Connecticut Union of Tel. Workers, Inc. v. Southern New England Tel. Co.

Decision Date21 March 1961
Citation148 Conn. 192,169 A.2d 646
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Daniel Baker, Stamford, for appellant (plaintiff).

Donald F. Keefe, New Haven, with whom were John Lashnits, New Haven, William L. F. Felstiner, New Haven, and, on the brief Robert S. Medvecky, New Haven, for appellee (defendant).

Before MURPHY, MELLITZ and SHEA, JJ., and DEVLIN and LONGO, Superior Court Judges.

MELLITZ, Associate Justice.

The plaintiff union brought this application, pursuant to the provisions of General Statutes § 52-410, for an order directing the defendant company to proceed with arbitration of an alleged dispute which the union claimed was arbitrable under the provisions of their collective bargaining agreement. The court denied the application, and the union had appealed from the judgment.

The union and the company have been parties to a series of collective bargaining agreements since about 1940. The wage relationships of the majority of the company employees represented by the union have been determined in accordance with job evaluation plans developed by the company and introduced in 1942 or 1943. Job evaluation is defined as: '(1) The determination of the value of each job in the Company in relation to other comparable jobs in the Company or (2) the determination of the value of each job in a group in the Company in relation to other jobs in the group.' For each position which is subject to evaluation the company publishes a job description. Jobs are evaluated on the basis of point values allocated to each of eight specified criteria or factors, including such factors as general knowledge, job knowledge, and mental application. For each factor there is a minimum and maximum of allowable points. Upon the institution of a new job or a change in one already established, the company determines, on the basis of comparison with other jobs, the number of points to be allocated to each of the eight factors. The salary for the job is determined by the total of the point values so attributed. In 1943, an appeal procedure was added to the plan, and in 1945, the entire plan, including the appeal procedure, was incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement.

A job evaluation appeal is processed at three levels, referred to as stages 1, 2 and 3. Stage 1 provides for a meeting with the employee's supervisor and a review by the supervisor with the departmental job evaluation analyst for the purpose of enabling the parties to reach a mutually agreeable solution. If a solution satisfactory to the employee is not reached in stage 1, there is, in stage 2, a further meeting, participated in by higher ranking representatives of the union and the company, 'and the requirements of the position shall be fully discussed * * * with the object of satisfactorily closing the appeal on the basis of the information discussed.' If a solution satisfactory to the employee is not reached in stage 2, it is provided, in stage 3, that union and company committees 'shall jointly discuss all phases of the case * * *. Following the hearings and discussions it shall be the obligation of the joint committee to reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion, and that decision will be final.' In 1957, the company re-evaluated the job of sales engineer. The sales engineers were dissatisfied with the re-evaluation, and the union requested the company to negotiate concerning a salary increase for the job. The company took the position that the request should be handled through the job evaluation appeal procedure, and the matter was referred to stage 2 of that procedure. Discussions proceeded through stage 3, and when it appeared, after a number of meetings, that no progress had been made by the joint committee in reaching a mutually satisfactory conclusion, the union requested that the matter be referred to arbitration under article XVIII of the collective bargaining agreement. Article XVIII, the general arbitration provision, provides, in its pertinent part: 'In the event that any dispute or controversy concerning the true intent and meaning of a provision of this Contract, or a question as to the performance of any obligation hereunder, or any grievance as defined in Article XI arises and cannot be satisfactorily settled by negotiations * * * the matter shall be arbitrated upon written request of either party to the other * * *.' Article XI sets up a grievance procedure in four steps and provides for arbitration, under article XVIII, of any grievance not settled in step four. It is conceded that the dispute here is not a grievance within article XI. The company challenged the arbitrability of the dispute, and the court sustained its contention. The sole issue in the case is whether, under the collective bargaining agreement, a job evaluation dispute is referable to arbitration under article XVIII over the objection of one of the parties.

