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Snook v. International Union United Automobile

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 2, 2017

JENNIFER SNOOK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
INTERNATIONAL UNION UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL 602; INTERNATIONAL UNION UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA; and GENERAL MOTORS, Defendants.

          Anthony P. Patti, Magistrate Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [34, 35]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         With the ratification of the 2007 collective bargaining agreement, a new two-tier wage structure was introduced at General Motors. Under the 2007 CBA, employees hired to perform “non-core” jobs were paid lower, entry-level wages while other employees were paid higher, traditional wages. Not long after the CBA was ratified, some senior GM employees voiced concern over non-core workers making less because they wanted to transition into these less physically demanding non-core jobs at traditional pay. Defendant International Union United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (“International UAW”) brought this issue to the attention of GM and, in March 2008, GM and the International UAW entered into agreements that they claim changed who would be paid entry-level wages. In particular, GM and International UAW claim that the March 2008 agreements permitted GM to hire a predetermined number of employees at the entry-level wage-regardless of the type of work performed.

         Plaintiffs are 23 current or former employees of GM whom GM paid entry-level wages. They maintain that the March 2008 agreements did not modify the 2007 CBA's provision that only those working non-core jobs would be paid entry-level wages. As Plaintiffs performed only core work, they contend that GM breached the 2007 CBA by paying them entry-level wages. Plaintiffs further claim that International UAW, and their local union, Local 602 of the International UAW, should have done more to contest GM's payment of entry-level wages to those performing core work. For these and other reasons, Plaintiffs sued GM, International UAW, and Local 602.

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by GM and another filed by the Unions. Having reviewed the parties' extensive briefing and having heard oral argument, the Court will GRANT Defendants' motions for the reasons set forth below.

         I.

         A.

         In January 2007, Plaintiffs were hired as temporary employees at GM's Lansing Delta Township facility (“LDT” or “Lansing”) at a wage of about $18 an hour. (See e.g., R. 35, PID 1129.) Plaintiffs claim (but Defendants dispute) that they were being paid under Paragraph 98 of the 2003 GM-UAW collective bargaining agreement. (R. 1, ¶ 7; R. 35, PID 915.) Under that paragraph, employees' wages gradually progressed to about $28 an hour after about three years on the job. (R. 1, ¶ 7) Moreover, Paragraph 98 provided that if employees left GM but were brought back within a year, they would continue in their wage progression instead of starting over. (R. 1, ¶ 7.)

         In the fall of 2007, a new GM-UAW collective bargaining agreement was up for ratification. A “FAQs” flyer stated that if the new CBA was ratified, 500 temporary employees at Lansing would be hired as permanent employees if they were still employed on January 2, 2008. (R. 38, PID 2379.) Another informational document (“Temps & New National Agreement”) stated that temporaries then employed at Lansing would not be impacted by the “two tier wage system.” (R. 38, PID 2381.)

         The referenced two-tiered wage system was a product of negotiations between GM and the International UAW. GM had contemplated outsourcing over 16, 000 so-called “non-core” jobs to better compete with Japanese automakers. (See R. 35, PID 1033-34, 2120.) The International UAW, however, fought to retain these jobs in house. (See R. 35, PID 1034, 2120.) Ultimately, the International UAW “agreed to a competitive wage for non-core work in return for an outsourcing moratorium.” (R. 35, PID 2120.)

         The 2007 GM-UAW collective bargaining agreement (“2007 CBA”) was ratified with an effective date of October 15, 2007. (R. 35, PID 971.) As most relevant to this case, it memorialized the two-tier wage structure. In particular, Paragraph 98 of the 2007 CBA paid traditional wages and provided for traditional progression. (See R. 1, ¶ 7; R. 35, PID 915; R. 35, PID 985-86.) But the 2007 CBA also included a document titled “Memorandum of Understanding UAW-GM Entry Level Wage & Benefit Agreement” (“Entry Level MOU”). The terms of the Entry Level MOU applied to all “entry level employees, ” which the MOU defined as “regular employees hired on or after the date of this Memorandum into the non-core work functions identified on Attachment A of this Memorandum.” (R. 35, PID 1006.) Attachment A identified work functions such as machining, sub-assembly, and inspection. (R. 35, PID 1010.) Significantly, the Entry Level MOU set forth its own starting wage and progression for the employees it covered-a wage and progression lower than that of Paragraph 98. It is undisputed that Plaintiffs were not hired into and were not assigned to the “non-core work functions” identified in the Entry Level MOU.

