Ninth Circuit Panel Blames Employer For Not Making Good Faith Effort To Address Merits Of Dispute.
SEIU United Health Care Workers-West v. Los Robles Regional Medical Center, No. 13-55672 (9th Cir. Dec. 3, 2015) (Pregerson, Parker, Nguyen) holds “that it is a breach of the duty of good faith performance under Section 301 [of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. section 189] for an employer to fail to respond within a reasonable time to a union’s communication which seeks to abide by a grievance process set forth in a collective bargaining agreement.’
In this case, the union followed a three-step grievance process, the last step of which can lead to arbitration. Responding to the first and second steps, the employer took the position that the matter was not arbitrable. However, a demand for arbitration did not have to be made until the third step of the grievance process, and when the union made the arbitration demand, the employer waited nearly five months to reject the demand. When the union petitioned to compel arbitration, the employer took the position that the six-month statute of limitations under section 301 had run earlier, when the employer had staked the position that the matter could not be arbitrated.
That was good enough for the district court judge, Manuel Real, to deny the union’s request for arbitration. However, the Ninth Circuit disagreed, explaining:
“Only an ‘unequivocal, express rejection of the union’s request for arbitration’ will start the six-month limitations period under Section 301. There is no such thing as constructive notice of an employer’s refusal to arbitrate; if an employer offers varying responses to a request to arbitrate, its responses do not constitute an unequivocal, express rejection.”
The Ninth Circuit panel panel reversed the district court’s summary judgment and vacated its order dismissing a petition to compel arbitration under Section 301