Textron Lycoming Reciprocating Engine Division, Avco Corp v.United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America

PETITIONER: Textron Lycoming
RESPONDENT: United Automobile Workers
LOCATION: Randon Bragdon's Dental Office

DOCKET NO.: 97-463
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 523 US 653 (1998)
ARGUED: Feb 23, 1998
DECIDED: May 18, 1998

ADVOCATES:
Stephen A. Yokich - Argued the cause for the respondents
Timothy B. Dyk - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Textron Lycoming Reciprocating Engine Division and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America and its Local 187 are parties to a collective-bargaining agreement that required Textron to notify the Union before entering into any agreement to "subcontract out" work that would otherwise be performed by Union members. In 1994, Textron announced plans to subcontract out work that would have caused approximately one-half of the Union members to lose their jobs. Subsequently, the Union filed suit, alleging that Textron had fraudulently induced the Union to sign the collective-bargaining agreement. The complaint invoked section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, which confers federal subject matter jurisdiction over "suits for violation of contracts" between an employer and a labor organization. The District Court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that the cause of action alleged did not come within section 301(a). The Court of Appeals reversed.

Question

Does section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act permit a union to sue in federal court to declare a collective bargaining agreement voidable in the absence of any alleged violation of the agreement?

Media for Textron Lycoming Reciprocating Engine Division, Avco Corp v.United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 23, 1998 in Textron Lycoming Reciprocating Engine Division, Avco Corp v.United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 97-463, Textron Lycoming Reciprocating Engine Division v. United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America.

Mr. Dyk.

Timothy B. Dyk:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

In 1994, the petitioner employer and the respondent union in this case engaged in collective bargaining required by the National Labor Relations Act and by the decisions of the National Labor Relations Board.

And the union alleges that in the course of that bargaining the employer failed to supply information that it was obligated to supply concerning subcontracting plans, one of the questions being whether that was a mandatory or permissive subject of bargaining under the act.

And the union first brought its claim before the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the employer had committed an unfair labor practice by failing to bargain in good faith under sections 8(a)(5) and 8(d) of the act.

And apparently dissatisfied with the progress of this complaint before the board, the union then brought an identical action, making exactly the same charges, seeking virtually the same relief, in Federal district court as a declaratory judgment action, purportedly pursuant to section 301 of the National Labor Relations Act, and the board proceeding has been tentatively settled.

A settlement was approved by the regional director last week, and the board has granted limited relief, ordering that certain provisions of the contract be set aside and awarding back pay but refusing to grant the broad relief that the union had requested, which would be invalidation of the entire contract.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

May I ask a preliminary question?

The contract has expired?

Timothy B. Dyk:

The contract has expired and the parties are in the process of attempting to negotiate a new agreement.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And there's been a strike in the interim by the union?

Timothy B. Dyk:

That is correct, Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Why isn't this whole thing moot?

We don't have a contract any more.

There's been some limited relief granted.

Why should... why is there anything left for us?

Timothy B. Dyk:

Well, we think that the matter should have been resolved by the board proceedings, but as far as the mootness of the court proceeding is concerned the union still claims damages based on the identical facts that led it to request the declaratory judgment and that issue would be unaffected, in the union's view, by the board's settlement.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, didn't the collective bargaining agreement also provide for the payment of survivor's benefits for a certain number of years after the contract expired?

Timothy B. Dyk:

There are a variety of issues which could arise under the collective bargaining agreement because, of course, the effect of that agreement wasn't limited to the 3-year period of the agreement, so for all of these reasons we think there's no real issue of mootness in this case.

Rather, the issue here is whether the district court had jurisdiction under section 301 and, in our view, the language of section 301 is quite plain.

It provides for suits for violation of collective bargaining agreements.

There's no question here of any violation.

There's no allegation that the employer has committed a violation of the--

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But Mr. Dyk, you concede if it came up defensively it would properly be a matter for the court.

Say the union violated the no-strike clause and the union's answer to that is, this whole contract is no good because it was induced by fraud.

Timothy B. Dyk:

--Well, Justice Ginsburg, yes, we do agree that if there had been an alleged violation of the agreement and a declaratory judgment were sought, that there had been no violation, that that would be a matter properly within the district court's jurisdiction.

Of course, all the parties agree here that in the course of that proceeding the law that would be applied would be board law, in other words, the good faith bargaining requirements crafted by the board pursuant to the act, so--

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

But nonetheless there's nothing about the issue that identifies it as an issue only for the board and never for the courts.

Timothy B. Dyk:

--That's correct, and what this Court has done, as we understand it, it has said that pursuant to the act, that you can have an affirmative suit that's brought in the courts or an unfair labor practice charge before the board that may involve defenses, defenses before the board concerning contracts, defenses in the courts concerning the interpretation of the act, and that has been brought up in cases like Kaiser Steel.