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UNITED MINE WORKERS AMERICA HEALTH & RETIREMENT FUNDS ET AL. v. ROBINSON ET AL.

decided: March 8, 1982.

UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA HEALTH & RETIREMENT FUNDS ET AL
v.
ROBINSON ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT.

Stevens, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Author: Stevens

[ 455 U.S. Page 563]

 JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves a discrimination between two classes of widows of coal miners who died prior to December 6, 1974 -- those whose husbands were receiving pensions when they died and those whose husbands were still working although they were eligible for pensions. The 1974 collective-bargaining agreement between the United Mine Workers of America and the Bituminous Coal Operators' Association, Inc., increased the health benefits for widows in the former class but

[ 455 U.S. Page 564]

     made no increase for those in the latter class. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that this discrimination was arbitrary and therefore violated § 302(c)(5) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (LMRA).*fn1 205 U. S. App. D.C. 330, 640 F.2d 416 (1981). We granted certiorari to decide whether § 302(c)(5) authorizes federal courts to review for reasonableness the provisions of a collective-bargaining agreement allocating health benefits among potential beneficiaries of an employee benefit trust fund. 454 U.S. 814.

I

A description of the origin of the discrimination may explain why the Court of Appeals considered it arbitrary. The

[ 455 U.S. Page 5651950]

     collective-bargaining agreement between the union and the operators established a fund to provide pension, health, and other benefits for certain miners and their dependents. That agreement defined the operators' obligation to contribute to the fund but delegated the authority to define the amount of benefits and the conditions of eligibility to the trustees of the fund.*fn2 In 1967 the trustees adopted two resolutions governing benefits for widows. Under the first, a widow of a retired miner who was receiving a pension at the time of his death was entitled to a death benefit of $2,000 payable over a 2-year period, and a widow of a miner who was eligible for a pension but who was still working at the time of his death was entitled to a $5,000 benefit payable over a 5-year period.*fn3 The second resolution authorized hospital and medical-care benefits for unremarried widows of deceased miners while they were receiving the widows' benefit

[ 455 U.S. Page 566]

     authorized by the first resolution.*fn4 The effect of these two resolutions was to provide a greater health benefit for widows of working miners who were eligible for pensions than for widows of miners who were receiving pension benefits.

In 1974, because of their concerns about compliance with minimum funding standards of the recently enacted Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 88 Stat. 829, as amended, 29 U. S. C. § 1001 et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. IV), and about the actuarial soundness of the 1950 fund, the union and the operators agreed to restructure the industry's benefit program. They agreed that the amount of benefits and the eligibility requirements, as well as the level of contributions, should be specified in their collective-bargaining agreement. They also decided to replace the single 1950 fund with four separate funds, two of which provided pension benefits while two others, the "1950 Benefit Trust" and the "1974 Benefit Trust," provided health and death benefits. The 1950 Benefit Trust, which is at issue in this case, extended lifetime health coverage to certain widows of miners who died before December 6, 1974, the effective date of the 1974 collective-bargaining agreement.*fn5

[ 455 U.S. Page 567]

     During the 1974 negotiations, the union originally demanded that all unremarried widows who were entitled to health benefits for either two years or five years under the old plan be extended lifetime health coverage. Both the amount and the uncertainty of the cost of such coverage for these widows concerned the operators. Relatively early in the negotiations they nevertheless accepted the demand as it related to widows of miners who would die after the agreement became effective, but they objected to the requested increase for widows of already deceased miners. The operators estimated that the latter class consisted of between 25,000 and 50,000 widows, whereas the union's estimate was approximately 40,000. Of that total, about 10% were believed to be widows of miners who had been working at the time of their death, even though eligible for pensions, and thus already had been entitled to five years of health benefits. In the final stages of the 1974 negotiations, after a strike had begun, the operators made a package proposal to the union that excluded this smaller group of perhaps 4,000 or 5,000 ...


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