AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. CWA
475 U.S. 643 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. CWA, 475 U.S. 643 (1986)

AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers of America

No. 84-1913

Argued January 22, 1986

Decided April 7, 1986

475 U.S. 643

Syllabus

Petitioner employer and respondent Union are parties to a collective bargaining agreement covering telephone equipment installation workers. Article 8 of the agreement provides for arbitration of differences arising over interpretation of the agreement. Article 9 provides that, subject to certain limitations, but otherwise not subject to the arbitration clause, petitioner is free to exercise certain management functions, including the hiring, placement, and termination of employees. Article 20 prescribes the order in which employees will be laid off "[w]hen lack of work necessitates Layoff." The Union filed a grievance challenging petitioner's decision to lay off 79 installers from its Chicago location, claiming that there was no lack of work at that location, and that therefore the layoffs would violate Article 20. But petitioner laid off the installers and refused to submit the grievance to arbitration on the ground that, under Article 9, the layoffs were not arbitrable. The Union then sought to compel arbitration by filing suit in Federal District Court, which, after finding that the Union's interpretation of Article 20 was at least "arguable," held that it was for the arbitrator, not the court, to decide whether that interpretation had merit, and, accordingly, ordered petitioner to arbitrate. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The issue whether, because of express exclusion or other evidence, the dispute over interpretation of Article 20 was subject to the arbitration clause should have been decided by the District Court and reviewed by the Court of Appeals, and should not have been referred to the arbitrator. Pp. 475 U. S. 648-657.

(a) Under the principles set forth in the Steelworkers Trilogy (Steelworkers v. American Mfg. Co.,363 U. S. 564; Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co.,363 U. S. 574; and Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp.,363 U. S. 593), it was the District Court's duty to interpret the collective bargaining agreement and to determine whether the parties intended to arbitrate grievances concerning layoffs predicated on a "lack of work" determination by petitioner. If the court should determine that the agreement so provides, then it would be for the arbitrator to determine the relative merits of the parties' substantive interpretations of the agreement. Pp. 475 U. S. 648-651.

Page 475 U. S. 644

(b) This Court will not examine the collective bargaining agreement for itself and affirm the Court of Appeals on the ground that the parties had agreed to arbitrate the dispute over the layoffs. It is not this Court's function in the first instance to construe collective bargaining agreements and arbitration clauses, or to consider any other evidence that might demonstrate that a particular grievance was not subject to arbitration. Pp. 475 U. S. 651-652.

751 F.2d 203, vacated and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 475 U. S. 652.

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