Court Sends Retiree Health Dispute to Arbitration

October 6, 2010 ( – St. Louis Post Dispatch LLC has to take a dispute over retiree health benefits to arbitration, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Rodney W. Sippel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri found that even though a collective bargaining agreement calling for such arbitration had expired, the newspaper company’s dispute with the Newspaper Guild of St. Louis over the issue was still subject to arbitration because rights accrued under the union contract potentially were being infringed upon.

The contract, which ran from December 1994 to January 2003 called for the company to pay full medical premiums for the lifetime of employees who retired before the pact expired. The company claimed its obligation to pay the full premium ended when the contract expired.

The union pressed for the matter to go to arbitration, but the company declined, according to the court.

According to Sippel, a post-expiration grievance can arise under a contract if, among other things, the action taken after expiration infringes on a right that accrued or vested under the agreement, and an arbitrator could eventually find that the lifetime benefits right granted under the contract survived its expiration.

The case is Newspaper Guild of St. Louis, Local 36047, TNG-CWA v. St. Louis Post Dispatch LLC, E.D. Mo., No. 4:09CV412 RWS.