Stahulak v. City of Chicago

Annotate this Case
Stahulak v. City of Chicago, No. 84104 (9/24/98)
Docket No. 84104--Agenda 24--May 1998.
JOSEPH STAHULAK, Appellant, v. THE CITY OF CHICAGO
et al., Appellees.

JUSTICE HARRISON delivered the opinion of the court:
The issue in this case is whether a union employee covered
by a collective-bargaining agreement has standing to challenge
an arbitration award in circuit court absent allegations that the
union breached its duty of fair representation. The appellate
court held that the employee had no such standing. It therefore
reversed the circuit court's judgment in favor of the employee
and remanded with directions to dismiss the employee's
complaint. 291 Ill. App. 3d 824. We allowed the employee's
petition for leave to appeal (166 Ill. 2d R. 315) and now affirm.
The pertinent facts are these. The City of Chicago (City)
hired Joseph Stahulak as a firefighter in December 1990. The
City and the Chicago Firefighters Union, Local No. 2,
International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO-CIC (Union),
are parties to a collective-bargaining agreement which governs
the terms and conditions of employment of City firefighters.
Under the agreement, firefighters are subject to a one-year
probationary period.
On November 16, 1991, prior to completing his
probationary period, Stahulak was discharged for violating the
City residency requirement. The Union filed a grievance on his
behalf and on behalf of two other employees, arguing that the
City violated section 16.2 of the collective-bargaining
agreement, which requires the City to follow certain procedures
before terminating an employee.
The grievance proceeded to arbitration. In an award issued
January 28, 1993, the arbitrator found that the protections of
section 16.2 applied to probationary employees. The arbitrator
therefore sustained the grievance; however, he did not grant the
subject employees unconditional reinstatement. He merely
reinstated them to probationary status for the purpose of making
the safeguards of section 16.2 available to them pending a final
decision of the Chicago fire department.
After returning to probationary status, Stahulak was placed
on paid administrative leave. He was ultimately discharged on
March 29, 1993, based, again, on his violation of the residency
requirement. Stahulak then filed a two-count complaint in circuit
court of Cook County against the City; the Chicago fire
department; Raymond E. Orozco, fire commissioner of the City
of Chicago; and the Union. Count I asked the court to vacate the
arbitration award, alleging that the arbitrator exceeded his
powers in fashioning the remedy in this case. Count II asserted
a cause of action for a common law writ of certiorari, but
merely repeated the same allegations challenging the arbitration
award in Count I.
Pretrial proceedings ensued and the parties eventually filed
cross-motions for summary judgment. The circuit court granted
summary judgment in favor of Stahulak, setting aside the
arbitrator's award and remanding the matter for arbitration with
a finding that Stahulak had been an employee for over one year.
The appellate court reversed and remanded with instructions
to dismiss Stahulak's complaint. 291 Ill. App. 3d 824. It noted
that under section 16 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act
(5 ILCS 315/16 (West 1996)) and the Illinois Uniform
Arbitration Act (710 ILCS 5/12 (West 1996)), proceedings to
vacate an arbitration award entered pursuant to a collective-
bargaining agreement must be brought by the parties to the
agreement. 291 Ill. App. 3d at 829. In this case, the City and the
Union are parties to the agreement, but Stahulak as an
individual is not. The appellate court reasoned that an individual
employee is not entitled to judicial review of a grievance
proceeding or arbitration unless the employee can show that his
union's conduct in processing the grievance was arbitrary,
discriminatory, or in bad faith. 291 Ill. App. 3d at 832. Here,
Stahulak made no allegations that the Union breached its duty
of fair representation. Therefore, the court concluded that
Stahulak lacked standing to bring a suit to overturn the
arbitration award in this case.
Before this court, Stahulak contends that he has standing to
challenge the arbitration award in circuit court without the
burden of proving that the Union breached its duty of fair
representation in the underlying proceeding. According to
Stahulak, the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/1
et seq. (West 1996)) allows an individual employee to bring a
grievance, compel arbitration, receive an award, and seek to
vacate the award in circuit court.
The City and the other defendants disagree. They argue
that Stahulak lacked standing to bring this suit based on sections
8 and 16 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (Act) (5
ILCS 315/8, 16 (West 1996)). This argument is well taken.
