977, and expiring on June 30, 1979. The coalition agreement between the two unions provided that either party could terminate it at the time of termination of the collective bargaining agreements, provided certain prior notice was given. 3 The coalition agreement specifically provided that: "Each party to this agreement shall maintain its autonomy and independence, subject only to the terms of this agreement." 4

Under the legislation authorizing collective bargaining for state employees, any agreement reached by the negotiators was required to be submitted to the General Assembly for its implementation and approval. General Statutes § 5-278(b). After the execution of the coalition agreement between CEUI and CSEA in 1976, the 1977 General Assembly adopted House Joint Resolution No. 154. This resolution, in effect, required the submission to the General Assembly of new collective bargaining agreements (taking effect July 1, 1979) by March 15, 1979. 5

In response to this resolution, the board adopted a regulation that any interested organization desiring to be designated as the exclusive bargaining agent should file a notification with the board between July 1 and August 31 of the year prior to the expiration of the collective bargaining contract involved. Under such deadlines, if either CEUI or CSEA intended to go it alone after the expiration of the collective bargaining contract on June 30, 1979, it had to file such a notification with the board by August 31, 1978. Otherwise, it could not be considered an applicant for designation as exclusive bargaining agent unless the board "for compelling reasons" gave it special permission to do so. If no notification were filed with the board by August 31, 1978, by either CEUI or CSEA, then neither union could be a party to an election for designation as exclusive bargaining agent. Both, as individual unions, would be eliminated as participants if a third union filed for an election. 6 The coalition of CEUI and CSEA, of course, would remain as the incumbent exclusive bargaining agent, entitled to participate in the election, provided, however, that this coalition was not severed.

Collective bargaining on behalf of the five units represented by the coalition looking to a new contract to be effective July 1, 1979, was to begin after October 1, 1978. If there were no election prior to October 1, 1978, the then incumbent coalition of CEUI and CSEA would be entitled to do the bargaining. If there were an election and a third union won, that union would be the bargaining agent. If CEUI and CSEA filed individually with the board, the winner would be certified to conduct the bargaining.

In late July, 1978, CEUI instituted the present action against CSEA, alleging, inter alia, that: "On or about July 1, 1978, the defendant, CSEA, and its President ... did, clandestinely and without any prior notification, 7 begin production and dissemination of flyers, letters, 8 petitions and 'Authorizations for Representation' by CSEA, and thereafter commenced a campaign against the plaintiff, CEUI, which has as its stated purpose, to denigrate and destroy the plaintiff, CEUI, to sever the ... Coalition Agreement, and to seek designation by the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations as exclusive bargaining representative of each and every component unit of the 'Coalition.' " It also alleged that such actions by CSEA were done in violation of the coalition agreement, and that this breach, which was a "repudiation of the agreement by CSEA," had "prejudiced the ability of the Plaintiff (CEUI) effectively to represent State Employees within the Certified Coalition Units" and would cause injury to the rights of those state employees who chose the coalition to represent them or who are members of or are represented by CEUI. In that regard, CEUI also set out in its complaint paragraph 17 9 of the coalition agreement, which included the following language: "The parties acknowledge that in the case of any breach hereunder, an action at law would be inadequate to protect the interests of the other party, and the parties consent that in such event, the adversely affected party shall be entitled to an injunction or a specific performance as the case may be." This action by CEUI sought injunctive relief, specific performance of the coalition agreement and money damages. CSEA essentially denied all the material allegations of CEUI's complaint.

II

The trial court rejected CSEA's claim that the court did not have jurisdiction. 10 The court concluded that the matter was not a "labor dispute" under General Statutes § 31-112 and was not governed by our so-called "little Norris-LaGuardia Act" (i.e., General Statutes §§ 31-112 through 31-121). The court held that the dispute "is simply a falling out between two unions who had combined to act as an exclusive bargaining agent" and that the action is "covered by simple contract law."

The court next determined it would grant a "limited" permanent injunction. It held that there did not appear to be any adequate remedy at law, and that the plaintiffs were in danger of being both irreparably and substantially harmed.

In fashioning the injunctive relief from which CEUI has appealed, the trial court recognized the impact of House Joint Resolution No. 154 and the state labor relations board's response to it upon the coalition agreement as the agreement had been executed in 1976. The court noted that these changes, which the parties "did not count on and could not anticipate," made the notice requirements concerning intention to terminate the coalition agreement "obsolete and ineffective." It, therefore, found a partial frustration of purpose of the coalition agreement because of this unforeseen legislative and board action. The court further determined that "for all practical purposes ... the Coalition is ended and at loggerheads."

In its opinion, the court was quite concerned with protecting the rights and interests of the state employees who were members of the units in the coalition. It expressly noted that "the unstated but important non-party to this action is the member employees."

The court's injunction order of August 29, 1978, was directed to CSEA, its employees, agents or servants and its president and related to the five certified units for which the plaintiff and defendant unions had jointly negotiated contracts. The injunction stated that "under penalty of $10,000.00 (the above-described parties) are hereby restrained and enjoined from engaging in any action, conduct or making statements to members of the above units, written or otherwise, which are detrimental and derogatory to the plaintiff until June 30, 1979. The injunction expressly does not prohibit the filing of intent cards 11 with the State Board of Labor Relations." 12

Finally, the court awarded monetary damages. It specifically stated that in view of the "conclusion that the defendants deliberately, over a long period of time, mailed flyers, publications and other papers...

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