On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-2882-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 9, 2008
Before Judges Winkelstein, Fuentes and Gilroy.
Defendant Troop Construction & Electric, Inc. appeals from the order of the Law Division confirming an arbitration award made by the Council on Industrial Relations for the Electrical Contracting Industry ("CIR"). The award directed defendant to sign and abide by the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") then in existence between plaintiff, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ("IBEW"), Local Union 269, and the Mercer Division, Southern New Jersey Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association ("NECA").
The central question raised by this appeal concerns the jurisdiction of the CIR to arbitrate and decide whether a Letter of Assent ("LOA"), designating NECA to be defendant's collective bargaining agent, was properly terminated by defendant. By grating the relief requested by IBEW, the trial court implicitly upheld the authority of the CIR to arbitrate the issues before it.
We reverse. The jurisdiction of the CIR to arbitrate disputes between the parties is limited to matters arising out of the CBA. The question of whether defendant properly served NECA with notice to terminate the LOA is not a matter arising out of the CBA. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:24-8d, the CIR did not have jurisdiction to arbitrate this dispute.
On November 25, 2003, defendant and NECA signed the LOA, through which defendant authorized NECA to act "as its collective bargaining representative for all matters contained in or pertaining to the current and any subsequent  labor agreement between [NECA] and [plaintiff]." By signing the LOA, defendant agreed "to comply with, and be bound by, all of the provisions contained in [the] current and subsequent approved labor agreements." The LOA was to "remain in effect until terminated by [defendant] giving written notice to [NECA] and to the [plaintiff], at least one hundred fifty (150) days prior to the then current anniversary date of the applicable approved labor agreement." The LOA did not contain an arbitration clause.
On October 1, 2004, NECA, acting as defendant's collective bargaining agent, entered into a CBA with plaintiff. The CBA applied to all employers who had signed an LOA, and was effective from the date of signing until September 30, 2007. Thereafter, the CBA would continue to be in effect "from year to year . . . unless changed or terminated in the way later provided herein."
Under Article 1.2(A) of the CBA, any party who wished to change or terminate the CBA was required to "provide written notification at least 90 days prior to the expiration date of the [CBA] or any anniversary date occurring thereafter." The remainder of Article 1.2, which includes an interest arbitration clause,*fn1 provides the following:
(B) Whenever notice is given for changes, the nature of the changes desired must be specified in the notice, or no later than the first negotiating meeting unless mutually agreed otherwise.
(C) The existing provisions of the [CBA], including this Article, shall remain in full force and effect until a conclusion is reached in the matter of proposed changes.
(D) Unresolved issues or disputes arising out of the failure to negotiate a renewal or modification of this agreement that remain on the 20th of the month preceding the next regular meeting of the [CIR] may be submitted jointly or unilaterally to the [CIR] for adjudication. Such unresolved issues or disputes shall be submitted no later than the next regular meeting of the [CIR] following the expiration date of this agreement or any subsequent anniversary date. The [CIR's] decision shall be final and binding.
(E) When a case has been submitted to the [CIR], it shall be the responsibility of the negotiating committee to continue to meet weekly in an effort to reach a settlement on the local level prior to the meeting of the [CIR].
(F) Notice of a desire to terminate this [CBA] shall be handled in the same manner as a proposed change. (Emphasis added.)
On July 27, 2006, more than one year before the September 30, 2007 anniversary date of the CBA, defendant notified plaintiff and "the Northern New Jersey Chapter of NECA, Inc. [("NNJC")] and its Divisions" that it was "terminating its NECA membership and was withdrawing NECA's authorization [the LOA)] to act as its collective bargaining representative." Defendant did not send a similar notice to NECA.
On December 26, 2006, defendant again notified plaintiff that it "withdr[ew] any authorization that it may have previously given to any association, including NECA, to act as its collective bargaining representative", and further informed plaintiff that "effective midnight May 31, 2007, [defendant] terminates its [CBA] with [plaintiff]." By letter dated January 31, 2007, defendant advised plaintiff, for a third time, of its intent to terminate all agreements that exist between it and plaintiff.
Plaintiff's first response came by letter dated May 16, 2007. In it, plaintiff refused to recognize defendant's termination of NECA as its collective bargaining agent. Plaintiff asserted defendant's notice of termination was ...