NATIONAL POSTAL MAIL HANDLERS UNION et al v. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE
MEMORANDUM OPINION re Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Christopher R. Cooper on 9/12/2014. (lccrc3, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
NATIONAL POSTAL MAIL HANDLERS
UNION, et al.,
Case No. 1:13-cv-01577 (CRC)
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE,
Local 308 of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union missed a deadline to appeal a
grievance against the United States Postal Service. The union argued before an arbitrator that the
Postal Service waived its objection to the late filing by failing to raise the issue during the grievance
process. The arbitrator excused the Postal Service’s failure, finding that the union’s own actions
resulted in the Postal Service not being aware of the appeal’s tardiness, and concluded the grievance
was not arbitrable. The union seeks to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, and the Postal Service has
moved for summary judgment. Because the Court finds that the arbitrator’s decision met the highly
deferential standard that applies to this Court’s review of Postal Service labor arbitration awards,
the Court will grant summary judgment to the Postal Service.
The National Postal Mail Handlers Union (“NPMHU”) represents approximately 45,000
mail handlers employed by the United States Postal Service (“USPS”) nationwide. Compl. ¶ 4.
Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are drawn from the July 26, 2013 decision
of the arbitrator, which is attached as Exhibit C to the Plaintiff’s complaint.
NPMHU Local 308 represents approximately 2,200 USPS mail handlers in Eastern Pennsylvania,
Delaware, and Southern New Jersey. Id. ¶ 5.2
NPMHU and USPS are parties to a national collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”),
Compl. Ex. A, and its corresponding Contract Interpretation Manual, id. Ex. B. The CBA provides
a detailed four-step procedure for processing and deciding grievances lodged by the union. Id. Ex.
A. The CBA requires the union to appeal or otherwise escalate a grievance to the next step within
certain time limits. If it does not do so, the grievance is considered waived. If USPS does not raise
the union’s untimeliness, however, it waives that defense as a basis for dismissing the grievance. In
the event the parties are unable to resolve the grievance at one of the early stages of the process, the
CBA provides for arbitration before a neutral arbitrator.
On March 13, 2008, Local 308 filed a grievance asserting that USPS had breached the CBA
by hiring casual employees in Philadelphia. Pl.’s Memo. in Opp. to Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J. 2;
Compl. Ex. C at 7. After the parties entered into a written agreement to extend the Step 1 time
limits, USPS never rendered a Step 1 decision. Local 308 moved the grievance to Step 2 on March
25, 2008. The union asserts that after a Step 2 meeting on June 2, 2008, the parties informally
agreed to meet again and to extend the time limit for moving the grievance to Step 3. But the
parties never memorialized any such agreement in writing. Had they adhered to the CBA’s time
limits, USPS would have had to issue a Step 2 decision by June 12, 2008. The union would have
had until June 27, 2008 to appeal to Step 3, even without a decision letter from USPS, pursuant to
Article 15.3.C of the CBA. Having not heard back from USPS about another meeting or with a
formal response, Local 308 escalated the grievance to Step 3 on September 12, 2008—more than
two months late. On September 15, a USPS management representative issued a Step 2 decision
denying the grievance because the union’s appeal to Step 3 was untimely. Several months later, on
The Court will refer to NPMHU and Local 308 collectively as “the union.”
January 20, 2009, a different USPS representative issued a Step 3 decision which denied the merits
of the grievance but did not mention the union’s failure to move the grievance to Step 3 in a timely
The grievance then proceeded to arbitration. USPS argued before the arbitrator that the
matter was not arbitrable because the union missed the Step 3 appeal deadline, there was no mutual
extension of the deadline, and it never waived the union’s untimeliness as a defense. The union
responded that USPS had waived any untimeliness argument because the second USPS
management representative did not mention it in his Step 3 decision letter. After a hearing, the
arbitrator issued an eleven-page decision dismissing the grievance based on the union’s untimely
appeal to Step 3. The arbitrator found that there was no mutual agreement on an extension and,
therefore, the union was bound by the timeframe outlined in the CBA. Even without a Step 2
decision letter, the arbitrator found that the onus was on the union to move the grievance to the next
step in a timely manner. The arbitrator further determined that NPMHU’s untimely appeal resulted
in the creation of two different and incomplete case files for the same grievance. As a result, the
arbitrator found that the USPS representative who drafted the Step 3 decision letter was not aware
that the union’s Step 2 appeal had been untimely. These unique circumstances led the arbitrator to
excuse USPS’s failure to raise a timeliness defense in its Step 3 response. Accordingly, the
arbitrator concluded that the “Union’s actions were unreasonable and inconsistent with the
requirements of the National Agreement when it waited three months to appeal the case to Step 3.”
