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AIR LINE PILOTS ASSN. INTL. v. PAN AM

December 12, 1984

AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION INTERNATIONAL, Plaintiff, against PAN AMERICAN WORLD AIRWAYS, INC., Defendant; TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA, ALF-CIO, against PAN AMERICAN WORLD AIRWAYS, INC., Defendant, against TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO, JOHN J. KERRIGAN, individually and as Director, Air Transport Division TWU, MICHAEL BAKALO, Individually and as International Vice President, TWU, GEORGE ROBERTS, Individually and as International Vice President, TWU, et al., Counter-Defendants; FLIGHT ENGINEERS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION, PAA CHARTER, AFL-CIO, Plaintiff, against PAN AMERICAN WORLD AIRWAYS, INC., Defendant; INDEPENDENT UNION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS, Plaintiff, against PAN AMERICAN WORLD AIRWAYS, INC., THE COOPERATIVE RETIREMENT INCOME PLAN, and PENSION COMMITTEE MEMBERS, MARTIN SHUGRUE, ROBERT ADAMS, C. RAYMOND GREBEY, ROGER COOKE and C. J. DAVID DAVIES, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCLAUGHLIN

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

McLAUGHLIN, District Judge

 The unions representing four separate groups of employees *fn1" at Pan American World Airways, Inc., ("Pan Am") seek an injunction restraining defendant, Pan Am, from freezing pension benefit accruals in certain employee pension plans. Pan Am, in turn, seeks an injunction against a strike by the Transport Workers Union ("TWU"). *fn2"

 During 1984 Pan Am obtained a condition waiver of its pension funding obligations from the Internal Revenue Service. As a condition to the waiver, the IRS required Pan Am to freeze all pension benefit accruals retroactive to January 1, 1984. Pan Am commenced negotiations with the unions regarding its proposal to freeze benefit accruals. Those negotiations failed, however, and on August 10, 1984, Pan Am unilaterally implemented the freeze, five days before the IRS-imposed deadline.

 The unions contend that Pan Am's actions violate the collective bargaining agreement among them and thus, give rise to a "major dispute" under the Railway Labor Act. *fn3" 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. Pan Am responds that its actions are at least arguably permitted by the agreements and thus, that the dispute is "minor."

 If a dispute is deemed major, the Act requires the parties to maintain the status quo pending exhaustion of statutory procedure set forth in sections 5 and 6. 45 U.S.C. §§ 155, First, 156, 160. That procedure includes negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and ultimately, in certain instances, resort to a Presidential Emergency Board. See Detroit & Toledo Shore Line Railroad Co. v. United Transportation Union, 396 U.S. 142, 150-51, 24 L. Ed. 2d 325, 90 S. Ct. 294 (1969). A minor dispute, on the other hand, is to be referred immediately to binding arbitration by an appropriate Adjustment Board. *fn4" 45 U.S.C. § 153, First.

 On September 6, 1984, this Court held an evidentiary hearing and then consolidated the motions for a preliminary and permanent injunction. (Tr. 195).

 The only issue before this court is whether the controversy generated by Pan Am's August 10, 1984 actions constitutes a "major dispute" or a "minor dispute" under the RLA. The Second Circuit has observed that "although the distinction between major and minor disputes is central to the RLA, that distinction is imprecise and has plagued courts and commentators over the years." Local 553, Transport Workers Union v. Eastern Air Lines, Inc., 695 F.2d 668, 673 (2d Cir. 1982). See Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 722-28, 89 L. Ed. 1886, 65 S. Ct. 1282 (1945). It is said that major disputes involve the formation or alteration of agreements, while minor disputes involve questions of interpretation of existing agreements.Id. at 723. The distinction can obviously be manipulated to achieve almost any result desired.

 In Local 553, the Second Circuit articulated the applicable legal standards for distinguishing major disputes from minor disputes:

 To resolve this dilemma, courts have looked to the collective bargaining agreement to determine whether a plausible interpretation would justify the carrier's action. A dispute is major if the carrier's contractual justification for its actions is "obviously insubstantial." On the other hand, a dispute is minor if the contract is "reasonably susceptible" to the carrier's interpretation.

 695 F.2d at 673 (citations omitted).

 Guided by Local 553, I find that Pan Am's interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement is at least plausible and, accordingly, that the dispute between the parties is a minor dispute over contract interpretation that lies within the jurisdiction of the Adjustment Board. As there are slight differences in the factual underpinnings of the various disputes, they are now discussed separately.

 TWU and IUFA

 Both the Transport Workers Union ("TWU") and the Independent Union of Flight Attendants ("IUFA") are covered by the Cooperative Retirement Income Plan ("CRIP"). ...


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