In Burnside v. Kiewit Pacific Corporation (June 20, 2007), the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal held that claims brought by a class of unionized employees relating to compensation for time spent attending and traveling to and from company-mandated meetings were not pre-empted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), even though the issue was expressly addressed in the various pertinent collective bargaining agreements (CBAs).
In Burnside v. Kiewit Pacific Corporation (June 20, 2007), the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal held that claims brought by a class of unionized employees relating to compensation for time spent attending and traveling to and from company-mandated meetings were not pre-empted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), even though the issue was expressly addressed in the various pertinent collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit remanded the action to state court
In this case, the plaintiffs represented a class of 270 current and former employees of Kiewit, who were covered by five different collective bargaining agreements. The employees claimed that Kiewit prohibited them from reporting directly to daily jobsites, instead requiring them to meet at one of a couple of centralized locations. At those locations, the employees were instructed on the day’s tasks and required to retrieve the equipment they would use. After the meetings concluded, the employees traveled in company vans and trucks to the jobsites. At the end of the day, the employees reboarded the trucks and vans and returned to the original site. The employees estimated that the combined meeting and travel time added between two and two and one-half hours of work each day, for which they were not compensated. Because that time would have caused the employees to work overtime, they sued the employer in state court for, among other things, overtime compensation under California’s Business and Professions Code and California’s applicable Wage Orders.
The employer removed the action to federal court, claiming it was pre-empted by Section 301 of the LMRA since all of the CBAs at issue expressly addressed the issues raised in the case. The trial court agreed and ultimately ruled in favor of the employer, holding that the employees failed to exhaust their contractual grievance procedures or, alternatively, that the action was not filed within the six-month statute of limitations provided by the LMRA.
The Ninth Circuit disagreed, vacated the trial court’s decision, and remanded the action to state court. In so doing, the court held that, even though the CBAs expressly addressed how employees were to be paid (or not paid) for traveling to and from jobsites, the LMRA did not pre-empt those claims.
Section 301 of the LMRA provides that “suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees” are to be brought in federal district court. The Ninth Circuit acknowledged that courts have interpreted this provision to have broad pre-emptive effect. However, the court also acknowledged that the California Supreme Court has long recognized an employee’s state law right to be compensated for the time at issue in this case. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit analyzed the particular wage orders applicable in the industry, and whether the provisions at issue were to apply in circumstances where a collective bargaining agreement was in effect.
Ultimately, the court concluded that employees’ rights were conferred upon them by state law, not by the collective bargaining agreement. Moreover, the court found that the issue, while framed as one for compensation for travel time, was really about overtime compensation. As such, the court held that the claim was not pre-empted by Section 301, since resolution did not depend upon interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement.
Bottom Line for Employers:
This is yet another example of how important it is to comply with California’s wage and hour laws. Simply having a collective bargaining agreement in effect that may address certain wage and hour aspects of a worker’s employment does not immunize employers from violations of state wage and hour law. Certain California Wage Orders have exclusions for some aspects of wage and hour law in unionized settings, others do not. All employers, unionized or not, should have all of their wage and hour practices reviewed by an expert in California wage and hour law.
If you have any questions about wage and hour law, or any employment law issue, please contact the author of this Alert, Helene Wasserman. Helene is the host of the Employer Helpcast, which is a “one stop website” for both “nuts and bolts” employment law advice and insight into new legal developments affecting employers. The Employer Helpcast can be found at http://employerhelpcast.blip.tv.