Section 16 of the Act provides:
"After the exhaustion of any arbitration mandated by
this Act or any procedures mandated by a collective
bargaining agreement, suits for violation of agreements ***
between a public employer and a labor organization
representing public employees may be brought by the
parties to such agreement in the circuit court in the county
in which the public employer transacts business or has its
principal office." 5 ILCS 315/16 (West 1996).
Under the plain language of this statute, only the parties to
a collective-bargaining agreement may attack an arbitration
award in circuit court. Section 8 of the Act further specifies that
"[t]he grievance and arbitration provisions of any collective
bargaining agreement shall be subject to the Illinois 'Uniform
Arbitration Act.' " 5 ILCS 315/8 (West 1996). The Uniform
Arbitration Act, in turn, provides that: "[u]pon application of a
party" a court shall consider vacating an arbitration award. 710
ILCS 5/12(a) (West 1996). Therefore, as under the Act, the
Uniform Arbitration Act requires arbitration awards to be
challenged in court by the parties to the collective-bargaining
agreement.
Based on the foregoing provisions, we agree that because
Stahulak is not a party to the agreement, he lacks standing to
bring the suit at issue here. The principle that individual
employees represented by a union cannot bring a suit to
overturn the outcome of a grievance procedure or arbitration is
further supported by Illinois case law. See Mahoney v. City of
Chicago, 293 Ill. App. 3d 69, 73-74 (1997), Parks v. City of
Evanston, 139 Ill. App. 3d 649, 652 (1985), Consentino v. Price,
136 Ill. App. 3d 490, 495 (1985). These cases hold that an
individual union member is entitled to judicial review of
grievance procedures or arbitration, only if the individual proves
that the union's conduct in processing the grievance was
arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. Parks, 139 Ill. App. 3d
at 652, Consentino, 136 Ill. App. 3d at 495.
Stahulak makes no allegations that his union breached its
duty of fair representation in the underlying proceedings. Yet,
he contends that he still had standing to attack the arbitration
award in this case, claiming that it is not necessary to make
such allegations against a union. Stahulak urges this court to
follow Svoboda v. Department of Mental Health &
Developmental Disabilities, 162 Ill. App. 3d 366 (1987), which
held that individual employees have standing to bring suit to
vacate an arbitrator's award and are not required to allege and
prove that the union did not adequately represent them at earlier
stages.
In reaching its holding, the court in Svoboda relied on
section 6(b) of the Act, which provides that:
"Nothing in this Act prevents an employee from
presenting a grievance to the employer and having the
grievance heard and settled without the intervention of an
employee organization; provided that the exclusive
bargaining representative is afforded the opportunity to be
present at such conference and that any settlement made
shall not be inconsistent with the terms of any agreement in
effect between the employer and the exclusive bargaining
representative." 5 ILCS 315/6(b) (West 1996).
The court reasoned that section 6(b) clearly allows an individual
employee to bring a grievance on his own without the aid of his
union and that this section should be read in conjunction with
section 16. Svoboda, 162 Ill. App. 3d at 368. After reading these
sections together, the court in Svoboda was convinced that "it
was not the legislature's intent to allow suits to vacate an
arbitrator's award to be brought by unions which have instituted
grievance procedures on behalf of their members, but not suits
by members who have brought grievance procedures on behalf
of themselves." Svoboda, 162 Ill. App. 3d at 369.
We decline to follow Svoboda because we disagree with the
court's interpretation of section 6(b). Under our reading of
section 6(b), that section is limited to allowing an employee to
present a grievance to an employer at the initial stage of the
grievance process, and to settle the grievance at a conference at
which the union has an opportunity to be present. We find
nothing in section 6(b) which allows an employee to pursue a
grievance through the entire dispute resolution procedure,
including arbitration and the filing of a suit to challenge an
arbitration award, when an employee's union has chosen not to
do so.
This construction of the statute underlies the collective-
bargaining agreement involved in this case. Under that
agreement, which establishes a three-tier grievance procedure,
only the Union can invoke the higher stages of the grievance
process. According to section 10.2 of the agreement, an
individual employee or the Union may initiate the first step,
which involves taking up the grievance with the employer's
authorized representative. The two subsequent steps, which
include appealing the grievance to the fire commissioner and
then invoking arbitration, are to be initiated by the Union in its
capacity as a party to the collective-bargaining agreement.
