In a 7-2 decision days before they closed their (October-June) term, U.S. Supreme Court justices upheld a 2007 federal jury verdict that Teamsters Local 287, San Jose, Calif., had ratified a collective bargaining agreement with Watsonville, Calif., ready mixed and aggregate producer Graniterock in early-July 2004. A drivers' strike that began the month prior at a San Jose concrete plant continued past an agreed-upon return-to-work date, and spawned July-September work stoppages throughout the company's materials and roadbuilding operations.
The Teamsters 287 case was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose. The local, however, prevailed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, San Francisco, claiming that the ratification date should be determined by versus jury trial. Hearing Granite Rock Co. v International Brotherhood of Teamsters, The high court completely rejected the Ninth Circuit's argument that an arbitrator should decide the issue of whether a contract agreement had been reached, says Graniterock General Counsel Tom Squeri. Without a contract formed, there could not be original authority for any arbitrator to act. Further, the Court dismissed the Union's argument that Graniterock could be required to submit the matter to an arbitrator under the terms of the very contract that the Union denied had been ratified.
Graniterock sought to enforce its labor contracts, which the union had violated, says Bruce Woolpert, president and chief executive officer. During the strike, the Union misleadingly stated publicly that it was embroiled in a labor contract dispute with the Company over health care and other contract terms. In fact, there were no such unsettled contract matters, because a labor contract had been reached and ratified. The Union used its own members in a deliberate scheme to escape financial liability.
Union officials and the International [Brotherhood of Teamsters] required their members to honor an unlawful strike in the summer of 2004 to apply inappropriate pressure on a business to give up its rights to enforce contract violations, he adds. The Union demanded complete amnesty so it could avoid paying damages from deliberate union-caused violations of multiple labor contracts. There is simply no reason to have a labor contract if the terms and promises in that contract cannot be enforced.
The decision in the six-year-old case against Teamsters Local 287 also opened legal avenues for Graniterock to pursue against the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. In another rebuke of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court found that federal law does not provide a shield for an international union that uses its influence over a local to injure an employer (note Editorial, page 4).