489 U.S. 426 (1989), 87-548, Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Independent

Docket Nº:No. 87-548
Citation:489 U.S. 426, 109 S.Ct. 1225, 103 L.Ed.2d 456, 57 U.S.L.W. 4283
Party Name:Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Independent
Case Date:February 28, 1989
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 426

489 U.S. 426 (1989)

109 S.Ct. 1225, 103 L.Ed.2d 456, 57 U.S.L.W. 4283

Trans World Airlines, Inc.



No. 87-548

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 28, 1989

Federation of Flight Attendants

Argued November 7, 1988




Although petitioner airline (TWA) and respondent flight attendants' union (IFFA) pursued all the required dispute resolution mechanisms of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), their negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement were unsuccessful. The parties bargained over wages and working conditions, but not over the existing agreement's seniority system, which ensured that the most senior qualified attendant who bid on a vacant job assignment, flight schedule, or base of operation (domicile) would obtain it, and would be least affected by periodic furloughs. During the IFFA's subsequent strike, TWA continued operations by hiring permanent replacements for strikers, by continuing to employ attendants who chose not to strike, and by rehiring strikers who abandoned the strike, and filled strike-created vacancies by application of the existing seniority bidding system to all working attendants. After the strike ended, and pursuant to its preannounced policy, TWA refused to displace permanent replacements or junior nonstriking attendants ("crossover" employees) with senior full-term strikers, many of whom were therefore left without an opportunity to return to work. Although a post-strike arbitral agreement guaranteed that all reinstated full-term strikers would be returned to work as vacancies arose and with precisely the seniority they would have had if no strike had occurred, the IFFA filed the instant action contending that, even assuming the strike was economic, the full-term strikers were entitled to displace the newly hired replacements and the less senior crossover attendants either under the terms of the prestrike collective bargaining agreement or under the RLA itself. The District Court denied relief for the most part, but the Court of [109 S.Ct. 1227] Appeals, relying on its reading of the pre-strike agreement and on judicial interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), reversed the lower court's ruling that the more senior full-term strikers could not displace junior crossovers.

Held: An employer is not required by the RLA to lay off junior crossover employees in order to reinstate more senior full-term strikers at the conclusion of a strike. Pp. 432-443.

(a) Nothing in the federal common labor law developed under the NLRA, which may provide guiding precedent in RLA cases, indicates that TWA's crossover policy is unlawful. In fact, under NLRB v.

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Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co., 304 U.S. 333, and its progeny, it is not an unfair labor practice under the NLRA for an employer to refuse to discharge replacement employees in order to make room for strikers at the end of an economic strike. The IFFA's argument that the Mackay Radio rule is inapplicable to junior crossovers, because those workers must be treated differently than newly hired permanent replacements (who, the union concedes, need not be displaced) is rejected, since full-term strikers at TWA, once reinstated, have lost no seniority either in absolute or relative terms, and will be able to displace junior flight attendants -- whether new hires, crossovers, or full-term strikers -- with regard to future reductions in force, vacancies in desirable assignments or domiciles, or periodic bids on job scheduling, and since any "cleavage" between junior crossovers and reinstated full-term strikers is merely the inevitable effect of TWA's lawful use of the economic weapons available to it during a period of self-help. NLRB v. Erie Resistor Corp., 373 U.S. 221, distinguished. To differentiate between crossovers and new hires in the manner the IFFA proposes would have the effect of penalizing those who exercised their right not to strike, which is protected both by the RLA and the NLRA, in order to benefit those who did strike, a result that is not required by the NLRA. Pp. 432-439.

