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Price v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

decided: March 21, 1972.


Aldisert, Gibbons and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Rosenn


This is an appeal by a group of employees of Eastern Express, Inc. (Eastern), from an order granting summary judgment denying their claim that Eastern and the employees' union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, had breached their collective bargaining agreement. The employees had sued under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. ยง 185 (1970), contending that the decision of the National Grievance Committee, the body set up to settle disputes under their contract,*fn1 had exceeded its power by ordering that truck drivers transferring from a closed terminal in Eastern's system be "dovetailed"*fn2 into seniority lists at the new terminal for job selection, rather than put at the bottom of them.*fn3

Whether an employee is placed at the bottom of the seniority list or "dovetailed" into it is important to over-the-road truck drivers in establishing the order of job selection. Different runs take place at different hours and on different days. While some jobs may give a man a semblance of a nine-to-five day, others require working at odd hours and on an irregular pattern. Of equal importance, the different runs often draw different schedules of pay. Men lower on the list may not approximate the income of the men near the top. Finally, those at the bottom of the list may have no regular jobs at all. They are the members of the "extra board" whose income will vary and depend on the amount of traffic the trucking firm carries.

The National Master Freight Agreement for 1967-70 has two pertinent provisions governing this seniority issue. Article 5, Section 5(b)(2) provides:

When a branch, terminal, division or operation is closed or partially closed and the work of the branch, terminal, division or operation is transferred to another branch, terminal, division or operation in whole or in part, an employee at the closed or partially closed down branch, terminal, division or operation shall have the right to transfer to the branch, terminal, division or operation in which the work was transferred if regular work is there available. Such employee, however, shall go to the bottom of the seniority board and shall have the right of job selection only in accordance with his seniority at such terminal. However, he shall exercise his company seniority at lay-off purposes and all other contract benefits.

Section 7 of the same article, however, substantially qualifies the rule laid down in Section 5(b)(2). It provides that:

The parties acknowledge that specific situations may arise which may not be covered by the rules set forth in this Article or in which the parties may feel that different treatment of the problem is necessary. In such situation, the Employer, the Unions involved, and the Area, Multi-Conference or National Committees may mutually agree to such disposition of the seniority problems as in their judgment is appropriate under the circumstances.

In December 1966 Eastern decided to change its operations at Bedford, Pa., and transfer the sixteen drivers residing there to other locations, primarily Akron, Ohio, Baltimore, Md., and Bethlehem and Philadelphia, Pa. Pursuant to Section 8(e)*fn4 of the National Master Freight Agreement, the company submitted its plan to the Eastern Conference Joint Area Committee for approval, and requested that the drivers who would be transferred be put at the bottom of the seniority lists at their new terminals for purposes of job selection.

Copies of the proposed change were sent to the various locals whose men would be involved in the changes. All of them were present at the hearing held by the Eastern Conference Joint Area Committee in Washington, D.C., on January 23 and 24, 1967, and stated their views on the question. The locals into which the Bedford men would be transferred favored putting the transferees at the bottom of the list, while the Bedford local argued for "dovetailing." The Committee deadlocked and the company withdrew its proposal without prejudice.

Again, Eastern renewed its request which was considered at a hearing held on April 24, 1967. Once more, all the parties were in attendance. The seniority question was thoroughly argued at this session but again, the question was not resolved. The request was renewed once more in June before the Central States Joint Committee after Eastern made requests for changes in several terminals in the Midwest. In July 1967 pursuant to Article 8(a)(1)*fn5 of the contract a Multi-Conference Grievance Committee met to consider the change of operations. This time the request was approved with the direction that the transferring drivers be dovetailed into the seniority lists at their new terminals. After a special rehearing on March 12, 1968, a Joint Conference Change of Operations Committee approved the change, and on March 15th, 1968, the National Grievance Committee, acting under Section 8(b) (2)*fn6 of the contract affirmed the decision.

Meanwhile, some drivers from Bedford were transferring voluntarily from that terminal to other points in anticipation of its closing. They relied on the statements of the local union officials in the various cities to which they transferred that they would have to go to the bottom of the seniority list in accordance with the contract provisions. When the rest of the men from Bedford were transferred into the same terminals, they were dovetailed in accordance with the Area Conference's decision. The men who transferred earlier were not permitted to take advantage of the dovetail ruling.

The result of the transfers and dovetailing was that a large majority of the drivers in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Akron were pushed down on their seniority ladder when the men from Bedford were added to their list. Along with men who had transferred from Bedford before the permitted dovetailing, many of them from Philadelphia and Akron filed suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania charging the union and Eastern with a breach of the contract because they had failed to abide by the provisions of Section 5(b)(2). Additionally, the appellants charged the union with a breach of its duty of fair representation by failing to enforce the contract and because of the conflict of interest of persons on the Multi-Conference and National Grievance Committees.

The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. It held that absent a showing of fraud or deceit and upon a showing that the committees had dealt fairly with the issues presented, it would not inquire into the parties' resolution of the dispute because of national labor policy in favor of private settlement of such matters. A cornerstone of the district court's opinion was Justice Goldberg's concurrence in Humphrey v. Moore, 375 U.S. 335, 352-4, 11 L. Ed. 2d 370, 84 S. Ct. 363 ...

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