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Peter J Saker Inc. v. Carpenters District Council of South Jersey

Decided: November 2, 1977.


Allcorn, Morgan and Horn. The opinion of the court was delivered by Horn, J.A.D.


[153 NJSuper Page 420] Defendants Carpenters' District Council of South Jersey, Local Union No. 121 and Monmouth County Carpenters' Local Union No. 2250 of Red Bank appeal from a judgment entered in the Superior Court, Chancery Division, in favor of Peter J. Saker, Inc. (Saker) on September 16, 1976, permanently enjoining said defendants from proceeding to arbitration as to claimed grievances under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement executed June 5, 1975 and dated as of May 1, 1975, between defendants and Building Contractors' Association of New Jersey (BCA) and Associated Contractors of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, and

dismissing defendants' counterclaim for a judicial declaration that plaintiff was bound by the terms of the aforementioned agreement.

Defendants are subordinate bodies of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, AFL-CIO, representing carpenters within their trade and territorial jurisdiction in their respective areas in the State of New Jersey. Following a bench trial covering five days during June and July 1976, the judge entered the foregoing judgment on findings of fact and conclusions of law.

For many years prior to April 30, 1975 Saker was a member of two multi-employer bargaining associations: BCA, a statewide employer association, and Associated Contractors of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, a local employer association. As a member of BCA Saker was bound to the collective agreements negotiated between BCA and defendants. Its individual bargaining rights were subordinated to the local and state associations pursuant to the constitution and bylaws of each association. A two-year collective bargaining agreement between the BCA and the two defendant locals terminated on April 30, 1975.

Prior to said expiration of the contract defendants gave timely notice pursuant to the termination article in each agreement of desires to bargain about changes in wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment rather than automatically extending the terms and conditions of the 1973 contract. BCA, on Saker's behalf, participated in the negotiating sessions with defendants. BCA and defendants finally negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement on June 5, 1975, which was by its terms made effective as of May 1, 1975.

The controversy between the parties to this litigation arose by reason of plaintiff's contention that it had made a timely and legal withdrawal from BCA prior to the execution of the agreement, so that the negotiated contract was not binding upon it. Defendants denied that plaintiff was legally able, under the circumstances, to make a valid withdrawal

and, in addition, contended that if it did have the right to do so, it failed to properly do so. When defendants asserted that they desired to arbitrate alleged grievances under the newly negotiated contract on the thesis that plaintiff was bound to observe those terms as a member of BCA, plaintiff commenced the instant declaratory judgment action, which resulted in a favorable decision at the hands of the trial judge. Thus the primary issue before us is whether the collective bargaining agreement negotiated to commence as of May 1, 1975 was binding upon plaintiff.

Multi-employer bargaining was declared to be a vital factor in the effectuations of the national policy of promoting labor peace through strengthened collective bargaining. National Labor Rel. Bd. v. Truck Drivers Local U. , 353 U.S. 87, 77 S. Ct. 643, 1 L. Ed. 2d 676 (1957); N.L.R.B. v. Hi-Way Billboards, Inc. , 473 F.2d 649, 652 (5 Cir. 1973). However, notwithstanding this declared policy, the guidelines for the withdrawal of either individual employers or individual unions from their respective multi-bargaining units were not the subject of statutory enactment. Instead, the National Labor Relations Board promulgated regulations pertaining to such withdrawals in Retail Associates, Inc. , 120 NLRB No. 66, at 388-400 (1958). See N.L.R.B. v. Beck Engraving Co., Inc. , 522 F.2d 475, 480 (3 Cir. 1975).

Retail Associates, Inc., supra , because of the unstabilizing and disruptive effect on multi-employer bargaining, determined that withdrawal must be accompanied by good faith and that the intention of the party to withdraw must be unequivocal and exercised at an appropriate time. Said the Board in that case:

The issue before the trial judge, then, was comparatively narrow. Did plaintiff make a timely, unequivocal withdrawal in good faith when unusual circumstances prevailed? The trial judge in his construction of the applicable rules of law and his findings of fact found that plaintiff did. He found that an impasse in the negotiations was an unusual circumstance during which plaintiff could withdraw its authority to represent it from the negotiating unit. We agree. In so agreeing we find that the trial judge's findings of fact as to the issue tendered by the above question were supported by sufficient credible evidence. Rova Farms Resort v. Investors Ins. Co. , 65 N.J. 474, 484 (1974); Close v. Kordulak Bros. , 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965); State v. Johnson , 42 N.J. 146 (1964).

The judge could find that the events leading up to plaintiff's resignation from BCA and its withdrawal of authority of that organization to represent it after May 15, 1975 actually commenced on April 29, 1975. The negotiators had met in seven formal bargaining sessions between March 24, 1975 and April 29, 1975 without any apparent progress. On April 29 the talks broke up with mutual hostility and a great deal of emotion, and without any further meeting being scheduled. Later that evening a federal mediator unsuccessfully endeavored to arrange a meeting ...

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