         The 2007 CBA also included “Document 162, ” which provided (consistent with the “FAQs” flyer) that 500 temporaries at Lansing would be made permanent-if “still working at Lansing Delta Township on 1/2/08.” (R. 35, PID 1015.)

         It appears that sometime in the fall of 2007, GM no longer required (or could no longer sustain) a third shift at Lansing. Just a week after the 2007 CBA was ratified, GM wrote a letter to the International UAW stating that GM planned to eliminate the third shift and lay off 510 regular employees and all 500 temporary employees at Lansing. (R. 35, PID 1179.)

         Upset that these layoffs would occur during the holidays, Steve Bramos, then the Bargaining Chairman of Local 602, requested a meeting with GM and the International UAW. (R. 35, PID 1112.) Apparently as a result of this meeting, on October 25, 2007, the International UAW and GM entered a memorandum of understanding regarding the Lansing temporaries (“October 2007 MOU”). Under this MOU, the third shift at Lansing would cease on December 21, 2007. (R. 35, PID 1181.) But temporaries at Lansing would receive holiday pay. (Id.) The October 2007 MOU further provided that temporaries would be required to return on January 2, 2008 (to help with transitioning) and would be “released at the point their services are no longer required, no earlier than January 4, 2008 and no later than January 31, 2008.” (Id.) Most significant to this case, the MOU rescinded the permanent-hire promise of Document 162 (for the 500 temporaries still employed on January 2, 2008): “It is agreed that as they relate to LDT, the terms of the letter entitled, ‘Temporary Employee Placement, ' [Document 162] contained in the 2007 [CBA] are superseded by this understanding and hereby waived.” (Id.)

         On November 7, 2007, Bramos held a Local 602 meeting to explain the reduction in force. (See R. 35, PID 1213.) Meeting minutes indicate that the terms of the October 2007 MOU were discussed, including the fact that the MOU “supersede[d]” the commitment to hire temporaries on January 2, 2008 as contemplated by Document 162. (Id.)

         Plaintiff Andrea Kilmartin (and others) approached Bramos about filing a grievance, though it is unclear whether she did so before or after the November 7 meeting or whether she even attended the meeting. (R. 35, PID 1111.) At his deposition, Bramos stated that he did not file a grievance because “[t]here was no [contract] violation.” (R. 35, PID 1111.) He elaborated: “Temporary employees are at will, quote, they [are] consider[ed] at-will employees, and none of them were hired. They never acquired any seniority; so based on the numbers that were given on how many people [GM was] hiring, they actually fulfilled that numbers obligation.” (R. 35, PID 1111.)

         Consistent with the October 2007 MOU, Plaintiffs were released in January 2008. By that time Plaintiffs' wages had progressed to about $22 an hour. (See R. 35, PID 1129, 1746.)

         B.

         Given that the Entry Level MOU of the 2007 CBA provided that GM could pay new employees hired into non-core job functions less than traditional wages, senior GM employees (making traditional wages) became concerned that they would not be able to transition to these job functions. (R. 35, PID 1843.) Yet these non-core jobs were desired by many senior employees as they were generally less physically taxing than others. (R. 35, PID 1843, 2120.) So union officials began receiving complaints from senior GM employees.

         According to then International UAW Assistant Director Mike Grimes, the International UAW thus took the following position with GM: “As long as you got a number, why does it matter where the employee's at? . . . As long as you got the number of non-core jobs, why does it matter where they work?” (R. 35, PID 1843.)

         Arthur Schwartz, then the Director of Labor Relations for GM and one of the individuals involved in the creation and implementation of the core and non-core structure (R. 35, PID 1032), recalled the situation similarly. He agreed that the unions' position was that senior employees wanted the less demanding, non-core jobs but did not want a reduction in pay. (R. 35, PID 1036.) Schwartz testified that the issue “was eventually resolved with the two March [2008] memoranda . . . by saying that anyone who goes into the plant as a new hire is going to be entry level.” (R. 35, PID 1035.)

         One of the two negotiated documents referenced by Schwartz was the “Core/Non Core and Entry Level Job Assignment Clarification” executed on March 3, 2008 (“March 2008 Clarification”). (R. 35, PID 1947.) That one-page document provided that seniority employees would be “eligible to exercise their seniority rights for non-core jobs, ” that GM and the International UAW (and its locals) would determine the “number of non core jobs at each facility, ” and that once the “job placement of seniority employees ha[d] been exhausted” for a particular facility, and there were openings for new hires at the facility, GM would be able to hire “entry level” employees to fill those openings “up to the number of non core jobs” that had been determined for that facility. (R. 35, PID 1947.)

