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United States Steel Corp. v. United Mine Workers of America

argued: September 7, 1976.

UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION
v.
UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA; DISTRICT NO. 4 UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA; UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA LOCAL NO. 6321, APPELLANTS



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA D.C. Civil Action No. 69-970

Adams, Rosenn and Garth, Circuit Judges. Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Rosenn

Opinion OF THE COURT

ROSENN, Circuit Judge

This case presents a question of increasing importance in industrial relations: whether a union can be held liable to an employer in money damages for the refusal of union members to cross a stranger picket line*fn1 when the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the employer provides a detailed grievance-arbitration procedure but contains no express no-strike clause. A jury rendered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff employer, United States Steel Corporation ("U.S. Steel"), and against the defendant International Union, United Mine Workers of America ("UMW"), its District 4, and its Local Union 6321. The district judge, relying on this court's decision in Island Creek Coal Co. v. UMW, 507 F.2d 650 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 877, 46 L. Ed. 2d 110, 96 S. Ct. 150 (1975), denied the defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or, in the alternative, for a new trial.*fn2 Because we believe that the Supreme Court's recent decision in Buffalo Forge Co. v. United Steelworkers, 428 U.S. 397, 96 S. Ct. 3141, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1022 ((1976), undercuts the vitality of Island Creek, we reverse.*fn2A

I.

In August 1969, U.S. Steel's Robena Mine Complex in Greene County, Pennsylvania, was closed down for approximately one week because employee-members of UMW Local 6321 refused to cross picket lines established by certain West Virginia coal miners. The pickets, who were members of UMW Local 1058 and employees of the Christopher Coal Company, were protesting the discharge of five local union officers and committeemen from Christopher's Humphrey mine in northern West Virginia.*fn3

At the time of this incident, the collective bargaining agreement in force between UMW and U.S. Steel was the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1968.*fn4 That contract did not expressly prohibit strikes or the honoring of picket lines. The agreement did, however, provide for detailed grievance-arbitration procedures covering "differences . . . as to the meaning and application of the provisions of this agreement, . . . differences . . . about matters not specifically mentioned in this agreement, or . . . any local trouble of any kind . . . ."*fn5 These arbitration provisions were given even greater effect by the parties' agreement that they would "maintain the integrity of [the] contract" and that all disputes which were not settled by agreement would be settled "by the machinery provided in the 'Settlement of Local and District Disputes' section of [the] agreement unless national in character . . . ."*fn6

U.S. Steel brought an action for money damages founded on section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. ยง 185, against the International UMW, its District No. 4, and Local Union No. 6321.*fn7 The corporation claimed that the week-long work stoppage at the Robena complex was in fact a sympathy strike in support of the Humphrey miners, and that the failure of the defendants to invoke the grievance-arbitration procedures to resolve the problem breached the collective bargaining agreement.

At the trial in November 1973, the defendants denied that the Robena work stoppage was a sympathy strike. Rather, they asserted, the union members had refused to cross the stranger picket line because the Humphrey pickets had allegedly threatened violence should the Robena employees return to work. The defendants claimed that because the Robena work stoppage resulted from the employees' fear for their safety, resort to the grievance-arbitration procedures was not obligatory. In making this claim, the defendants relied on Gateway Coal Co. v. UMW, 466 F.2d 1157 (3d Cir. 1973), which held that absent an express provision in the collective bargaining agreement, a union has no contractual duty to submit a safety dispute to arbitration. Subsequent to the trial in the instant case, the Supreme Court reversed this court's Gateway decision, 414 U.S. 368, 38 L. Ed. 2d 583, 94 S. Ct. 629 (1974).

The district judge charged the jury that the grievance-arbitration procedures provided in the collective bargaining agreement impliedly prohibited work stoppages by the defendants' members, and that a work stoppage in sympathy with the strike at the Humphrey mine would violate the contract. He further charged, however, in accordance with this court's Gateway decision, that if the defendants' members stopped work "because of good faith apprehension of physical danger due to abnormally dangerous conditions for work existing at their place of employment, such conduct . . . would not violate the contract." The district judge also instructed the jury that if the Robena work stoppage was "unauthorized," then all three defendants had an obligation to use every reasonable means under the circumstances to end that work stoppage.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, U.S. Steel, and against all three defendants. The defendants then moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or, in the alternative, for a new trial, contending that an obligation not to strike could not be implied because the primary dispute that caused the work stoppage, not being between members of Local 6321 and U.S. Steel, was not arbitrable. When the district judge denied the motion in 1975, he acknowledged the existence of authority to support the defendants' contention but followed this court's decision in Island Creek Coal Co. v. UMW, 507 F.2d 650 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 877, 46 L. Ed. 2d 110, 96 S. Ct. 150 (1975).*fn8 Island Creek held that a dispute over whether a union had contracted away its members' right to honor a stranger picket line was arbitrable under the grievance-arbitration provisions of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1971, provisions which, for practical purposes, were identical to the grievance-arbitration provisions of the 1968 Agreement.

While this appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Buffalo Forge Co. v. United Steelworkers, 428 U.S. 397, 96 S. Ct. 3141, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1022 (1976). At our request, the parties submitted supplemental briefs ...


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