Our construction of section 6(b) is further supported by
federal precedent. Section 159(a) of the Labor Management
Relations Act (LMRA) is virtually identical to section 6(b). It
states that the designated union shall be the exclusive bargaining
representative of the employees provided:
"That any individual employee or group of employees shall
have the right at any time to present grievances to their
employer and to have such grievances adjusted, without the
intervention of the bargaining representative, as long as the
adjustment is not inconsistent with the terms of a collective-
bargaining contract or agreement then in effect: Provided
further, That the bargaining representative has been given
an opportunity to be present at such an adjustment."
(Emphasis in original.) 29 U.S.C. sec. 159(a) (1994).
Like section 6(b), this provision of the LMRA grants individual
employees the right to present a grievance to their employers
and resolve such a grievance without taking any formal steps
against the employer. The federal courts have recognized,
however, that once the union and employer invoke arbitration,
only these parties have standing to challenge an award. Shores
v. Peabody Coal Co., 831 F.2d 1382, 1383 (7th Cir. 1987).
Individual employees represented by a union lack standing to
seek judicial review of a grievance procedure unless they prove
that their union breached its duty of fair representation. Shores
v. Peabody Coal Co., 831 F.2d 1382, 1383-84 (7th Cir. 1987);
Anderson v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 773 F.2d 880, 881-82
(7th Cir. 1985); see Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 185-86, 17 L. Ed. 2d 842, 855, 87 S. Ct. 903, 914 (1967). Our interpretation
of section 6(b) is therefore consistent with the federal court's
interpretation of the virtually identical provision in the LMRA.
Finally, Stahulak contends that he should not be deprived
of the opportunity to petition the circuit court to overturn the
arbitration award merely because he worked with the union in
the first instance. Relying on Svoboda, Stahulak argues that he
should not have to give up the ability to protect his employment
when he chooses to be represented by a union and the union
declines to further prosecute an action after the arbitration
award. Svoboda, 162 Ill. App. 3d at 373. He cites to the court's
reasoning in Svoboda that such an outcome "would have the
effect of dissuading an employee from working with the union
at the initiation of grievance proceedings." Svoboda, 162 Ill.
App. 3d at 373.
As the appellate court pointed out in this case, Stahulak's
assertions overlook the fact that the collective-bargaining
agreement negotiated between his union and the City serves as
the basis for his claim that he was improperly discharged.
Stahulak did not give up the ability to protect his employment
by joining a union. Instead, the specific procedures for
terminating an employee outlined in section 16.2 of the
agreement provided Stahulak with the grounds to challenge his
termination. Without these protections contained in the
agreement, Stahulak has no judicially enforceable right to
protect his job.
The general purpose of collective bargaining is to enable
employees to pool their economic strength by joining together
in a union to improve conditions of employment as a collective
group. Garcia v. Zenith Electronics Corp., 58 F.3d 1171, 1175
(7th Cir. 1995). In exchange for the benefits provided by the
collective-bargaining agreement, Stahulak gave up his individual
right to bargain with the City. We agree with the Supreme
Court's reasoning when it addressed this issue in Vaca v. Sipes,
386 U.S. 171, 17 L. Ed. 2d 842, 87 S. Ct. 903 (1967). In Vaca,
the Supreme Court held that if individual union members could
challenge their union's resolution of a grievance,
"the settlement machinery provided by the contract
would be substantially undermined, thus destroying the
employer's confidence in the union's authority and
returning the individual grievant to the vagaries of
independent and unsystematic negotiations." Vaca v. Sipes,
386 U.S. at 191, 17 L. Ed. 2d at 858, 87 S. Ct. at 917.
Therefore, we hold that individual employees represented by a
union should only be allowed to seek judicial review of an
arbitration award if they can show that their union breached its
duty of fair representation. Because Stahulak made no such
allegations, he lacked standing to bring a suit to overturn the
arbitration award in this case.
The standing issue is dispositive of this appeal. There is no
need to address the merits of the underlying labor dispute. For
the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the appellate court is
affirmed.

Affirmed.