A union’s labor agreement to arbitrate any unresolved disputes about its organizing of employees and bargaining with a hospital did not demonstrate that the Union waived its right to file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, a federal district court ruled. Fallbrook Hosp. Corp. v. Cal. Nurses Ass’n, No. CV-01233-GPC-WMC (S.D. Cal. Sept 23, 2013).
The parties had entered into an agreement to set “rules of conduct” to be observed by both parties during an organizing drive at Fallbrook and to govern “the conduct of any collective bargaining negotiations which might ensue by the Parties arising out of such organizing activity.” Shortly after entering the agreement, the Union began organizing and was certified by the NLRB as the exclusive bargaining agent of Fallbrook’s nurses. During collective bargaining negotiations, the Union filed two unfair labor practice charges, alleging that Fallbrook failed to provide relevant information requested by the Union and failed to bargain in good faith. In response, Fallbrook filed a lawsuit against the Union under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), claiming that the Union’s filing of NLRB charges was a breach of the labor agreement – particularly the section requiring submission of all disputes “relating to compliance with or construction of the [a]greement – including disputes related to the conduct of any collective bargaining negotiations which might ensue between the Parties…to final and binding arbitration.”
Notwithstanding the broad language in the labor agreement, the court rejected Fallbrook’s contentions that arbitration was the exclusive method for resolving disputes about compliance with the agreement. It explained that there is a statutory right to file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB and that, under Supreme Court precedent, a provision in a collective bargaining agreement purporting to waive an employee’s statutory right has to be “clear and unmistakable.” Concluding Fallbrook had not alleged any facts or circumstances that would permit finding such waiver, the court held Fallbrook failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.