         The second March 2008 document is the “Core/Non-Core Agreement” (“March 2008 Agreement), which was executed by Grimes and Schwartz on March 28, 2008. (R. 35, PID 1949-52.) (Grimes and Schwartz did not sign the March 2008 Clarification and the parties apparently did not depose its signatories.) The March 2008 Agreement states that it is “applicable only to those Non-Core and Temporary Employees hired into other-than-skilled- positions.” (R. 35, PID 1949.) The March 2008 Agreement included a conversion table from traditional to “non-core new hire” wages for temporaries hired as regular employees after the date of the agreement. (R. 35, PID 1949.) The agreement also identified the number of “non-core” jobs at Lansing: 448. (R. 35, PID 1951.)

         C.

         Around June 2008, GM rehired Plaintiffs as temporary employees-at a rate of only $14 an hour as opposed to the $22 per hour they had been making when they were laid off in January 2008. (See R. 35, PID 1666, 1746.)

         In July 2008, GM offered Plaintiffs regular employment. In particular, GM presented Plaintiffs with a form titled “Application for Temporary Employees to Entry Level Regular Employment.” (See e.g., R. 35, PID 1975.) The application stated: “Upon becoming a regular entry level employee, I understand that[] I will continue to receive the entry level wage rate and continue in my current wage progression.” (See e.g., id.)

         Although all Plaintiffs signed the application, several Plaintiffs testified that they were told, or at least understood, that if they did not accept regular employment, they would be terminated immediately. (R. 35, PID 1359, 1615, 1675.) No officials of the Unions represented Plaintiffs at the signing of the regular-employment application. (See R. 35, PID 1343, 1359.)

         Plaintiff Jennifer Snook testified that around this time she talked with Local 602 committeemen about her lower wage and was told that they would get back to her. (R. 35, PID 1667.) But, said Snook, she never heard anything: “Every time they came by I'd ask the same thing, [and they said, ] ‘We're still looking into it.'” (R. 35, PID 1667.)

         In July or August 2008, Plaintiff Andrea Kilmartin also inquired about her wages and Paragraph 98. She asked Bramos (the Local 602 chairman) “why were we working next to someone who is performing the same job and making a third more than we were, if not double what we were?” (R. 35, PID 1388.) Kilmartin recalls that Bramos informed her that they “can't file a grievance against the union.” (R. 35, PID 1388.)

         Kilmartin and Snook were also told that even though they were not made traditional employees, they would be soon enough. Specifically, Kilmartin's plant manager told her that because a lot of people were retiring due to GM's Special Attrition Plan, they would “all be traditional within a month or two.” (R. 35, PID 1344.) Snook testified that someone from Local 602 provided her with a similar assurance. (R. 35, PID 1700.)

         In October 2008, Kilmartin approached Bramos again; according to Kilmartin, Bramos said: “You can't file a grievance against the union, and it's a union deal.” (R. 35, PID 1345.)

         In February 2009, Kilmartin approached Joe Wills, a Local 602 committeeman, about grieving entry-level pay. (R. 35, PID 1346.) According to Kilmartin, Wills said the same as Bramos: “Can't file a grievance against the union.” (R. 35, PID 1346.)

         In October 2009, Kilmartin again met with Bramos. Kilmartin's personal notes about the meeting state: “Steve [Bramos] went into this big explanation how busy they were and how they saved so many jobs, yadda yadda yadda. Still working on it. Probably be next contract. Wait 'til I tell everyone that one.” (R. 35, PID 1348.)

         It appears that between late 2009 and late 2010, Plaintiffs did not actively pursue the wage issue. (See R. 35, PID 1349.) Kilmartin did recall “probably” talking to another Local 602 committeeman sometime in 2010. (The committeeman said the same as Bramos, that no grievance could be filed against the Unions.) Plaintiffs, however, cite no evidence of other complaints until November 2010.

         D.

