A collective bargaining agreement required that an employer contribute to both a multiemployer fringe benefit fund and to a multi-employer pension fund. The employer had become delinquent in making contributions to the multiemployer fringe benefit fund. When the employer became delinquent, the union local sent a letter suspending the collective bargaining agreement and informing the members of the local that they must cease working for the employer. Eventually, the employer made up the delinquent fringe benefit contributions. However, the multiemployer pension plan trustees had sent a withdrawal liability assessment. The employer had not made any payments on the withdrawal liability assessment and had not requested arbitration. The multiemployer pension fund filed an action to collect the withdrawal liability, and the employer defended, stating it had not withdrawn from the fund. The parties disagreed whether the collective bargaining agreement had expired pursuant to its terms. However, the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, assuming the collective bargaining agreement had expired, found that all time periods for challenging the withdrawal liability assessment issued by the fund had expired. The court found that even if the collective bargaining agreement had not expired, the employer’s ability to challenge the withdrawal through arbitration was no longer timely. Therefore, the withdrawal liability must stand because the law requires that disputes over a withdrawal liability be resolved through arbitration.
While there may be some question over the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement in this situation, this case illustrates that an employer must timely file a request for arbitration or it will be precluded from challenging withdrawal assessment even if it may possess valid grounds for the challenge. (Brown v. Capital Restoration & Painting Co., E.D. Mo, 2013)