455 U.S. 678 (1982), 80-1925, United Transportation Union v. Long Island Rail Road Co.

Docket Nº:No. 80-1925
Citation:455 U.S. 678, 102 S.Ct. 1349, 71 L.Ed.2d 547
Party Name:United Transportation Union v. Long Island Rail Road Co.
Case Date:March 24, 1982
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 678

455 U.S. 678 (1982)

102 S.Ct. 1349, 71 L.Ed.2d 547

United Transportation Union

v.

Long Island Rail Road Co.

No. 80-1925

United States Supreme Court

March 24, 1982

Argued January 20, 1982

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent Railroad, formerly under private ownership, was acquired by New York State in 1966 and is engaged in interstate commerce. Some 13 years later, petitioner Union, representing the Railroad's employees, and the Railroad failed to reach an agreement after conducting collective bargaining negotiations pursuant to the Railway Labor Act, and mediation efforts also failed to produce agreement. This triggered a 30-day cooling-off period under that Act, at the expiration of which the Act permits a union to resort to a strike. Anticipating that New York would challenge the Railway Labor Act's applicability to the Railroad, the Union sued in Federal District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the labor dispute was covered by that Act and not the Taylor Law, the New York law prohibiting strikes by public employees. The Railroad then filed suit in a New York state court, seeking to enjoin an impending strike by the Union under the Taylor Law. Before the state court acted, the Federal District Court held that the Railroad was subject to the Railway Labor Act, and that that Act, rather than the Taylor Law, was applicable. The District Court rejected the Railroad's argument that application of the Railway Labor Act to a state-owned railroad was inconsistent with National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833, wherein it was held that Congress could not impose the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act on state and local governments. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the operation of the Railroad was an integral state governmental function, that the Railway Labor Act displaced "essential governmental decisions" involving that function, and that the State's interest in controlling the operation of the Railroad outweighed the federal interest in having the federal Act apply.

Held: Application to a state-owned railroad of Congress' acknowledged authority to regulate labor relations in the railroad industry does not so impair a state's ability to carry out its constitutionally preserved sovereign function as to come in conflict with the Tenth Amendment. Pp. 682-690.

(a) One of the requirements under National League of Cities, supra, at 852, for a successful claim that congressional commerce power is invalid is that a state's compliance with federal law would directly impair its ability to "structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental

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functions." Operation of a railroad engaged in interstate commerce is clearly not an integral part of traditional state activities generally immune from federal regulation. And federal regulation of state-owned railroads, whether freight or passenger, simply does not impair a state's ability to function as a state. Pp. 683-686.

(b) To allow individual states, by acquiring railroads, to circumvent the federal system of railroad collective bargaining, or any of the other elements of federal regulation of railroads, would destroy the longstanding and comprehensive uniform scheme of federal regulation of railroads and their labor relations thought essential by Congress, and would endanger the efficient operation of the interstate rail system. Moreover, a state acquiring a railroad does so knowing that the railroad is subject to such scheme of federal regulation. Here, New York knew of and accepted federal regulation, and, in fact had operated under it for 13 years without claiming any impairment of its traditional sovereignty. Pp. 686-690.

634 F.2d 19, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 680

BURGER, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to decide whether the Tenth Amendment prohibits application of the Railway Labor Act to a state-owned railroad engaged in interstate commerce. [102 S.Ct. 1350]

I

The Long Island Rail Road (the Railroad), incorporated in 1834, provides both freight and passenger service to Long Island.1 In 1966, after 132 years of private ownership and a period of steadily growing operating deficits, the Railroad was acquired by New York State through the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Thereafter, the Railroad continued to conduct collective bargaining pursuant to the procedures of the Railway Labor Act. 44 Stat. (part 2) 577, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. The United Transportation Union, petitioner in this case, represents the Railroad's conductors, brakemen, switchmen, firemen, motormen, collectors, and related train crew employees. In 1978, the Union notified the Railroad that it desired to commence negotiations, and the parties began collective bargaining as provided by the Act. They failed to reach agreement during preliminary negotiations,

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and, in April 1979, the Railroad and the Union jointly petitioned the National Mediation Board for assistance. Seven months [102 S.Ct. 1352] of mediation efforts by the Board failed to produce agreement, however, and the Board released the case from mediation. This triggered a 30-day cooling-off period under the Act; absent Presidential intervention, the Act permits the parties to resort to economic weapons, including strikes, upon the expiration of the cooling-off period.