         In November 2010, a GM employee approached Kilmartin and Snook about an issue that prompted them to look into why they were being classified as “non-core” in GM's computer system (PeopleSoft). The employee had sought medical treatment, but because she was coded as “non-core” in GM's system, the medical staff believed that the employee was not performing a physically demanding core job, and thus did not provide her with a work restriction. (See R. 35, PID 1349.) This employee then approached Kilmartin and Snook, who in turn went to see their group leader. (R. 35, PID 1349.) The group leader indicated that they had been coded differently in the system and instructed that they go talk with Jill Ploughman, then the GM labor relations representative at Lansing. (R. 35, PID 1349, 1589.)

         According to a timeline prepared by Snook and Kilmartin, Ploughman stated, “Two Tier is the same as noncore!!, ” “You are all noncore workers @ LDT, ” and “Your pay is correct[.]” (R. 38, PID 2405.)

         Kilmartin and Snook continued to pursue the issue through the remainder of 2010 and into 2011. For instance, in December 2010, Kilmartin and Snook (and the employee who had sought medical treatment) met with two Local 602 committeemen and discussed “coding, the classification.” (R. 35, PID 1353.) The response from the Local 602 officials was that they lacked the power to change the classification and that they believed that only the International UAW had authority to do so. (R. 35, PID 1353.) In January 2011, Kilmartin or Snook (or both) met with Local 602 President Brian Fredline, “and discussed the entire situation and problems, even leading back to the non hiring of all the temps in 2007.” (R. 38, PID 2406.) Fredline delivered their documentation to Bryan Czape at the International UAW (Id.) Possibly because Fredline was promoted to the regional office soon thereafter, Snook and Kilmartin's repeated follow-up calls to Fredline went unanswered. (Id.)

         E.

         In May 2011, Richard Martinez took Bramos' position as the Bargaining Chairman of Local 602.

         At one of the first Local 602 meetings following Martinez's election, Kilmartin raised the issue of their status as non-traditional employees. (See R. 35, PID 2046; R. 38, PID 2407.) Martinez then met with Kilmartin and Snook to get a better understanding of the issue. (R. 35, PID 2046; R. 38, PID 2407.) (Martinez had not been a member of Local 602 and had not worked at Lansing. (See R. 35, PID 2047.)) Martinez testified, “My conclusion from my research was . . . I couldn't from a position of local, the Local 602 chairperson, remedy their problems. I couldn't fix what happened in the past or I couldn't address what they thought they heard or what they did hear.” (R. 35, PID 2049.)

         Martinez, did, however, help Kilmartin and Snook prepare a letter to the International UAW on Local 602 letterhead. The July 2011 letter read it part, “There are approximately 110 members who are still employed as 2-tier, though they were active on January 2, 2008. These members were told from their hire date that the 2-Tier would only be temporary as language in the National Agreement would be utilized to bring them to the ‘traditional employee' designation with full wages and benefits.” (R. 35, PID 2061.)

         In August 2011, Czape from the International UAW responded to Kilmartin and Snook. His letter explained that although GM had planned to layoff over 1, 000 Lansing employees effective November 21, 2007, the International UAW and GM had reached an agreement to delay the layoff for a few weeks and provide Lansing workers holiday pay. (R. 35, PID 2063.) Czape further explained that the October 2007 MOU “waive[d] the hiring requirements as defined in the letter titled ‘Temporary Employee Placement, '” i.e., Document 162. (R. 35, PID 2064.)

         F.

         Sometime in 2011 (perhaps in the fall), Kilmartin became concerned about the fact that she and others were identified as “non-core” on seniority lists posted in the Lansing facility. She brought the issue to Martinez's attention. (See R. 35, PID 2047.) The Local 602 chairman understood Kilmartin's issue to be about something other than wages: “They didn't really talk about because [non-core is] on [the lists] we're getting less money or benefits. They just didn't want another member to walk up and see their name on the seniority list and have the word noncore. It was really we don't want that visual representation of us being deemed by the company noncore or tier two or whatever it may be.” (R. 35, PID 2047.) Although it is unclear whether she conveyed her understanding to Martinez, Kilmartin apparently viewed the list issue as connected with the computer-system-coding issue and entry-level-wage issue. (R. 35, PID 1370.)

         On February 7, 2012, Kilmartin wrote a grievance that was filed on her behalf by a Local 602 committeeman. (See R. 35, PID 2119.) Kilmartin wrote, “Nature of Grievance[:] I protest mangmt putin 2 tier employees on the seniority list as non-core employees[.] I demand mgt. to fix this problem w/ people soft so all employees are listed ...


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