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BlueLinx Corp. v. The Construction, Building Material

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 30, 2019

BlueLinx Corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
The Construction, Building Material, Ice & Coal Helpers & Inside Employees Union Local No. 120, Defendant.

          Brett Alexander Janich, Esq., Justin Keith, Esq., Todd David Wozniak, Esq., Greenberg Traurig LLP; and Sarah A. Horstmann, Esq., Maslon LLP; counsel for Plaintiff.

          Katrina E. Joseph, Esq., Teamsters Local No. 120, counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment brought by Plaintiff BlueLinx Corporation (“BlueLinx”) (Doc. No. 22) and Defendant The Construction, Building Material, Ice & Coal Helpers & Inside Employees Union Local Number 120 (the “Local 120”) (Doc. No. 26). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants BlueLinx's motion and denies Local 120's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff BlueLinx is a building products distributor headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, with distribution centers located throughout the United States. (Doc. No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 1.) Since 1974, BlueLinx has operated a distribution center located in Maple Grove, Minnesota, referred to within the company as the “Minneapolis FMDC facility.”[1] (Id.) The hourly material handlers and truck drivers employed by BlueLinx at the Minneapolis FMDC facility are represented by Local 120. (Id.)

         Defendant Local 120 is a labor organization affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters headquartered in Blaine, Minnesota. (Compl. ¶ 2.) Local 120 represents employees in the warehousing, trucking, supply, and related industries in the District of Minnesota, and has been the duly recognized collective bargaining representative for bargaining units of the production and maintenance employees at the BlueLinx facility in Maple Grove for the entirety of the period in question. (Doc. No. 13 (“Counterclaim”) ¶ 9.)

         The parties entered a collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”) effective from July 15, 2014 to July 14, 2020, to renew automatically year to year thereafter unless either party gives written notice of termination 60 days prior to the annual date of expiration. (Compl. ¶ 5, Ex. 1 (the “CBA”) at 23.) The title page of the CBA specifies that it is an agreement between “BlueLinx Corporation Minneapolis Minnesota FMDC and International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 120.” (CBA.) The Minneapolis facility is referenced in the singular throughout the document, and no street address for the facility is specified. (See Id., generally.) Article I of the CBA, Recognition, recognizes the Local 120 as:

the sole bargaining agent for all Production and Maintenance employees including Material Handlers and Truck Drivers employed by [BlueLinx] at its Minneapolis, Minnesota FMDC facility . . . for the purpose of collective bargaining in respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of work and other conditions of employment.

CBA, Art. 1 Sec. 1.

         The scope of the CBA is not clearly defined. Article 4, Management Rights, states that:

. . . except as specifically limited or otherwise provided in this Agreement, the management of the [Minneapolis facility], it's [sic] operation, and the direction of it's [sic] working force is vested exclusively in [BlueLinx], including but not limited to, deciding the number and location of warehouses . . . . The exercise of such right and functions rests solely within the discretion of [BlueLinx].

CBA Art. 4, Sec. 1. Clauses within the CBA specify limitations but these are not exhaustive. The section immediately following the above section states that complaints by employees regarding discipline or discharge “may be taken up with the grievance procedure” (CBA Art. 4, Sec. 2), while another states that probationary employees have no recourse for discharge through the grievance or arbitration procedures (CBA Art. 7, Sec. 1). Article 12, entitled “Grievance & Arbitration, ” broadly states that “[s]hould grievance or dispute arise between [BlueLinx] and [Local 120] it shall be settled in the following manner, ” and outlines two steps for aggrieved employees to follow. (CBA Art. 12, Sec. 1.) If the initial steps fail to result in a satisfactory settlement, “the parties shall attempt to select and impartial arbitrator.” (CBA Art. 12, Sec. 2.) The CBA does not contain any articles or sections which specifically outline its scope of arbitrability or which expressly state whether the issue of arbitrability is itself subject to arbitration. The CBA also is silent with respect to any agreement on awarding attorney fees or litigation costs and does not address awards for legal expenses except for one reference in Article 12, in which the parties agree to pay their own costs incurred in connection with arbitration. (CBA Art. 12, Sec. 2(C).)

         In March of 2018, BlueLinx announced plans to acquire a competitor, Cedar Creek Holdings, and completed the acquisition in April 2018. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11.) Through this deal, BlueLinx acquired Cedar Creek Holdings' distribution facility, located in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. (Compl. ¶ 12.) BlueLinx decided that it did not need to maintain a newly obtained Brooklyn Park facility in addition to its existing facility in Maple Grove and, on June 26, 2018, BlueLinx advised the Local 120 of its determination “that it makes sense to close one of the facilities.” (Doc. No. 29, Ex. 2.) BlueLinx went on to state that because it was considering closing “the BlueLinx facility, ” it may “have an obligation to engage in decisional bargaining with the union representing its employees at the Minneapolis facility.” (Id.) In an e-mail dated July 5, 2018, BlueLinx notified Local 120 that it decided that the Maple Grove facility would be the one to close, and that BlueLinx would engage in bargaining over the effects of the closure. (Doc. No. 29, Ex. 4.)

         While the parties do not agree in their perception of some of the communications and bargaining that followed, they do agree that Local 120 filed a grievance based upon its assertion that BlueLinx wrongly refused to recognize Local 120 as the proper bargaining agent for the employees at the Brooklyn Park facility acquired from Cedar Creek. (Doc. Nos. 24 at 3; 28 at 4.) Specifically, the grievance states that BlueLinx violated the CBA by notifying Local 120 “that it will no longer recognize [Local 120] as the sole bargaining agent for the Production and Maintenance employees including Material Handlers and Truck Drivers currently performing the ...


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