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Devore v. Weyerhaeuser Co.

April 2, 1973


Appeal from Circuit Court, Klamath County. L. Orth Sisemore, Judge.

Dean E. Peterson, Tacoma, Washington, argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were Proctor & Puckett and Robert D. Puckett, Klamath Falls.

Richard C. Beesley, Klamath Falls, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Alan Lee, Klamath Falls.

In Banc. Tongue, J.


This is a suit in equity by 45 employees of the defendant to recover wages claimed to be due because of a wage increase resulting from an industry-wide "settlement agreement" between defendant and other employers, on one hand, and the unions representing their employees. Plaintiffs' complaint also asks for an accounting for such wages. Defendant appeals from a judgment and decree in favor of plaintiffs.

Defendant contends, among other things, that although the industry-wide "settlement agreement"

was a settlement of all "industry-wide issues" between the employers and unions involved in the industry-wide negotiations which led to that agreement, it was not intended to cover so-called "local issues" at particular plants of particular employers, including the hourly rates to be paid to plaintiffs. On the contrary, defendant contends that it was specifically agreed during the industry-wide negotiations that the question of the hourly rates to be paid to plaintiffs was not covered by the industry-wide "settlement agreement," but was to be "left open" and referred back for negotiations and settlement at the "local level."

Plaintiffs contend, on the contrary, that the industry-wide "settlement agreement" was "fully integrated and closed all issues involved in negotiation"; that it was "complete and unambiguous on its face" and was assented to by the entire negotiating committee, representing both defendant and the "applicable unions"; that it was "voted on by the employees and was ratified"; that "the wage scale increase therein was clear and unambiguous" in that "all hour-rated employees (including plaintiffs) were to receive a general hourly increase plus the 'bracket adjustment,'" and that "no claim has ever been made by defendant of ambiguity."

From these opposing contentions it appears that the principal issues to be decided in this case relate to the application of the parol evidence rule to the facts of this case. It thus becomes necessary to review the testimony, some of which came in under an offer of testimony under ORS 17.045 (2) after the trial court had sustained plaintiffs' objection to such testimony as contrary to the requirements of the parol evidence rule,

as stated in ORS 41.740. Because this is a suit in equity we review the record de novo.*fn1

1. Summary of evidence.

a. The previous conversion from piece work to hourly rates for "pullers."

Prior to 1967 "pullers" on the "green chain" and "dry chain" at defendant's Klamath Falls plant were paid on a piece work basis. These piece rates were then converted to agreed hourly rates, which were computed by taking an average of compensation paid at piece rates for one year.*fn2 At that time there was apparently no discussion as to whether or not these men would receive any or all future wage increases, that being left for future negotiations.

It was agreed, however, that a "trial period" be established for the "green chain" crew from November 25, 1968, to May 2, 1969, at which time the agreed hourly rate would be "permanently established" unless the "average earnings" increased on the basis of the previous "contract earnings," in which event a higher hourly rate would be paid retroactively. As a result, there was some uncertainty as to the exact hourly rate to be paid to these employees in the spring of 1969.

b. Industry-wide wage negotiations in May and June, 1969.

In May and June of 1969 industry-wide negotiations were conducted between the Northwest Forest Products Association, representing the employers, including defendant, and two unions representing the employees of these employers. One of these unions, the Western States Regional Council No. 3, International Woodworkers of America, represented some 20,000 employees and 20 local unions, including the employees of defendant at its Klamath Falls operation, who were members of Local No. 3-12, IWA, AFL-CIO.

Negotiations on behalf of the union were conducted by a negotiating committee which included the regional president and vice-president and three local representatives. Representatives of local unions (including Local No. 3-12) were present as "observers," but had no official capacity in negotiations.

These negotiations were conducted in Portland and were limited to industry-wide issues. The general negotiating committee was broken down into subcommittees to negotiate these various issues. One of these issues involved a "classification" or "bracket" wage adjustment and was referred to a separate subcommittee for negotiation. The "observer" for Local No. 3-12 was "aware" of that subcommittee, but did not attend any of its meetings.

c. Work of the "Bracket Committee" -- agreement that remaining local issues be settled at "local level."

This subcommittee negotiated a "classification" or "bracket" wage increase to be paid on an agreed

"formula," depending upon the regular hourly rates of the various employees involved, and payable in addition to a general and uniform increase in hourly rates of pay of all employees. Various exceptions were also agreed upon. The results of these negotiations were then set forth in an agreed schedule, which stated the "basic formula" and its application to various hourly rates, as well as nine "exceptions."

Apparently, however, all of these "exceptions" were industry-wide in their application. At least none were designated as applying only to specified operations of specified employers. In addition, however, it was apparently agreed that a considerable number of "local issues" remained involving application of the "formula" to various job classifications at various specific operations. The negotiated written schedule made no reference to these "local issues," either individually or in any other manner. The reason for this, according to the testimony, was that all of such "local issues" were referred back to the local unions for continued negotiation and disposition. One of these "local issues" involved the "pullers" at Klamath Falls.

d. Discussions at "Bracket Committee" meetings of "local issue" involving "pullers" at Klamath Falls.

In the course of the meetings of the "Bracket Committee," but not as a part of any discussions by that committee, as such, defendant's industrial relations manager, Mr. Witt (a member of that committee), informed the union regional vice-president, Mr. Palmer (also a committee member), that defendant would not apply the "formula" for "bracket adjustments" to the "pullers" at its Klamath Falls operation. Mr. Palmer's

initial response was that the "formula" should ...

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