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Cable Systems Installations Corp v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

August 1, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez


This matter is before the Court on a Petition and Motion to Vacate an Arbitration Award [1, 2] filed by Cable Systems Installations Corporation ("CSI"), and on a Cross-Motion to Confirm an Arbitration Award [12] filed by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 351 ("Local 351").


Petitioner CSI is a California electrical contractor with its principal place of business at One Bridge Plaza North, Suite 260, Fort Lee, NJ 07024. (Affidavit of Brian P. Dick ("Dick Aff."), ¶ 2). Respondent Local 351 is a labor union that is party to a collective bargaining agreement with the Southern Division of the Southern New Jersey Chapter, Inc., National Electrical Contractors Association ("SNJ NECA"), effective October 1, 2008 until at least September 30, 2011 ("CBA"). (Dick Aff., ¶ 4, Ex. 1.) On January 11, 2011, CSI signed a Letter of Assent with Local 351, represented by signatory Edward H. Gant ("Gant"), Business Manager of Local 351, which authorized SNJ NECA to be CSI's collective bargaining representative for all matters contained in or pertaining to the CBA. (O'Brien Cert., Ex. 1.) The Letter of Assent also states that CSI agreed to be bound by the CBA. (Id.; Dick Aff., ¶ 5.)

On December 20, 2011, counsel for Local 351 sent correspondence to CSI and another company, Wind Turbine and Energy Cables Corp. ("WTEC"), alleging that CSI and WTEC were in violation of the CBA with respect to solar installation work being performed in Vineland, Cumberland County, New Jersey. (Dick Aff., ¶ 7, Ex. 2.) The letter stated, "[s]teps are being undertaken to secure your compliance with the Agreement with the Local Union," suggested that CSI contact Local 351's Business Manager, and requested that CSI or its counsel contact counsel for Local 351. (Dick Aff., Ex. 2.)*fn1

CSI claims that none of its employees performed any work on the Vineland project. (Dick Aff., ¶ 6.) Local 351, however, has asserted that a Robert J. McConathey certified that he was an agent of CSI when he applied for a permit on behalf of CSI on October 21, 2011 to conduct $779,000 worth of electrical work at the Vineland site. (O'Brien Cert., Ex. 5, 6.) In addition, on October 7, 2011, WTEC filed a construction permit application for building ($9,221,000) and electrical ($779,000) work at the Vineland site, with Robert McConathey signing off as WTEC's agent on a subsequent request for plan review. (O'Brien Cert., Ex. 3, 4.) The contractor's address, phone number, license number, and Federal Employer ID number provided were identical for WTEC and CSI. On November 29, 2011, a permit was filed for the same job site, changing the contractor to Robert J. McConathey/AGEE LLC. (O'Brien Cert., Ex. 7.)

Thus, on December 28, 2011, Joseph Knecht, Jr. ("Knecht"), Secretary of the Southern New Jersey Labor Management Committee ("Committee") and one of the Committee's members representing employers, sent correspondence addressed to "CSI/WTEC" stating that the Committee scheduled a hearing "for your company" on January 3, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. "regarding alleged violations of Local Union 351's Collective Bargaining Agreement over work on a solar installation project in Cumberland County N.J." (Dick Aff., ¶ 8, Ex. 3.)

Counsel for CSI responded to Knecht's letter on December 30, 2011 requesting a two-week postponement of the January 3 hearing on the grounds that counsel had recently been retained by CSI, counsel and CSI were not available on January 3 to attend the hearing, CSI had never received a grievance concerning the subject of the hearing, CSI was not notified of the existence of an alleged grievance prior to its receipt of Knecht's December 28 letter, and CSI had no information concerning the nature of the alleged dispute. (Certification of David A. Tango ("Tango Cert."), ¶ 4, Ex. 1 .) Knecht sent counsel for CSI an e-mail on December 30 at 10:51 p.m. denying CSI's request for an adjournment, and stating that the Committee's hearing would take place as scheduled, as "CSI/WTEC was given adequate time to make preparations for Tuesday's meeting." (Tango Cert., ¶ 5; Ex. 2.)

On December 31, counsel for CSI responded to Knecht's December 30 e-mail with a letter requesting that the Committee reconsider its denial of CSI's request for a postponement of the January 3, 2012 hearing. Insupport of CSI's request for reconsideration, counsel for CSI explained that CSI was not given adequate notice of the hearing, CSI had never received a copy of the grievance or any other documentation concerning the grievance, Article 1.6 of the CBA*fn2 was not complied with as the meeting required under the first step of the grievance process was never held, CSI only learned that Local 351 had allegedly filed a grievance when it received Knecht's December 28 letter, CSI had no knowledge or information about the allegations raised by Local 351, and Local 351 would not be prejudiced by adjourning the hearing. Counsel for CSI asserted that, given these circumstances, conducting the hearing on January 3 would demonstrate the Committee's lack of impartiality. (Tango Cert., ¶ 6, Ex. 3.)

