Phi, Inc. v. Office & Prof'l Emps. Int'l Union, Civil Action No. 08–0016.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Louisiana
Citation876 F.Supp.2d 730
Decision Date13 April 2012
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 08–0016.
PartiesPHI, INC. v. OFFICE & PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, The Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 108.

876 F.Supp.2d 730

OFFICE & PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, The Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 108.

Civil Action No. 08–0016.

United States District Court,
W.D. Louisiana,
Lafayette Division.

April 13, 2012.

[876 F.Supp.2d 732]

Hal J. Broussard, Broussard & Kay, Lafayette, LA, David R. Kresser, E. Scott Smith, Fisher & Phillips, Atlanta, GA, for PHI, Inc.

Julie M. Richard–Spencer, Robein Urann et al., Metairie, LA, Melvin S. Schwarzwald, Timothy Gallagher, Schwarzwald & McNair, Cleveland, OH, for Office & Professional Employees International Union, The Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 108.


REBECCA F. DOHERTY, District Judge.

Pending before this Court are two cross motions for summary judgment, as follows: (1) Motion for Summary Judgment filed by PHI, Inc. (“PHI”) [Doc. 71]; and (2) Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Office & Professional Employees International Union (“OPEIU”) and its Local Union 108 (“Local 108”) (hereinafter referred to collectively as “the Unions”) [Doc. 72]. In its motion, PHI moves for summary judgment on its sole claim against the Unions in the main demand and on Claim I of the Unions' Counterclaim against PHI. Specifically, PHI argues it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as follows:

(1) The Award of Arbitrator John B. Barnard must be vacated, because the Arbitrator failed to comply with the Railway Labor Act and failed to conform himself to matters within

[876 F.Supp.2d 733]

the scope of his jurisdiction, both as required by Section 3, First (q) of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 153, First (q),1 when he (a) gave no effect to an express ten-day time limit on a party's right to seek arbitration, and (b) gave no effect to an express seven-day time limit on a party's right to file a grievance; and

(2) For the same reasons, Claim I of the Unions counterclaim, which seeks to enforce Arbitrator Barnard's ruling, must be dismissed on the merits.

In their motion, the Unions seeks summary judgment on Count I of its Counterclaim against PHI—which asks for a declaratory judgment as to the rights and obligations of the parties under the arbitration ruling and a preliminary and permanent injunction ordering PHI to arbitrate the merits of the January 5, 2006 Grievance—and on the “claims” raised by PHI in the main demand, dismissing PHI's demands. Both parties have filed responsive briefs [Docs. 74 & 75], and the matter is now ripe for review.

For the following reasons, PHI's motion for summary judgment [Doc. 71] is DENIED, and the Unions' motion for summary judgment [Doc. 72] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, the motion is granted only to the extent this Court concludes the arbitration ruling at issue should be “upheld,” and the January 5, 2006 Grievance returned to the normal arbitration process in light of this Court's ruling.2

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The following facts are undisputed:

1. Defendant Office and Professional Employees International Union (“OPEIU”) is an unincorporated association and is a “representative” within the meaning of Section 1, Sixth of the RLA, 45 U.S.C. § 151, Sixth.

2. In 2001, the National Mediation Board certified OPEIU to be the collective bargaining representative for the domestic helicopter pilots employed by PHI.

3. Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local Union No. 108 (“Local 108”) is an unincorporated association and is also a “representative” within the meaning

[876 F.Supp.2d 734]

of Section 1, Sixth of the RLA, 45 U.S.C. § 151, Sixth.

4. PHI, Inc. (“PHI”) is a Louisiana corporation, headquartered in Lafayette, Louisiana, that provides helicopter transportation services to the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico and Air Medical services throughout the United States. PHI is a “carrier” within the meaning of Section 1, First of the RLA. 45 U.S.C. § 151, First.

5. At times material to this action, OPEIU has delegated to Local 108 certain duties and responsibilities in connection with OPEIU's role as exclusive collective bargaining representative for its membership employed by PHI.

6. At all times material to this action, PHI and OPEIU have been parties to an existing but expired collective bargaining agreement. (“CBA”) establishing the rates of pay, rules, and working conditions of the domestic helicopter pilots employed by PHI.

7. The CBA addresses the limitations on PHI's right to subcontract out helicopter flying.

8. The CBA contains certain provisions for the resolution of disputes. Specifically, Articles 36 (“Grievance Procedure”) and 37 (“System Board of Adjustment”) state the following:

Article 36 of the CBA states that if a pilot is aggrieved, he shall first attempt to resolve the grievance with his immediate supervisor “within seven (7) calendar days from the date of the occurrences of the event giving rise to the grievance, or within seven (7) calendar days of the date the pilot knew or should have known of such event not to exceed twenty eight (28) calendar days from the date of the event.”

