OPINION OF THE COURT
ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.
This appeal requires us to decide whether a dispute over the interpretation and application of a provision in a collective bargaining agreement barring re-arbitration of questions or issues that were previously the subject of arbitration is arbitrable; if so, the dispute is for the arbitrator in the first instance, and not the courts. Contending that a 1946 arbitrator's decision bound the company, the union commenced this § 301 action
Appellant, Local 103 of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO, and RCA Corporation have been signatories to successive collective bargaining agreements since 1936. The district court found, and the parties do not dispute, that:
In 1945 a dispute arose between the parties relating to the duties to be performed by employees holding occupational classification No. 271. Arbitrator J. O. Keller was selected, held hearings, and issued an award in Grievance No. 573 dated March 20, 1946:
The seeds of this controversy germinate not so much from the arbitrator's award as they do from the opinion he filed in support thereof. His opinion was seemingly simple and clear cut. He stated that he could not resolve the substance of Grievance No. 573 because no official job description had been prepared by the company and:
In the course of his opinion he declared:
Apparently, it was not until 1971 that another job classification grievance arose. Unlike the 1945 dispute, the 1971 grievance relates to:
During the May 21, 1974, arbitration hearing before arbitrator Christensen, the union introduced into evidence the 1946 decision and award, contending that the 1971 grievance is entirely controlled by arbitrator Keller's final and binding decision. The company disagreed.
Rather than complete the arbitration proceedings it had demanded, the union sought to enjoin RCA's further arbitration efforts. The district court held that the question or issue presented and resolved in 1946 was not identical to the question or issue presented in 1971. Therefore, it left to arbitrator Christensen the interpretation and effect of arbitrator Keller's decision. Although we affirm the judgment of the district court, we do so for a different reason: It is the function of the arbitrator, not the court, to decide whether the "same question or issue" had been the subject of arbitration within the meaning of the collective bargaining agreement.
The union would have a federal court interpret this collective bargaining agreement and rule, as a matter of federal law, that the question or issue presented in the current grievance was the subject of arbitration in 1946. We decline to allocate this interpretive role to the district courts.
We begin our analysis with an overview of the function of the court in the administration of the arbitral processes contained in collective bargaining agreements. Congress, pursuant to § 301, has assigned to the courts the duty of determining whether a particular matter is arbitrable. John Wiley & Sons v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 546-47, 84 S.Ct. 909, 11 L.Ed.2d 898 (1964); Local 616 v. Byrd Plastics, Inc., 428 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir. 1970). The reason for this assignment is obvious: "[A]rbitration is a matter of contract and a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit." United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 80 S.Ct. 1347, 4 L.Ed.2d 1409 (1960). This expression of policy must be considered in conjunction with the strong Congressional declaration favoring settlement of labor disputes by arbitration. A balance has been achieved, and the function of the court is very limited:
Ibid. at 582-83, 80 S.Ct. at 1353 (footnote omitted). Stated otherwise, when the parties have agreed to submit all questions of interpretation to the arbitrator, the function of the court is to ascertain "whether the party seeking arbitration is making a claim which on its face is governed by the contract." United Steelworkers v. American Manufacturing Co., 363 U.S. 564, 568, 80 S.Ct. 1343, 1346, 4 L.Ed.2d 1403 (1960).
Another function of the court surfaces when enforcement of an arbitration award is sought. In this respect, we have emphasized the primacy of "an arbitrator's interpretation of provisions of a collective bargaining agreement." Ludwig Honold Mfg. Co. v. Fletcher, 405 F.2d 1123, 1125 (3d Cir. 1969). There we observed that "[t]he Supreme Court has
We have also admonished the courts "to exercise the utmost restraint and to tread gingerly before intruding upon the arbitral process. The basic philosophy underlying the court's `hands-off' policy is very simple — labor matters are best left to those who understand the language and the workings of the shop, those who have a precise knowledge of what has come to be known as the `industrial common law'. Even the `ablest judge cannot be expected to bring the same experience and competence [as an arbitrator] to bear upon the determination of a grievance, because he cannot be similarly informed.'" Lewis v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 407 F.2d 1185, 1191 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 866, 90 S.Ct. 145, 24 L.Ed.2d 120 (1969) (footnote omitted).
Thus, we have emphasized that judicial review of an arbitrator's award is severely limited and that his interpretation of contractual provisions will not be disturbed "if the interpretation can in any rational way be derived from the agreement, viewed in the light of its language, its context, and any other indicia of the parties' intention; only where there is a manifest disregard of the agreement, totally unsupported by principles of contract construction and the law of the shop, may a reviewing court disturb the award." Ludwig Honold Mfg. Co. v. Fletcher, supra, 405 F.2d at 1128.
Guided by these principles we turn to the factual complex here presented. Had this been the first dispute involving job classifications, there is little doubt that the matter would have been arbitrable. Article 8 of the National Agreement provides:
But, this is not the first dispute concerning job classifications; the decision and award of arbitrator Keller are also implicated. Thus, Paragraph 8.06 of Article 8 becomes relevant:
Moreover, an interpretation of Paragraph 8.06 is essential to the proper resolution of the immediate grievance. Thus refined, the issue before us must follow a very narrow compass: Does a dispute as to the application of the re-arbitration provision constitute an arbitrable question under the contract? We hold that it does. First, we note that the arbitration clause, Article 8, is broadly written. Its scope encompasses "any provision" of the Agreement. Second, no provision in the contract removes a dispute over the interpretation or application of the re-arbitration provision from the arbitration process. Therefore, we cannot say "with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute." United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., supra, 363 U.S. at 582-83, 80 S.Ct. at 1353. Consequently, we conclude that it is for the arbitrator to evaluate the relevance and effect of the 1946 arbitration award and opinion; it is for him to decide
The union would have us bypass the arbitration process and have us rule that the 1946 decision "is conclusive and binding on the present dispute"
There are several reasons why the union may obtain small comfort from this. First, in quoting Judge Adams, appellant has omitted the last three words of the sentence — "on the merits". Ibid. at 26. These words are crucial to an understanding of the precise issue before us in Byrd Plastics: whether a second arbitrator could reach the merits of a grievance when a prior arbitrator dismissed the identical grievance on procedural grounds. Thus, all we held was that the grievance remained the subject of arbitration. Second, there is no statement, explicit or implicit, in Byrd Plastics suggesting that the federal court should oust the arbitrator from interpreting or applying a re-arbitration provision of a collective bargaining agreement.
The union evidences the fear that prior decisions will be relitigated ad infinitum presaging a demise in finality and opening the door to abuse. We disagree. Open to the union, before the arbitrator, is the same contention it has presented to the courts, i. e., that the "same question or issue" was previously "the subject of arbitration." So viewed, finality, consistent with the provisions of the agreement, will be preserved.
The judgment of the district court will be affirmed.