Compl. Ex. C. at 10.
The union now seeks to vacate the arbitrator’s decision and proceed to the merits of the
grievance. It has sued under 39 U.S.C. § 1208(b), which permits suits in federal district courts for
breaches of contracts between USPS and its employees’ unions. E.g., Am. Postal Workers’ Union,
ALF-CIO v. U.S. Postal Serv., 646 F. Supp. 2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2009) (noting that section 1208(b) is
substantially similar to section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, which provides for
enforcement of arbitration awards in federal court). USPS has moved for summary judgment to
confirm the award.
Standard of Review
The Court will grant summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The moving party bears
the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v.
Caterret, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The Court must accept as true all competent evidence of the
non-movant and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
The union challenges the arbitrator’s decision under 39 U.S.C. § 1208(b), which provides
that “[s]uits for violation of contracts between the Postal Service and a labor organization
representing Postal Service employees . . . may be brought in any district court of the United States
having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy.” Although the text
of 39 U.S.C. § 1208(b) does not provide a standard for judicial review of arbitration decisions, the
D.C. Circuit has explained that “the standard for judicial review of arbitration awards in the postal
context is the same as the standard articulated by the Supreme Court for judicial review of labor
arbitration awards under § 301(a) of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947.” Nat’l Postal
Mail Handlers Union v. Am. Postal Workers’ Union, 589 F.3d 437, 440–41 (D.C. Cir. 2009).
In order to “preserve the efficiency and finality of the labor arbitration process,” the D.C.
Circuit, guided by Supreme Court precedent, has adopted an “extraordinarily deferential standard”
for reviewing labor arbitration awards. Id. at 441. Courts will uphold a labor arbitration award
provided that it “draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement.” United Steelworkers
of Am. v. Enter. Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 597 (1960). To meet that standard, the
arbitrator must “premise his award on his construction of the contract.” Id. at 598. “Courts are not
authorized to review the arbitrator’s decision on the merits despite allegations that the decision rests
on factual errors or misinterprets the parties’ agreement.” Major League Baseball Players Ass’n v.
Garvey, 532 U.S. 504, 509 (2001). A court cannot overturn an arbitrator’s decision if the arbitrator
is “even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority.”
The union argues that the arbitrator did not draw his award decision from the “essence” of
the CBA and ignored the express language of Article 15.3.B, which provides that “if the Employer
fails to raise the issue of timeliness . . . such objection to the processing of the grievance is waived.”
Compl. Ex. A. USPS counters that the arbitrator was required to resolve two conflicting provisions
of the CBA because NPMHU’s failure to timely appeal resulted in duplicate and incomplete case
files and prompted USPS not to respond to the timeliness issue. Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J. 6. Given
that the Court need only consider whether the arbitrator “even arguably constru[ed]” the CBA,
Major League Baseball Players Ass’n, 532 U.S. at 509, the Court finds that there is no basis for
overturning the arbitrator’s decision.
Although it is undisputed that USPS did not raise a timeliness objection in its Step 3
response, the arbitrator found that USPS’s silence on this issue was a direct result of NPMHU’s
failure to lodge a timely Step 2 appeal. In his opinion, the arbitrator reviewed the provisions of the
CBA, considered similar factual situations, and analyzed other arbitration determinations. The
arbitrator determined that improper notification and untimely response on the part of the union
excused USPS’s failure to raise the issue of timeliness in its Step 3 response and, as a result, the
grievance was not arbitrable.
The arbitrator adequately described his conclusion and rooted its logic in the provisions of
the CBA and the actions of the parties. He did not create “his own brand of industrial justice.”
Major League Baseball Players Ass’n, 532 U.S. at 509. Because the arbitrator construed the terms
of the agreement, his determination satisfies the deferential standard that applies to this Court’s
review of labor arbitration awards. The Court will therefore defer to his finding that the grievance
was not arbitrable.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant USPS’s Motion for Summary Judgment.
The Court will issue an order in accordance with this Memorandum Opinion.
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER
United States District Judge
Date: September 12, 2014
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?