Constellium Rolled Prods. Ravenswood, LLC v. Cooper, 20-0486

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtWALKER, Justice
Citation245 W.Va. 731,865 S.E.2d 473
Parties CONSTELLIUM ROLLED PRODUCTS RAVENSWOOD, LLC, Petitioner Below, Petitioner v. Earl B. COOPER, et al., and Workforce West Virginia Board of Review, Respondents Below, Respondent
Docket NumberNo. 20-0486,20-0486
Decision Date05 November 2021

245 W.Va. 731
865 S.E.2d 473

CONSTELLIUM ROLLED PRODUCTS RAVENSWOOD, LLC, Petitioner Below, Petitioner
v.
Earl B. COOPER, et al., and Workforce West Virginia Board of Review, Respondents Below, Respondent

No. 20-0486

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted: September 15, 2021
Filed: November 5, 2021


Ancil G. Ramey, Esq., Christopher L. Slaughter, Esq., Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, Huntington, West Virginia, Rodney L. Bean, Esq., Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, Morgantown, West Virginia, Counsel for Petitioner.

Thomas P. Maroney, Esq., Patrick K. Maroney, Esq., Maroney, Williams, Weaver & Pancake PLLC, Charleston, West Virginia, Counsel for Respondents-Claimants.

Patrick Morrisey, Attorney General, Charleston, West Virginia, Counsel for Respondent Workforce West Virginia Board of Review.

WALKER, Justice:

865 S.E.2d 478

In 2012, Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood, LLC employed 860 workers at its production plant, 680 of whom were represented by United Steelworkers Local 5668. In the spring and summer of that year, representatives of Constellium and the Union met twenty-six times to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. By August 5, 2012, two contract extensions had come and gone and Constellium and the Union still could not come to terms. So, Earl B. Cooper and other Union members employed at the plant (Claimants) stopped working and went on strike. The strike ended a few weeks later and Claimants applied for unemployment compensation benefits. Constellium contested the applications under West Virginia Code § 21A-6-3(4) (2012) (labor dispute provision).1 A Labor Dispute Tribunal decided that Claimants were not disqualified for benefits under that provision. The Board of Review affirmed that decision, and the Circuit Court of Kanawha County affirmed the Board.

Constellium now argues that the lower tribunals erroneously held that Claimants were not disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits under the labor dispute provision. We agree. The facts found by the lower tribunals clearly demonstrate that a stoppage of work occurred at Constellium's plant during the 2012 labor dispute, and those tribunals clearly erred by concluding otherwise. And, we find no error in the lower tribunals’ conclusions that Claimants have not satisfied the exceptions to disqualification under the labor dispute provision and that the provision is not preempted by federal labor law. For those reasons, we reverse in part and affirm in part the Circuit Court of Kanawha County's order of June 12, 2020, and remand this case for entry of an order denying Claimants’ applications for unemployment compensation benefits.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Constellium produced aluminum plate and coil products at its Ravenswood plant in 2012. Plate is used primarily in the aerospace industry while the coil goes to a more diverse customer base. The Union represented the hourly workers at the Ravenswood plant, who then accounted for approximately 80 percent of the Ravenswood plant's workforce (680 employees out of 860, total).

In 2010, the Union and Constellium had entered into a two-year collective bargaining agreement. That agreement was set to expire in July 2012,2 so the Union and Constellium began negotiations for a new agreement in May 2012 and met over twenty times between May and August 2012. A dispute over healthcare pervaded the negotiation of economic contract terms.3 Constellium worked to walk back the first-dollar health coverage workers had enjoyed under the 2010 agreement and to put a medical necessity clause into the agreement.4 The Union opposed both changes. Constellium and the Union could not come to terms, so union members went on strike at midnight on August 5, 2012.5

Constellium continued to operate the plant during the strike by shifting approximately 180 salaried employees from their usual assignments to bargaining unit work. Those salaried employees performed bargaining unit jobs six or seven days a week during the strike, in two, twelve-hour shifts, so that Constellium continued to produce and ship plate and coil, and generate revenue during

865 S.E.2d 479

the strike, although at levels far below normal. Negotiations on health and welfare benefits continued during the strike. Eventually, Constellium proposed revisions to the medical necessity clause that found traction. Union members accepted the revised proposal on September 20, 2012, and returned to work four days later.