The Union anticipated the State's challenge to the applicability of the Act to the Railroad; on December 7, 1979, one day before the expiration of the 30-day cooling-off period, it sued in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that the dispute was covered by the Railway Labor Act, and not the Taylor Law, New York's law governing public employee collective bargaining and prohibiting strikes by public employees.2 The next day, the Union commenced what was to be a brief strike. Pursuant to the Act, the President of the United States intervened on December 14, thus imposing an additional 60-day cooling-off period which was to expire on February 13, 1980.3 A few days before the expiration of the 60-day period, the State converted the Railroad from a private stock corporation to a public benefit corporation, apparently believing that the change would eliminate Railway Labor Act coverage and bring the employees under the umbrella of the Taylor Law.

The Railroad then filed suit in state court on February 13, 1980, seeking to enjoin the impending strike under the Taylor Law. Before the state court acted, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York heard and decided the Union's suit for declaratory relief, holding that the Railroad was a carrier subject to the Railway Labor Act,

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that the Act, rather than the Taylor Law, was applicable, and that declaratory relief was in order. 509 E. Supp. 1300 (1980).

In a footnote, the District Court rejected the argument, now presented to this Court, that application of the Act to a state-owned railroad was inconsistent with National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833 (1976). 509 F.Supp. at 1306, n. 4. The District Court noted that, in National League of Cities, the Supreme Court "specifically held that the operation of a railroad in interstate commerce is not an integral part of governmental activity" and affirmed the rulings in California v. Taylor, 353 U.S. 553 (1957), and United States v. California, 297 U.S. 175 (1936), which held that the Railway Labor Act and the Safety Appliance Act could be applied to state-owned railroads. 509 F.Supp. at 1306, n. 4.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the operation of the Railroad was an integral state governmental function and that the federal Act displaced "essential governmental decisions" involving that function. 634 F.2d 19 (CA2 1980). The court applied a balancing approach, and held that the State's interest in controlling the operation of its railroad outweighed the federal interest in having the federal Act apply.

We granted certiorari, 452 U.S. 960 (1981), and we reverse.

II

There can be no serious question that, as both the District Court and the Court of Appeals held, the Railroad is subject to the terms of the Railway Labor Act, [102 S.Ct. 1353]4 or that the Commerce

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Clause grants Congress the plenary authority to regulate labor relations in the railroad industry in general.5 This dispute concerns the application of this acknowledged congressional authority to a state-owned railroad; we must decide whether that application so impairs the ability of the State to carry out its constitutionally preserved [102 S.Ct. 1351] sovereign function as to come into conflict with the Tenth Amendment.6

A

The Railroad claims immunity from the Railway Labor Act, relying on National League of Cities v. Usery, supra, where we held that Congress could not impose the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act on state and local governments.7 The Fair Labor Standards Act generally requires covered employers to pay employees no less than a minimum hourly wage and to pay them at one and one-half times their regular hourly rate for all time worked in any workweek in excess of 40 hours. Prior to 1974, the Act excluded most governmental employers. However, in that year, Congress amended the law to extend its provisions in somewhat modified form to "public agencies," including state governments and their political subdivisions.8 We held that the 1974 amendments were invalid

insofar as [they] operate to directly displace the States' freedom to structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions. . . .

426 U.S. at 852. (Emphasis supplied.)

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Only recently we had occasion to apply the National League of Cities doctrine in Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining & Reclamation Assn....

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