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IOWA BEEF PACKERS v. THOMPSON ET AL.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: February 29, 1972.

IOWA BEEF PACKERS, INC
v.
THOMPSON ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF IOWA.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 405 U.S. Page 228]

 Respondents brought this suit in an Iowa District Court under § 16 (b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 52 Stat. 1069, as amended, 29 U. S. C. § 216 (b), to recover overtime compensation allegedly not paid by their petitioner employer in violation of the overtime provisions of the Act, 29 U. S. C. § 207 (a)(1). The District Court denied petitioner's motion to dismiss the action for failure of respondents to exhaust the grievance arbitration procedures provided in a collective-bargaining agreement between petitioner and respondents' union and awarded respondents the overtime claimed plus costs and attorneys' fees. The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed, 185 N. W. 2d 738

[ 405 U.S. Page 229]

     (1971). We granted certiorari, 404 U.S. 820 (1971).

The collective-bargaining agreement required petitioner to provide a lunch period for each employee no later than five hours from the start of an employee's shift. Petitioner provided the lunch period but required the employees to remain on call during the period. Respondents did not choose, as perhaps under the contract was open to them, to make the requirement the basis of a grievance for alleged violation either of the lunch-period provision or of the hours-of-work provision, Art. VII, requiring time and one-half for hours worked over eight in any day or 40 in any week. They claimed instead that, because of the requirement, the Fair Labor Standards Act, as a matter of law, rendered the lunch period "work" time, whether or not actually worked, for the purpose of determining whether petitioner violated its statutory obligation to pay overtime rates for work hours over 40 in any work week. See Armour & Co. v. Wantock, 323 U.S. 126 (1944). The grievance thus pertained not to an alleged violation of the agreement but to an alleged violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In U.S. Bulk Carriers v. Arguelles, 400 U.S. 351 (1971), the Court held that a seaman could sue in federal court for wages under 46 U. S. C. § 596 without invoking grievance and arbitration procedures under a collective-bargaining agreement that provided for resolution of all disputes and grievances, not merely those based on alleged violations of the contract. We granted certiorari in this case to decide whether, similarly, employees may sue in court to recover overtime allegedly withheld in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, if their complaint of alleged statutory violation is also subject to resolution under grievance and arbitration provisions of a collective-bargaining agreement. It developed at oral argument, however, that the grievance and arbitration

[ 405 U.S. Page 230]

     provisions, Art. XX of the collective-bargaining agreement involved in this case, do not have the broad scope of the procedures in Arguelles, but apply only to grievances "pertaining to a violation of the Agreement." Moreover, the issues as presented by petitioner provide no occasion to address, and we intimate no view upon, the question whether, although the statutory claim is not subject to contract arbitration, pursuit of the statutory remedy is nevertheless barred because respondents might have made the requirement to be on call the basis of a grievance for alleged violation of the lunch period or overtime provision of the collective-bargaining agreement. In these circumstances, which were not fully apprehended at the time certiorari was granted, the writ of certiorari will be dismissed as improvidently granted. The Monrosa v. Carbon Black, Inc., 359 U.S. 180, 183 (1959).

It is so ordered.

Disposition

185 N. W. 2d 738, certiorari dismissed as improvidently granted.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.

The arbitration clause in this collective agreement reaches "a grievance pertaining to a violation of the Agreement." The agreement covered both the lunch period*fn1 and overtime.*fn2

The Iowa Supreme Court held that "th[e] present controversy is undoubtedly arbitrable" under the collective agreement. Given the presumption favoring liberal construction of arbitration clauses, Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582-583, we should defer to

[ 405 U.S. Page 231]

     that ruling. Even under that construction, it seems that a suit for overtime allegedly withheld in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U. S. C. § 207 (a)(1) is maintainable. That would mean affirming the Iowa Supreme Court. U.S. Bulk Carriers v. Arguelles, 400 U.S. 351, which kept the courthouse door open, would seem to control this case.*fn3

An affirmance would follow, a fortiori, if this collective agreement be construed as not requiring arbitration of this FLSA claim. For then it would seem that the worker would have a choice to sue under the statute or to proceed to arbitration on his contractual claim arising out of the same dispute.

The petition, however, is not dismissed for those reasons but for a wholly different one. It is said that there was a requirement to be "on call" and that that duty conflicted with the lunch or overtime provisions of the agreement. The difficulty is twofold: there was no "on call" grievance ever tendered so far as the record

[ 405 U.S. Page 232]

     shows; moreover, the agreement concededly does not cover any "on call" requirement or duty. So there is no conflict between statutory remedy and remedy by arbitration and the difficulty posed is imaginary.

We should "dismiss as improvidently granted" only in exceptional situations and where all nine members of the Court agree. In all other cases the merits of the controversy should be decided. The present case on its facts is simple and uncomplicated; and a decision on the merits is apparently important to unions and employer alike.


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