Article 37, Section 5 of the CBA states that, if the Board is deadlocked, “within ten (10) calendar days thereafter either party may request that the American Arbitration Association (AAA) submit a list of seven potential neutrals, and the neutral shall be selected in accordance with the rules of AAA.”

9. Article 37, Section 9 of the CBA also states “[d]ecisions by the Board are final and binding on the Employer, the Union and the affected pilots.”

10. On December 14, 2005, OPEIU Senior International Representative and Chief Union Negotiator for Local 108 Paul Bohelski asked whether PHI had hired domestic contract pilots, something the Unions believed PHI did not have the right to do under the parties' existing, but expired, CBA.

11. That same day, December 14, 2005, PHI Chief Administrative Officer Richard Rovinelli confirmed that PHI was hiring eight contract pilots per month to staff its oil and gas operations.

12. On January 5, 2006, Local 108 filed a grievance (“the January 5, 2006 Grievance”) complaining that PHI's use of contract pilots violated the parties' CBA.

13. The grievance was denied by the Company, and went to a four-person System Board of Adjustment. The Board deadlocked on June 15, 2006.

14. Approximately eight months later, in February 2007, Local 108 requested a panel of neutral arbitrators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

[876 F.Supp.2d 735]

15. PHI and the Unions agreed to arbitrate the arbitrability of the contract pilot dispute.

16. On June 6, 2007, the Union filed another grievance, complaining again about PHI's use of contract pilots. Given the pendency of the previous contract-pilot grievance, the parties agreed, on June 15, 2007, to hold the new grievance “in abeyance ... until the parties receive Arbitrator Barnard's decision ... [at which] time, the parties will revisit the June 6 ... Grievance in light of Arbitrator Barnard's decision....”

17. Arbitrator John B. Barnard received testimony and exhibits in a hearing and issued a ruling on December 15, 2007 finding in favor of the Unions, i.e., the contract pilot dispute raised in the Unions' January 5, 2006 Grievance was “timely and thus arbitrable.”

Thus, based on the foregoing undisputed facts, the instant lawsuit arises out of two grievances filed by the Unions against PHI, to wit:

January 5, 2006 Grievance

During the December 2005 negotiations, the subject of contract pilots came up “because of rumors” that PHI was hiring contract pilots, which the Unions believed violated the CBA if, in fact, the contact pilots were domestic (and not international) pilots. The issue was specifically raised during the December 14, 2005 negotiating session; at that time, PHI asserted it was, indeed, hiring domestic contract pilots. The Unions contend they requested specific information in an attempt to discover whether or not these hirings violated the CBA. According to the Unions, PHI initially refused to provide any of the requested information, but, at the end of the bargaining session, provided the Unions with a letter concerning the contract pilot issue. The Unions argue—and PHI does not appear to dispute—this letter did not provide the Unions “with much” of the information they were requesting, including the names of the contract pilots, where they were working, and whether they were domestic or international pilots.

The Unions argue that after the December 14, 2005 negotiating session, Local 108 President Steve Ragin returned to work in his next scheduled shift and continued to investigate the rumors of contract pilot hires, but did not immediately file a grievance, because he remained uncertain about the status of the domestic contract pilot hires. However, at some point, Mr. Ragin was informed about a specific pilot named Scott Tinnesand, who had been hired by PHI as a domestic contract pilot and who did not intend to fly internationally. At that point, the Unions believed a verifiable violation of the CBA had occurred, and the Unions filed their contract pilot grievance on January 5, 2006.

The January 5, 2006 grievance—Number 010506–001—was properly processed through the steps of the Grievance Procedure and was denied at each step by PHI. The Unions appealed the denial of the January 5, 2006 grievance to the Joint Systems Board of Adjustment, which deadlocked. At a meeting on February 22, 2007, the issue of whether a neutral arbitrator had been selected to resolve the January 5, 2006 Grievance was raised. PHI opposed arbitration, arguing the January 5, 2006 grievance was untimely at that point, because the Unions had not requested a neutral within 10 days of the deadlock. However, the parties agreed to submit the question of whether the January 5, 2006 grievance was timely—and thus, “arbitrable”—to Arbitrator John B. Barnard for a binding ruling. With respect to proceeding in the

[876 F.Supp.2d 736]

foregoing manner,...

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