Claimants applied for unemployment compensation benefits for the period of the labor dispute. Constellium contested the applications, and the dispute was referred to a three-member Labor Dispute Tribunal.6 During the pre-hearing conference, the Tribunal granted-in-part Constellium's motion to quash a subpoena duces tecum that Claimants had previously caused to be served upon representatives of Constellium.7 That subpoena sought, among other things, "All communications, memos, emails, text messages, videos and pictures between [Constellium] employees or its agents, including [a Constellium parent entity], regarding union members of [Constellium], regarding the labor dispute between [the Union] and [Constellium]."8 The Tribunal found that request plus two similar ones to be "vague, general and unnecessarily cumbersome."

The Tribunal conducted a two-day evidentiary hearing in early November 2012.9 Constellium presented testimony and documents to support its position that a stoppage of work had occurred at the Ravenswood plant during the August-September 2012 labor dispute.10 Claimants offered evidence to support their position that Constellium had denied them their right of collective bargaining by insisting on including the medical necessity clause in the 2012 agreement and by putting leaders of a parent company located in Paris, France, in charge of bargaining on economic terms.11

On December 14, 2012, the Tribunal decided that the Claimants were not disqualified

865 S.E.2d 480

for unemployment compensation benefits because a stoppage of work had not occurred at Constellium's Ravenswood plant due to the strike. The Tribunal found that operations had continued at the plant during the strike, albeit by the efforts of salaried employees working bargaining unit jobs. The Tribunal found that decreases in production, product shipped, and revenue did not indicate that Constellium's normal operations had been "substantially curtailed," so that no stoppage of work had occurred during the labor dispute and Claimants were not disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits. The Tribunal then analyzed and rejected the parties’ remaining arguments for purposes of appellate review, including arguments put forth by Claimants to counter their disqualification from benefits, had the Tribunal found in Constellium's favor. The Board of Review affirmed the Tribunal's decision in February 2013. The Circuit Court of Kanawha County entered an order affirming the Board's order affirming the Tribunal's decision on June 12, 2020.12

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Our standard of review of decisions by the Board of Review is well-settled:

The findings of fact of the Board of Review of the West Virginia Department of Employment Security are entitled to substantial deference unless a reviewing court believes the findings are clearly wrong. If the question on review is one purely of law, no deference is given and the standard of judicial review by the court is de novo.[13 ]

III. DISCUSSION

We first consider Constellium's appeal of the lower tribunals’ conclusion that Claimants are not disqualified for unemployment compensation benefits because a stoppage of work did not occur at the Ravenswood plant in 2012. We then take up Claimants’ cross-appeal. Finally, Constellium's federal preemption argument is briefly considered.

A. Disqualification for Benefits

West Virginia Code § 21A-6-3(4) (2012) controls the determination of whether Claimants were properly paid unemployment compensation benefits for the period of the 2012 strike. Under this statute, also called the labor dispute provision, a claimant "is disqualified for benefits ... [f]or a week in which his or her total or partial unemployment is due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment or other premises at which he or she was last employed."14 This Court has explained that for the purposes of the labor dispute provision, a "stoppage of work" does not mean that the lights must be turned off and the doors to the factory locked to trigger disqualification. Instead, the analysis is fact specific and turns on whether there is a substantial curtailment of normal operations:

[t]he term "stoppage of work", within the meaning of the unemployment compensation statutes of this state refers to the employer's operations rather than to a mere cessation of employment by claimants of benefits under the provisions of such statutes; and, in order that employees may be disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits because of ‘a stoppage of work’ resulting from a labor dispute, it must appear that there has
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