violates New York Labor Law § 193, and (4) "is inimical to the labor peace supposedly secured within the past several weeks." Pl. Mem. of Law pp. 3-4. The BLE, therefore, seeks this preliminary injunction.
This dispute is governed by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. §§ 151, et seq. (1995). The BLE claims that the LIRR's imposition of fines violates § 2 Seventh and § 6 of the RLA. 45 U.S.C. §§ 152 Seventh, 156 (1995).
Under § 2 Seventh of the RLA, a railroad may not "change the rates of pay, rules, or working conditions of its employees . . . except in the manner prescribed in section 156" of the RLA. 45 U.S.C. § 152 Seventh (1995). Section 156 (commonly referred to as § 6 of the RLA) dictates that a party wishing to change "rates of pay, rules, or working conditions" must provide the other side with at least thirty days written notice before instituting such a change. 45 U.S.C. § 156 (1995). If the notified party objects to the change, then the proposed change is subject to a detailed and lengthy process of mediation.
During this process, "the rates of pay, rules, or working, conditions shall not be altered." Id. In other words, the status quo shall be maintained. In such cases, "the district courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to enjoin a violation of the status quo pending completion of the required procedures," Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Railway Labor Exec. Ass'n, 491 U.S. 299, 302-303, 109 S. Ct. 2477, 2480, 105 L. Ed. 2d 250 (1989) (hereinafter "Conrail"). This is commonly referred to as a "status quo injunction."
The BLE argues that the imposition of fines amounts to a change in rates of pay, rules, or working conditions and should, therefore, be subject to the requirements of § 156. Because the LIRR gave the BLE no formal § 156 notice of its intention to impose fines, the BLE contends that the imposition of fines amounts to a violation of § 156 and § 152 Seventh.
This, the BLE asserts, entitles the union to a status quo injunction until this matter can be resolved.
The LIRR contends, by contrast, that these fines are not changes in rates of pay, rules, or working conditions, but, rather, are disciplinary actions that fall within the implied terms of the existing collective bargaining agreement as informed by the practice of the parties. As such, the LIRR contends, these fines do not represent a prohibited unilateral change in "rates of pay, rules, or working conditions" as prohibited by § 2 Seventh. Rather, the LIRR argues that this dispute should be governed by § 2 Sixth and § 3 First(i) of the RLA.
Under § 2 Sixth of the RLA, disputes between a railroad and its employees "arising out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements" must initially be handled by proceedings conducted between the parties. 45 U.S.C. § 2 Sixth (1995). Should these proceedings fail, § 3 First(i) of the RLA dictates either party may seek arbitration through the Railway Adjustment Board. 45 U.S.C. § 153 First(i) (1995).
The primary issue in this case is whether the parties' disagreement about the imposition of fines shall be governed by the lengthy mediation process dictated by § 6 or by the less involved arbitration process of § 3 First(i).
Resolution of this issue depends upon whether the dispute is characterized as a "major dispute" or whether it is deemed a "minor dispute". See Elgin Joliet & Erie Ry. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 723, 65 S. Ct. 1282, 1290, 89 L. Ed. 1886 (1945). The parties agree that according to the RLA, this court has jurisdiction to issue an injunction only if this is a "major dispute." Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Railway Labor Exec. Ass'n, 491 U.S. 299, 302-303, 109 S. Ct. 2477, 2480, 105 L. Ed. 2d 250 (1989). If this court finds that it is a "minor" dispute, it may not issue an injunction and must dismiss the case, leaving the BLE with the option to pursue arbitration. Should this court determine that this is a "major" case, then the parties will be required to submit to the lengthy mediation process outlined in § 6 of the RLA. Conrail, 491 U.S. at 303, 109 S. Ct. at 2480-81.
The Supreme Court has defined a major dispute as one which:
relates to disputes over the formation of collective agreements or efforts to secure them. They arise where there is no such agreement or where it is sought to change the terms of one, and therefore the issue is not whether an existing agreement controls the controversy. They look to the acquisition of rights for the future, not to assertion of rights claimed to have vested in the past.
Elgin Joliet & Erie Ry. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 723, 65 S. Ct. 1282, 1290, 89 L. Ed. 1886 (1945).
By contrast, a minor dispute:
relates either to the meaning or proper application of a particular provision with reference to a specific situation or an omitted case. In the latter event the claim is founded upon some incident of the employment relation . . . independent of those covered by the collective bargaining agreement, e.g., claims on account of personal injuries. In either case the claim is to rights accrued, not merely to have new ones created for the future.
At oral argument, the parties agreed that there are no disputed issues of material fact in this case. And, although both sides were prepared to present witness testimony regarding the background of this dispute at the hearing held on October 11, 1995, neither found it necessary to call witnesses to the stand.
The BLE's chief contention is that the proposed fines amount to a redefinition of the newly crafted Collective Bargaining Agreement and, as such, must be considered a "major" dispute under the RLA. The LIRR's response, in short, is that this issue is more properly characterized as a "minor" dispute.
As noted above, "major disputes seek to create contractual rights, minor disputes to enforce them." Conrail, 491 U.S. at 302, 109 S. Ct. at 2480. To apply this maxim, the Conrail Court established the "arguably justified" test:
If an employer asserts a claim that the parties' agreement gives the employer the discretion to make a particular change in working conditions without prior negotiation, and if that claim is arguably justified by the terms of the parties' agreement (i.e., the claim is neither obviously insubstantial or frivolous, nor made in bad faith), the employer may make the change and the courts must defer to the arbitral jurisdiction of the [National Railroad Adjustment Board].