Drake Bakeries, Incorporated v. Local 50, American Bakery Confectionery Workers International

Decision Date18 June 1962
Docket NumberNo. 598,AFL-CIO,598
Citation82 S.Ct. 1346,8 L.Ed.2d 474,370 U.S. 254
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Robert Abelow, New York City, for petitioner.

Howard N. Meyer, New York City, for respondents.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioning company brought this action for damages in the District Court under § 301(a) of the Taft-Hartley Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 185(a), alleging that the respondent union had violated the no-strike clause of the collective bargaining contract between the union and the company. The sole question in the case is whether the District Court was correct in holding that the employer's claim was an arbitrable matter under the contract and in ordering a stay of the action pending completion of arbitration. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court by an equally divided vote.1 This Court granted certiorari (368 U.S. 975, 82 S.Ct. 480, 7 L.Ed.2d 437), and set the cause for argument immediately following Atkinson v. Sinclair Refining Co., 370 U.S. 238, 82 S.Ct. 1318.

The company's business is baking and selling cakes and other bakery products. On December 16, 1959, the company notified the union and its employees that because Christmas and New Year's would fall on Fridays and because it was desirable to have fresh bakery products to sell on the Mondays following the holidays, employees would not work on the Thursdays before Christmas and New Year's but would work on the Saturdays following those holidays. Meetings between the union and the company on December 18 and December 22 ensued, the company's position being that it was exercising management's prerogative in rescheduling work, the union's that the proposed work schedule violated the collective bargaining contract and that the employees were not obligated to work on December 26 or January 2. A compromise arrangement was worked out for December 26, and 80 out of 190 employees reported on that day, a sufficient number to allow production to proceed. Further conversations On December 28 were not fruitful, however, and on Saturday, January 2, the company was unable to produce its goods because only 26 employees reported for work. The company promptly filed this damage action on January 4, 1960, alleging that the union instigated and encouraged its members to strike or not to report for work on January 2, all in violation of the no-strike clause contained in the collective bargaining contract. No answer has been filed by the union but the union's affidavit in support of the motion for stay stated what its answer would contain and specifically denied that the union had instigated a strike or encouraged its members not to work on January 2.

As was true in Atkinson, supra, the issue of arbitrability is a question for the courts and is to be determined by the contract entered into by the parties. '* * * (A) party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit.' United Steel- workers v. Warrior & Gulf Nav. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582, 80 S.Ct. 1347, 1353, 4 L.Ed.2d 1409. But the contract here is much different from the agreement in Atkinson. Under Article V2 of the contract: 'The parties agree that they will promptly attempt to adjust all complaints, disputes or grievances arising between them involving questions of interpretation or application of any clause or matter covered by this contract or any act or conduct or relation between the parties hereto, directly or indirectly.'

This is broad language, indeed, and the procedure thereafter provided in Article V does not, as it did in Atkinson, exclude claims or complaints of the employer. It is provided that in the first instance the union will be represented by a committee and the shop chairman, and the employer by the shop manager. Failing adjustment at this stage, the issue is required to be submitted in writing by 'the party claiming to be aggrieved to the other party,' whereupon the union and the plant manager are to attempt to reach a satisfactory agreement. If agreement is not reached within seven days from the time the issue is submitted in writing, either party 'shall have the right to refer the matter to arbitration * * *.'

Article V does not stop with disputes 'involving questions of interpretation or application of any clause or matter' covered by the contract. The adjustment and arbitration procedures are to apply to all complaints, all disputes and all grievances involving any act of either party, or any conduct of either party, or any relation between the parties, directly or indirectly. The company asserts that there was a strike by the union in violation of the no-strike clause. It therefore has a 'complaint' against the union concerning the 'acts' or 'conduct' of the union. There is also involved a 'dispute' between the union and the company, for the union denies that there was a strike at all, denies that it precipitated any strike, denies that the employees were obligated under the contract to work on that January 2, and itself claims that the employer breached the contract in scheduling work for the holidays.3 Article V on its face easily reaches the employer's claim against the union for damages caused by an alleged strike in violation of the contract.

The company earnestly contends that the parties cannot have intended to arbitrate so fundamental a matter as a union strike in breach of contract, and that only an express inclusion of a damage claim by the employer would suffice to require arbitration. But it appears more reasonable to us to expect such a matter, if it is indeed so fundamental and so basic to the company under the contract, to have been excluded from the comprehensive language of Article V if the parties so intended. In Article VII,4 which contains the no-strike provisions, the parties prohibited strikes, insulated the union, its officers and members from damages for strikes which the union did not authorize, and agreed that, even in the case of unauthorized strikes, the company would arbitrate disciplinary action taken against the strikers. In the face of the comprehensive language of Article V, it would have been most appropriate at this point for the parties to have excluded from the arbitration procedures the company's claim for strike damages, if they had intended to do so. Instead, the inclusive coverage of Article V was left intact.

Of significance also are certain events which occurred in August 1959. At that time the company took issue with union conduct in connection with overtime work. Labeling this conduct an 'overtime strike' and a 'breach of contract,' the company wrote a letter to the State Mediation Board of New York saying that the contract with the union provided for arbitration of disputes before an arbitrator appointed by the Board and requesting the appointment of an arbitrator to 'determine the question of breach of contract and damages suffered by' the company as a result of the strike. An award of damages against the union was requested, as was injunctive relief against a continuance of the overtime strike.5 It would appear, then, that the company, just four months earlier in 1959, considered that the fundamental matter of a union-led strike was a dispute to be arbitrated under the provisions of the contract.6

The company further asserts that even if it agreed in the contract to arbitrate union violations of the no-strike clause, it is excused by the union's breach from pursuing the post-breach remedies called for in the contract. The company does not deny that grievance and arbitration procedures under this contract—as is true generally (United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Nav. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 584, 80 S.Ct. 1347, 1353, 4 L.Ed.2d 1409)—contemplate as a matter of course the arbitration of many alleged breaches of contract. Indeed, central to the company's position is its assertion that the union was bound to arbitrate, rather than strike over, its claim that the company breached the contract by scheduling Saturday work. But in its view, the union's violation of the no-strike clause is sui generis and so basic to what the employer bargained for in the contract and so inherently and 'fundamentally inconsistent with' the grievance and arbitration procedures that the faithful observance of the no-strike clause by the union is a condition precedent to the employer's duty to arbitrate (even though he has promised to do so), or that the union must be deemed to have waived, or to be estopped from asserting, its right to arbitrate.

However, this Court has prescribed no such inflexible rule rigidly linking no-strike and arbitration clauses of every collective bargaining contract in every situation.7 The company has not attempted, or claimed the right, either to terminate the entire contract or to extinguish permanently its obligations under the arbitration provisions. Instead, it has sued for damages for an alleged strike and, as far as this record reveals, the contract continued in effect, as did the promises of the parties to arbitrate and the promise of the union not to strike. Moreover, in this case, under this contract, by agreeing to arbitrate all claims without excluding the case where the union struck over an arbitrable matter, the parties have negatived any intention to condition the duty to arbitrate upon the absence of strikes. They have thus cut the ground from under the argument that an alleged strike, automatically and regardless of the circumstances, is such a breach or repudiation of the arbitration clause by the union that the company is excused from arbitrating, upon theories of waiver, estoppel, or otherwise.8 Arbitration provisions, which themselves have not been repudiated, are meant to survive breaches of contract, in many contexts, even total breach;9 and in determining whether...

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