The contention of the union is that the court erred in holding that the question of arbitrability was for the court to determine, and in holding that there was no bona fide dispute or controversy within the meaning of article XVIII. The union cites and relies upon the holdings in International Brotherhood of Teamsters, etc. v. Trudon & Platt Motor Lines, Inc., 146 Conn. 17, 21, 147 A.2d 484, and Liggett v. Torrington Building Co., 114 Conn. 425, 430, 158 A. 917. In each of these cases the arbitration provision was expressed in broad, all-embracing terms. In the Trudon & Platt case, supra, 146 Conn. 20, 147 A.2d 487, arbitration was required where there was '[a]ny dispute that cannot be adjudicated between the Employer and the Union.' In the Liggett case, supra, 114 Conn. 430, 158 A. 918, the agreement called for submission of '[a]ll questions in dispute and all claims arising out of said contract.' In each case, the arbitration agreement was held to encompass arbitration of every unresolved dispute.

Arbitration is a creature of contract. It is the province of the parties to set the limits of the authority of the arbitrators, and the parties will be bound by the limits they have fixed. Pratt, Read & Co. v. United Furniture Workers, 136 Conn. 205, 209, 70 A.2d 120. The arbitration provision in an agreement is, in effect, a separate and distinct agreement. Courts of law can enforce only such agreements as the parties actually make. Chase Brass & Copper Co. v. Chase Brass & Copper Workers Union, 139 Conn. 591, 595, 96 A.2d 209. The parties may, if they choose, confide to arbitrators the decision of legal as well as factual disputes. Colt's Industrial Union, Local 376 v. Colt's Mfg. Co., 137 Conn. 305, 307, 77 A.2d 301. When they do so, the arbitrators may have the authority to interpret the provisions of the agreement which are involved in, or applicable to, the facts of the dispute submitted. United Electrical Radio & Machine Workers of America, Local 235 v. Union Mfg. Co., 145 Conn. 285, 289, 141 A.2d 479. This does not necessarily mean that the arbitrators are also empowered to determine the preliminary question of arbitrability. Whether the parties have agreed to submit to arbitration not only the merits of the dispute but the very question of arbitrability, as well, depends upon the intention manifested in the agreement they have made. No one is under a duty to submit any question to arbitration except to the extent that he has signified his willingness. Colt's Industrial Union, Local 376 v. Colt's Mfg. Co., supra, 137 Conn. 308, 77 A.2d 302. The construction of the agreement and the determination of the intent expressed therein present an issue for the court. Connecticut Co. v. Division 425, 147 Conn. 608, 616, 164 A.2d 413; Chase Brass & Copper Co. v. Chase Brass & Copper Workers Union, supra.

Whether a dispute is an arbitrable one is a legal question for the court rather than for arbitrators, in the absence of a provision in the agreement giving arbitrators such jurisdiction. The parties may manifest such a purpose by an express provision or by the use of broad terms such as were employed in the Trudon & Platt and Liggett cases, supra. See Application of Affiliated Coat & Apron Supply Co., Sup., 153 N.Y.S.2d 970, 975, affirmed 2 A.D.2d 671, 153 N.Y.S.2d 976; Greyhound Corporation v. Division 1384, 44 Wash.2d 808, 271 P.2d 689. But unless they do, the determination of the question of the arbitrability of a particular dispute is the function of the court. See United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 303 U.S. 574, 583 note 7, 80 S.Ct. 1347, 1363, 4 L.Ed.2d 1409, 1432; Lodge No. 12, etc. v. Cameron Iron Works, Inc., 5 Cir., 257 F.2d 467, 470, certiorari denied 358 U.S. 880, 79 S.Ct. 120, 3 L.Ed.2d 110; Local No. 149, etc. v. General Electric Co., 1 Cir., 250 F.2d 922, 927, certiorari denied 356 U.S. 938, 78 S.Ct. 780, 2 L.Ed.2d 813; Coleman Co. v. International Union, 181 Kan. 969, 978, 317 P.2d 831; McCarroll v. Los Angeles County District Counsel of Carpenters, 49 Cal.2d 45, 65, 315 P.2d 322, certiorari denied 355 U.S. 932, 78 S.Ct. 413, 2 L.Ed.2d 415; Philadelphia Marine Trade Ass'n v. International Longshoremen's Ass'n, 382 Pa. 326,...

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