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International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers v. Eastern Air Lines Inc.

decided: May 24, 1988.


Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Shirley Wohl Kram, Judge) dismissing plaintiff's action for injunctive relief under the Railway Labor Act, and motion to vacate the district court's subsequent grant of injunctive relief based on new facts while the appeal was pending. We affirm the district court's original denial of injunctive relief and, treating the defendant's motion to vacate as an appeal, we affirm the subsequent injunction entered on new facts.

Winter, Pratt and Altimari, Circuit Judges.

Author: Winter

WINTER, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff's appeal and defendant's motion to vacate involve an ongoing dispute between the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ("IAM") and Eastern Air Lines ("Eastern") over the working conditions of the IAM's chief shop stewards at two New York airports. The IAM appeals both from the district court's dismissal of its complaint against Eastern alleging violations of the IAM-Eastern collective agreement and from the denial of injunctive relief. Eastern moves to vacate an injunction issued by Judge Kram after the IAM proffered new facts but while the IAM's appeal was pending in this court. See International Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO v. Eastern Air Lines, 677 F. Supp. 173 (S.D.N.Y. 1988). We affirm the initial denial of injunctive relief but hold that Judge Kram did not abuse her discretion in subsequently granting an injunction.


Shop stewards assist union members in the processing of grievance claims under the IAM-Eastern collective agreement. In that capacity, Michael O'Connell, the IAM's chief shop steward at Kennedy International Airport, had been permitted by Eastern to work full-time on union matters for thirteen years, although he was not one of the fifteen chief stewards explicitly designated to do so by the collective agreement. On June 8, 1987, the IAM filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York alleging, among other things, that Eastern had violated the collective agreement by assigning O'Connell to the wheel and brake shop for productive work. The complaint alleged Eastern further breached the agreement by relocating the IAM's office space and moving union files at LaGuardia Airport. The IAM claimed that these actions deprived it of "past privileges" protected by Article 20(b) of the collective agreement and thereby violated the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-188 (1982).

On August 13, 1987, Judge Kram dismissed the IAM's complaint. She found that while Eastern did request O'Connell to report to work on June 1, "O'Connell has been permitted to continue his union activities full-time," that the "IAM has not specifically shown which, if any, activities would be damaged if O'Connell were not to engage in union work full-time," and that the "IAM has not shown that Eastern has denied the union access to its files nor that Eastern officials have looked into any confidential union material contained therein." The IAM appealed from that decision.

On November 30, 1987, while its appeal was pending, the IAM sought to file a motion in this court. The motion alleged new facts and sought an injunction preventing any interference with O'Connell's union duties. Personnel in our clerk's office directed the IAM to file the motion with the district court, presumably because of Fed. R. App. P. 8(a), which provides that "[a]pplication for a stay of the judgment or order of a district court pending appeal, . . . or for an order suspending, modifying, restoring or granting an injunction during the pendency of an appeal must ordinarily be made in the first instance in the district court."

The IAM thereupon filed the motion in the district court. The motion alleged that working conditions at the New York airports had changed significantly since August and that these changes now justified injunctive relief. Specifically, the IAM claimed that three shop stewards had been dismissed, and that the number of shop stewards reporting to O'Connell had been reduced from twelve to three as a result of shop closings and schedule changes. The IAM further claimed that O'Connell had been informed by Eastern on November 24 that he would have to do productive work at the wheel and brake shop for approximately four or five hours each day, even though the demand for the assistance of shop stewards in processing grievances had increased due to a large number of layoffs claimed by the IAM to violate the collective agreement.

On January 11, 1988, the district court issued an injunction preventing Eastern "from requiring O'Connell to work on productive work when he claims that his union business requires his full-time attention." 677 F. Supp. at 178. The order was entered without prejudice to Eastern's petitioning for a modification of the order if it appeared that O'Connell was "abusing his privileges by stating he has union work to do when he in fact does not."'*fn1 Id. The injunction did not maintain the status quo pending disposition of the present appeal by this court. Instead, it provided the IAM with relief pending final disposition of O'Connell's grievance by the system board of adjustment. Judge Kram found that such an injunction was needed in order to ensure that employee grievances would be processed in accord with the mandatory procedures specified in the collective agreement. Without O'Connell's full-time attention, she feared, grievances would go unheard because Eastern would be able to claim procedural default as to those that had been improperly processed. Id. The district court further found that "Eastern's demand that O'Connell not continue to work full-time on union business marks a change in longstanding practice." Id.


The Railway Labor Act, which applies to air carriers, see 45 U.S.C. §§ 181-82 (1982), establishes separate procedures for resolving major and minor contractual disputes. "Major" disputes concern the formation or modification of collective bargaining agreements, while "minor" disputes involve the application or interpretation of existing agreements. See Air Cargo Inc. v. Local Union 851, Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 733 F.2d 241, 245 (2d Cir. 1984). The resolution of minor disputes is within the exclusive jurisdiction of labor-management system boards of adjustment created pursuant to 45 U.S.C. § 184 (1982). See Local 553, Transp. Workers Union of Am. v. Eastern Air Lines, 695 F.2d 668, 673-75 (2d Cir. 1982). Federal courts have no power, therefore, to resolve disputes over the meaning of collective agreements in the airline industry, and, to the extent that the IAM's complaint simply sought relief based on its interpretation of the collective agreement, Judge Kram's order of dismissal was correct. See Independent Union of Flight Attendants v. Pan American World Airways, 789 F.2d 139, 141 (2d Cir. 1986).*fn2

However, the Supreme Court has authorized federal courts to preserve the status quo pending resolution of a minor dispute by a system board of adjustment, where an injunction "rather than defeating the Board's jurisdiction, would operate to preserve that jurisdiction by preventing injury so irreparable that a decision of the Board in the unions' favor would be but an empty victory." Brotherhood of Locomotive Eng'rs v. Missouri-Kansas-Texas R.R., 363 U.S. 528, 534, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1379, 80 S. Ct. 1326 (1960); see Westchester Lodge 2186, Bhd. of Ry. & S.S. Clerks v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 329 F.2d 748, 753 (2d Cir. 1964) (federal court can issue injunction "to restore status quo in a minor dispute if the court's discretion is soundly exercised to preserve the primary jurisdiction of the Adjustment Board"). Judge Kram nevertheless did not abuse her discretion in denying such injunctive relief on August 13, in light of her findings that the IAM had failed to demonstrate that the system board of adjustment would not be able to provide the relief sought and that the IAM would not suffer irreparable injury in the interim. See id.

We now turn to the January 11, 1988 injunction issued after this appeal had been taken. We address first the question whether this injunction conflicts with the rule that, once a notice of appeal has been filed, a district court may take actions only "in aid of the appeal or to correct clerical errors," Leonhard v. United States, 633 F.2d 599, 609-10 (2d Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 908, 68 L. Ed. 2d 295, 101 S. Ct. 1975 (1981), and may not "adjudicate substantial rights directly involved in the appeal." Newton v. Consolidated Gas Co., 258 U.S. 165, 177, 66 L. Ed. 538, 42 S. Ct. 264 (1922); see Griggs v. Provident Consumer Discount Co., 459 U.S. 56, 58, 74 L. Ed. 2d 225, 103 S. Ct. 400 ...

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