In a significant victory for unionized employers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently issued an opinion supporting employers who object on the basis of timeliness to any grievance filed after the expiration of the contractual limitation period contained in their collective bargaining agreements. In R.H. Cochran v. Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local Union No. 33 , (June 19, 2009), the Court vacated an arbitration panel's decision in favor of a union, finding that the union did not file the grievance within 30 days of its learning of the facts giving rise to the dispute, as required by the parties' collective bargaining agreement. The Court held that because the grievance was not timely, it was also not arbitrable. Put simply, the employer won.
The Court's opinion in R.H. Cochran highlights two important lessons for unionized employers. First, to preserve a timeliness objection, employers must raise it at each and every step of the grievance procedure. Second, employers which have been lax in raising timeliness objections for past grievances should immediately notify the union that they intend to abide by the limitations period for all future grievances.