(b) TWA's crossover policy is not forbidden by the RLA itself, which, in fact, provides greater avenues of self-help to parties that have exhausted the statute's extensive dispute resolution mechanisms than would be available under the NLRA. Section 2 Fourth of the RLA -- which prohibits carriers from "influenc[ing] or coerc[ing] employees . . . not to join . . . any labor organization" -- does not prohibit the policy, since that section is addressed primarily to the precertification rights of unorganized employees to organize and choose their representatives, with the intent of protecting the dispute-resolution procedures' effectiveness by assuring that the employees' putative representative is not subject to employer control, and that neither party will be able to enlist the courts to further its own partisan ends. Where, as here, the parties have exhausted those procedures and have reached an impasse, they are free, without threat of judicial involvement, to turn to any peaceful, self-help measures that do not strike a fundamental blow to union or employer activity and the collective bargaining process itself. Moreover, as the IFFA concedes, nothing in the collective bargaining agreement or any post-strike agreement prohibits TWA's crossover policy. Pp. 439-442.

(c) TWA's decision to guarantee to crossovers the same protections lawfully applied to new hires was a decision to apply the preexisting seniority terms of the collective bargaining agreement uniformly to all employees. That this decision had the effect of encouraging pre-strike

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workers to remain on the job during the strike or to abandon the strike before all vacancies were filled was simply an effect of TWA's lawful exercise of its peaceful economic power. P. 443.

819 F.2d 839, reversed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which [109 S.Ct. 1228] MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 443. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Parts I and II of which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 452.

O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

We decide today whether, at the end of a strike, an employer is required by the Railway Labor Act (RLA or Act), 44 Stat. 577, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., to displace employees who worked during the strike in order to reinstate striking employees with greater seniority.


In March, 1984, Trans World Airlines, Inc. (TWA), and the Independent Federation of Flight Attendants (IFFA or

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Union) began negotiations pursuant to § 6 of the RLA, 45 U.S.C. § 156, on a new collective bargaining agreement to replace their prior agreement due to expire on July 31, 1984. The existing collective bargaining agreement created a complex system of bidding, the general effect of which was to insure that those flight attendants with the greatest seniority would have the best opportunity to obtain their preferred job assignments, flight schedules, and bases of operation as vacancies appeared, and to insure that senior flight attendants would be least affected by the periodic furloughs endemic to the airline industry. Thus, for example, should a job vacancy appear at the highly desirable Los Angeles or San Francisco bases of operation or "domiciles," the most senior qualified flight attendant who bid on such a vacancy would be entitled to it. Conversely, should a reduction in force eliminate a position in the Los Angeles domicile, the furloughed flight attendant could opt to displace the most junior attendant of equal rank in the entire system or the most junior attendant of lower rank either at the same domicile or in the entire system. 1981-1984 TWA/IFFA Collective Bargaining Agreement, Arts. 12-13, 18-A, 18-B, reprinted in App. 31-62.

For two years TWA and the Union unsuccessfully bargained over wages and working conditions not including the seniority bidding system. They pursued all the required dispute resolution mechanisms of the RLA, including direct negotiation, 45 U.S.C. § 152 Second, mediation, 45 U.S.C. § 155 First, and the final 30-day "cooling off" period. Ibid. By early 1986, a strike seemed imminent, and on March 7, 1986, the Union went out on strike.

TWA informed its flight attendants before and during the strike that it would continue operations by hiring permanent replacements for striking flight attendants, by continuing to employ any flight attendant who chose not to strike, and by rehiring any striker who abandoned the strike and made an unconditional offer to return to any available vacancies.

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TWA also informed its flight attendants that any vacancies created as a result of the strike would be filled by application of the seniority bidding system to all working flight attendants, and that such job and domicile assignments would remain effective after the strike ended. App. 120-122, 132-134, 137-139. Thus, at the conclusion of the strike, senior full-term strikers would not be permitted to displace permanent replacements or junior nonstriking flight attendants, and could be left without an opportunity to return to work. TWA's promise not to displace working flight attendants after the strike created two incentives specifically linked to the seniority bidding system: it gave senior flight attendants an incentive to remain at, or return to, work in order to retain their prior jobs and domicile assignments; it gave junior flight attendants an [109 S.Ct. 1229] incentive to remain at, or return to, work in order to obtain job and domicile assignments that were...

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