Long Island Lumber Co. v. Martin

Decision Date15 April 1965
Docket NumberA,No. 824,824
Citation259 N.Y.S.2d 142,15 N.Y.2d 380,207 N.E.2d 190
Parties, 207 N.E.2d 190, 59 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2237, 51 Lab.Cas. P 19,661 In the Matter of the Arbitration between LONG ISLAND LUMBER CO., Inc., Respondent, and Harry C. MARTIN, as President of Demolition, Debris Haulers, Used Materials andScrap Metal Chauffeurs, Helpers and Loaders, Local Unionffiliatedwith the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen andHelpers ofAmerica, et al., Appellants.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Samuel J. Cohen and Stanley M. Berman, New York City, for appellants.

Herbert Burstein and Harold Michaels, New York City, for respondent.

BURKE, Judge.

The union appeals from a decision of the Appellate Division which affirmed, by a divided court, an order of the Special Term staying arbitration.

The main issue presented for review is whether the courts below were correct on the facts of this case in reaching the question of whether or not the parties had followed the steps preliminary and necessary to the final arbitration step required by a collective bargaining agreement.

The parties have conceded that this case and the contract involved in it are within the purview of our national labor legislation, and they have presented their arguments in that posture. Since the arbitration clause is part of a collective bargaining contract, its interpretation and enforcement come within the terms of subdivision (a) of section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (61 U.S.Stat. 156 (1947); U.S.Code (1958 ed.), tit. 29, § 185, subd. (a)). Because of this legislation such cases are not dealt with as a matter of State contract law and, although State courts have jurisdiction in such cases as this, the Federal law must be followed, and 'incompatible doctrines of local law must give way to principles of federal labor law.' (Teamsters Local 174, Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 102, 82 S.Ct. 571, 576, 7 L.Ed.2d 593 (1962).)

While it is Federal law that we apply in this case in reversing the orders made below which prevented arbitration, we point out that on this record and under the law of this State we would treat collective bargaining contract arbitration with like reasoning, and would reach the same result were we to apply our law. These orders must be reversed as we said because the procedural issue raised by the company is plainly arbitrable and the courts below should not have considered it.

The company and the union are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. One of the agreement's many sections deals with the procedure to be followed between the parties for the resolution of grievances. This section, No. 26, provides: '26. GRIEVANCES and ARBITRATION. There shall be no strikes, suspensions, or slowdowns of work during the term of this agreement, and all grievances, including the queston whether an employee has been discharged for just cause, and all disputes with respect to the interpretation of this agreement shall be dealt with as follows: If the Union and the Employer or his designated representative fail to come to an agreement, then the matter in controversy shall be referred to a committee of Arbitration, which shall consist of one person selected by the Employer, and one person selected by the Union, who shall proceed to arbitrate the matter within three (3) days after the dispute arises. If such committee is unable to agree on a decision of the dispute or controversy within five (5) days after the submission thereof, then such dispute shall be submitted for arbitration before the Arbitration Authority for the Trucking Industry of the City of New York, whose decision shall be final and binding upon the parties.'

The union was informed that one Louis Bostic was not receiving wages equal to those called for in the agreement. The union communicated with the company on November 7, 1962, and a meeting was held on November 13, at which the company's secretary, Mrs. Rosen, was present, with two union officers, and also Bostic. The company's position was that Bostic was not employed by it but by another company that was carrying on its business at the same address. For this reason the company refused the claim.

On December 4, 1962 counsel for the union served the company with a copy of a 'REQUEST FOR ARBITRATION' of alleged violations of the agreement, to be held before the impartial chairman of the Trucking Industry Arbitration Authority.

The company asserts that the meeting of November 13 was merely a meeting to discuss the claim and its possible settlement, and that, at most, it amounted to the first step of the grievance procedure set up by the agreement. The company claims that it did not consider the November 13 meeting to be that of a 'Committee of Arbitration' and that it did not designate a representative on a 'Committee of Arbitration'. It views this missing step as the fatal lack of a necessary condition precedent to arbitration before the Authority. This is the view taken by Special Term and by the majority of the Appellate Division.

The union alleges error in the lower courts' ruling against the timely propriety of arbitration. It also contends 'further attempts to activate a committee would be fruitless'. Beyond this, however, it is the union's position that the courts should never have passed upon the question of compliance with the preliminary steps to arbitration. It asserts that this issue, along with the merits of the grievance claim, may only be considered by the arbitrators.

This last contention is correct as it is supported by a body of decisional law developed in the Federal courts. It is now a familiar rule that, where a labor agreement contains an arbitration provision, the presumption is that questions of arbitrability are for the arbitrator (see United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO v. Warrior & Gulf Co., 363 U.S. 574, 80 S.Ct. 1347, 4 L.Ed.2d 1409 (1960); United Steelworkers of America v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 80 S.Ct. 1343, 4 L.Ed.2d 1403 (1960); United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 80 S.Ct. 1358, 4 L.Ed.2d 1424 (1960)). The principles which have given rise to this presumption as to questions of substantive arbitrability apply likewise to procedural issues. (See John Wiley & Sons, Inc., v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 84 S.Ct. 909, 11 L.Ed.2d 898 (1964); Rochester Tel. Corp. v. Communications Workers, 340 F.2d 237 (2d Cir., 1965); Carey v. General Elec. Co., 315 F.2d 499, 501-504 (2d Cir., 1963), cert. den. 377 U.S. 908, 84 S.Ct. 1162, 12 L.Ed.2d 179 (1964).) The court, of course, has the function in the first instance of ascertaining whether there is a question, whether it be of procedure or of substance, which requires determination on the merits by the arbitrators (see United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO v. Warrior & Gulf Co., 363 U.S. 574, 80 S.Ct. 1347, supra). The court's function, however, is limited to finding that a dispute, whether tenable or not, does in fact exist. (See CPLR 7501; see, also, United Steelworkers of America v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 566-567, 80 S.Ct. 1343, supra.) Where the court so finds, then, it will be for the arbitrator and not for the court to determine the merits of the dispute itself. In the last analysis, arbitrations are the result of agreements between the parties and they draw their essence from those agreements. It is only where the parties have employed language which clearly rebuts the presumption of arbitrability, e. g., by stating that an issue either as to procedure or as to substance is not to be determined by arbitration, that the matter may be determined by the courts. In the absence of such unmistakably clear language, as here, the matter is sent to the arbitrator for his determination on the merits. (See United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 80 S.Ct. 1358, supra (1960).)

So much for the general principles the leading opinion defining the Federal rule applicable to the issue of 'procedural...

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