On December 31, Knecht sent counsel for CSI an email in response to CSI's December 31 letter. Knecht's email statedthat CSI was provided with more time than the 48 hours typically provided for a hearing*fn3 and that Knecht believed Local 351 "made several attempts" to contact CSI without success. (Tango Cert., ¶ 7, Ex. 4.) Knecht sent counsel for CSI another e-mail on December 31 stating that he reached out to a representative from Local 351 to request that Local 351 postpone the hearing, but his request was denied. (Tango Cert., ¶ 8, Ex. 5.) Counsel for CSI responded to Knecht's email on December 31 by requesting specific information concerning Local 351's "attempts to contact CSI without success," including any documents supporting Knecht's contention. Counsel for CSI also reiterated the previously highlighted "notice, procedural, and due process deficiencies," and its unavailability and the unavailability of CSI to attend the hearing on January 3, which were the bases for its previously requested adjournment of the hearing. (Tango Cert., ¶ 9, Ex. 6.)

On January 2, 2011, at 6:51 p.m., counsel for CSI again emailed Knecht to inform him and the Committee that CSI and its attorneys were not available to attend the January 3 hearing. Counsel for CSI further informed Knecht that CSI was not performing any work in Cumberland County, New Jersey, and that CSI is a completely separate entity from WTEC. Counsel for CSI requested that he be permitted to call in to the January 3 hearing via telephone to place CSI's notice, procedural, and due process objections on the record and request that all previously sent correspondence be placed in the record. (Tango Cert., ¶ 10, Ex. 7.) Later that same night, at 9:05 p.m., Knecht sent an e-mail in response stating that he would speak with Local 351 in the morning and reply to counsel as soon as possible. (Tango Cert., ¶ 11, Ex. 8.) In a subsequent e-mail sent a few minutes later, Knecht informed CSI's counsel that "typically attorneys are not present at labor management hearings. Just other contractors and business agents." (Tango Cert., ¶ 11, Ex. 9.)

Knecht e-mailed counsel for CSI on January 3, 2012 at 9:56 a.m. to notify him that CSI could participate in the 10 a.m. hearing by telephone and consult its attorneys afterwards, but attorneys who "are not in house attorneys of the contractor are not permitted in labor management hearings." (Tango Cert., ¶ 12, Ex. 10.) At 10:08 a.m., counsel for CSI responded to Knecht's email by requesting that the hearing be delayed until 10:30 a.m. so that a representative from CSI could call in to the hearing by telephone to place CSI's notice, procedural, and due process objections on the record. (Tango Cert., ¶ 13, Ex. 11.) To that end, CSI's Associate General Counsel, based in Tampa, Florida, called in to the hearing at 10:30 a.m. on January 3, 2012 to place on the record CSI's "notice, procedural, and due process objections." (Dick Aff., ¶ 9, Ex. 3.)

During Local 351's presentation of its case, Gant, Business Manager of Local 351, served as Chairman of the Committee*fn4 , and presented Local 351's grievance to the Committee, first stating that Local 351 sent a copy of its grievance to CSI, then clarifying that the letter he was referring to was the Committee's December 28, 2011 correspondence scheduling the January 3, 2012 hearing. (Dick Aff., ¶ 10.) After Gant finished presenting Local 351's grievance, CSI's Associate General Counsel placed on the record the notice, procedural, and due process objections previously made, and also informed the Committee that CSI did not have any employees working on the Cumberland County job and that, to his knowledge, the job was being performed by WTEC. (Dick Aff., ¶ 11.) CSI's Associate General Counsel also informed the Committee that CSI and WTEC each has its own employer identification number. (6/11/12 Dick Aff., ¶ 11.) The Committee subsequently informed CSI's Associate General Counsel that it did not need to hear anything further from him, and CSI's Associate General Counsel hung up the phone. (Dick Aff., ¶ 11.)

The Committee decision, dated January 4, 2012, states: The Labor Management Committee Convened on January 3, 2012 at 10:00am in the office of Local Union 351 to review L.U. 351's grievance against CSI/WTEC stating that CSI/WTEC has violated L.U. 351's Collective Bargaining Agreement. After careful review of the permitting process, it was concluded that CSI and WTEC are one in the same. It was also concluded that CSI is signatory to L.U. 351 which binds them and WTEC to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Article IV Section 4.2 of the CBA states that the local shall be the sole source of manpower for projects within its jurisdiction. It was determined that CSI/WTEC performed all electrical work at a permit value of 10 million dollars at 3152 South Delsea Drive, Vineland N.J. 08360 without notifying L.U. 351 or hiring any of their manpower. Therefore, it is the decision of this ...

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