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Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

May 2, 2017

Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Inc., Petitioner
National Labor Relations Board, Respondent Teamsters 174 and Teamsters Local Numbers 81, 174, 231, 252, 324, 483, 589, 690, 760, 763, 839, and 962, Intervenors

          Argued January 23, 2017

         On Petitions for Review and Cross-Application for Enforcement of an Order of the National Labor Relations Board

          Peter N. Kirsanow argued the cause for petitioner Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Inc. With him on the briefs were John M. Payne and Selena C. Smith. Patrick O. Peters entered an appearance.

          Thomas A. Leahy argued the cause and filed the briefs for petitioner Teamsters Union Local 174, et al.

          Jared D. Cantor, Attorney, National Labor Relations Board, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Richard F. Griffin, Jr., General Counsel, John H. Ferguson, Associate General Counsel, Linda Dreeben, Deputy Associate General Counsel, and Usha Dheenan, Supervisory Attorney.

          Peter N. Kirsanow, John M. Payne, and Selena C. Smith were on the brief for intervenor Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Inc.

          Thomas A. Leahy was on the brief for intervenors Teamsters Local 174, et al.

          Before: Garland, Chief Judge, Rogers, Circuit Judge, and Williams, Senior Circuit Judge.


          Rogers, Circuit Judge

         The National Labor Relations Act requires employers to bargain in good faith "with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment." 29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(5), (d). Upon the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement, the parties to that agreement have an ongoing obligation to maintain the "status quo" as to all mandatory subjects of bargaining until they reach a new agreement or an impasse. NLRB v. Katz, 369 U.S. 736, 743 (1962); Laborers Health & Welfare Tr. Fund for N. Cal. v. Advanced Lightweight Concrete Co., 484 U.S. 539, 544 n.6 (1988); Triple A Fire Prot., Inc., 315 NLRB 409, 414 (1994). Absent an impasse, unilateral action changing the status quo of a mandatory subject of bargaining violates Section 8(a)(5) of the Act as a "circumvention of the duty to negotiate." Katz, 369 U.S. at 743. Pension and healthcare benefits are mandatory subjects of bargaining. See Allied Chem. & Alkali Workers of Am., Local Union No. 1 v. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., Chem. Div., 404 U.S. 157, 180 (1971). Both requirements are implicated here.

         Oak Harbor Freight Lines, Inc. and several locals of the Teamsters Union established four health benefit and pension trusts, so-called "Taft-Hartley" trusts, as part of their collective bargaining agreement. Under that agreement, Oak Harbor was required to make monthly contributions to the trusts. When the agreement expired and no new agreement was reached after a year, Union employees went on strike. When Oak Harbor ceased making contributions to the trusts, the Union filed unfair labor practice charges. The National Labor Relations Board ruled the Union had waived its right to bargain over the cancellation of contributions in subscription agreements to three of the trusts after the collective bargaining agreement expired, and Oak Harbor, having failed to prove a fourth subscription agreement existed or other basis to find a union waiver, violated Sections (8)(a)(5) and (1) of the National Labor Relations Act by ceasing to make payments to the fourth trust. The Board also ruled that Oak Harbor's unilateral imposition of its medical plan after the strike ended violated the Act. Both Oak Harbor and the Union filed petitions for review of the Board's Decision and Order. For the following reasons, we deny the petitions for review and grant the Board's cross-application to enforce its Order.


         Oak Harbor is a freight transportation company operating throughout the northwestern United States. Since at least 1992, local Teamsters unions (together, "the Union") have represented Oak Harbor employees based in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, engaging in joint bargaining for a single collective bargaining agreement. As relevant, the latest collective bargaining agreement was effective from November 1, 2004 until October 31, 2007. It required Oak Harbor to make monthly contributions to four "Taft-Hartley" trusts for employee health benefits and pensions, 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5), and set the contribution rate for each trust.

         Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement began in August 2007. More than a year later, the parties still had not reached a new agreement, and on September 22, 2008, Union employees went on strike. Oak Harbor sent letters to the Union and to the four trusts, notifying them of its intent to cease making contributions to the trusts five days after the notices were received. The letters to three trusts - Washington Teamsters Welfare Trust, the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Trust Fund, and the Retirees Welfare Trust - referenced cancellation provisions in the trust subscription agreements or employer-union ...

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