Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, Civil Action No. 17–1953 (RDM)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtRANDOLPH D. MOSS, United States District Judge
Citation280 F.Supp.3d 59
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 17–1953 (RDM)
Decision Date30 November 2017
Parties ATLAS AIR, INC., et al., Plaintiffs, v. INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, et al., Defendants.

280 F.Supp.3d 59

ATLAS AIR, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 17–1953 (RDM)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed November 30, 2017


280 F.Supp.3d 65

Michael G. McGuinness, Pro Hac Vice, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, Los Angeles, CA, Rachel S. Janger, Robert Alan Siegel, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, Washington, DC, Sloane Ackerman, Pro Hac Vice, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiff.

Deirdre E. Hamilton, Nicolas M. Manicone, International Brotherhood Of Teamsters, Edward M. Gleason, Jr., Law Office of Edward Gleason, PLLC, Washington, DC, James Petroff, Pro Hac Vice, Trent R. Taylor, Pro Hac Vice, Barkan Meizlish Handelman Goodin Derose Wentz, LLP, Columbus, OH, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RANDOLPH D. MOSS, United States District Judge

This matter is currently before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, Dkt. 5, and Defendants' motion to dismiss, Dkt. 51.

The case grows out of a labor dispute between Plaintiffs Atlas Air, Inc. and Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, Inc. (collectively "Atlas") and Defendants International Brotherhood of Teamsters; International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Airline Division; and Airline Professionals Association of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local Union No. 1224 (collectively "the Union"). Atlas is an airline that operates cargo and passenger flights for commercial customers (such as Amazon, DHL, Qantas, Nippon Cargo Airlines, and Hong Kong Air Cargo Carrier) and the U.S. military. It operates both long-haul, international

280 F.Supp.3d 66

and domestic flights. The Union is the certified exclusive bargaining representative of Atlas's pilots. Atlas and the Union currently operate under a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") that took effect on September 8, 2011. That agreement became "amendable" on September 8, 2016, and the parties have been engaged in contract negotiations since earlier that year. All agree that those negotiations are governed by the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. , which applies to railroad and airline labor relations. The parties disagree, however, about almost everything else in this case, including the relevance of the Norris–LaGuardia Act ("NLGA"), 29 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.

The RLA distinguishes between two types of disputes: "major disputes," which arise "out of efforts to form or change a collective bargaining agreement," and "minor disputes," which relate "to the proper meaning or application of an existing agreement." Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. Eastern Air Lines , 869 F.2d 1518, 1524 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (" Eastern Air Lines II "). This distinction has important ramifications. In the case of a "major dispute," the RLA requires the parties to engage in "a lengthy process of bargaining and mediation," and—most significantly for present purposes—it requires the parties "to maintain the status quo" while that lengthy process plays out. Consolidated Rail v. Railway Labor Execs.' Ass'n , 491 U.S. 299, 302, 109 S.Ct. 2477, 105 L.Ed.2d 250 (1989). The "use of economic force" is not permitted during this period, and the federal district courts are empowered "to enjoin a violation of the status quo." Id. at 303, 109 S.Ct. 2477. In contrast, in the case of a "minor dispute," the RLA requires that the parties confer and, if necessary, submit to compulsory arbitration to resolve disputes involving the interpretation or application of their collective bargaining agreement. Id. That process moves considerably faster than the major dispute process and operates against a different background norm: unlike major disputes, the "general"—or categorical—"statutory obligation ... to maintain the status quo" does not extend to minor disputes. Id. at 304, 109 S.Ct. 2477.

According to Atlas, it is in the midst of a major dispute with the Union regarding amendment of the CBA, and the Union has violated its statutory obligation to maintain the status quo during the ongoing contract negotiations. Atlas argues, in particular, that the Union has orchestrated a concerted slowdown of flight operations in an effort to generate economic leverage in the ongoing contract negotiations. It contends, for example, that the Union has encouraged Atlas's pilots to more frequently call in sick on short notice, to more frequently decline to fly because of fatigue, to refuse to volunteer for open flight assignments, and to delay flight departures by "blocking out on time." Although Atlas argues that the RLA does not require proof of irreparable injury to sustain the issuance of a status quo injunction, it also maintains that it will suffer irreparable damage to its reputation and business if the slowdown is allowed to continue during the peak shipping season between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.

The Union, in contrast, contends that the present dispute is governed by the existing CBA and thus constitutes a minor dispute, which does not demand preservation of the status quo. It also argues, however, that Atlas is wrong and that it has not encouraged Union members to engage in a slowdown. Rather, according to the Union, Atlas's woes are the result of the company's rapid growth and poor management, an increased focus on preventing unsafe flying conditions, and the Union's desire to ensure that Atlas abides by its existing contractual obligations. Because the Union, as a result, views the present

280 F.Supp.3d 67

dispute as no more than a garden-variety disagreement over what is allowed under the CBA, it asserts that the status quo requirement of the RLA is inapplicable and that, for this and other reasons, the NLGA strips the Court of jurisdiction to issue an injunction. Finally, the Union argues that the injunction that Atlas seeks would run afoul of the First Amendment.

As explained below, the Court concludes that it has jurisdiction to consider Atlas's motion for a preliminary injunction. The Court further concludes, moreover, that Atlas has carried its burden of demonstrating that it is likely to succeed on the merits; that, to the extent required to do so, it has established that it will likely suffer irreparable injury in the absence of a preliminary injunction; that the Union will not suffer any countervailing injury if such an injunction is issued; and that the public interest tips in favor of issuing a preliminary injunction.

The scope of the preliminary injunction, however, presents a more difficult question. All agree that airline pilots should not fly sick or fatigued, that not every flight can or should block out before its scheduled departure time, and that pilots cannot be forced to volunteer for open flights. It is difficult, if not impossible, moreover, for the Union, Atlas, or the Court to determine whether a particular pilot could have provided earlier notice before calling in sick, whether a particular pilot is too tired to fly safely, or whether a pilot legitimately wanted to spend more time with her family and thus decided not to volunteer for an open flight for reasons wholly unrelated to a slowdown. What must stop, however, are efforts by the Union to tie activity of this or any similar type to the collective bargaining process and to encourage pilots to change their behavior in light of the ongoing labor dispute.

I. STATUTORY BACKGROUND

A. Railway Labor Act

Congress has long sought to "minimiz[e] interruptions in the Nation's transportation services by strikes and labor disputes." Int'l Ass'n of Machinists v. Central Airlines , 372 U.S. 682, 687, 83 S.Ct. 956, 10 L.Ed.2d 67 (1963). These efforts have resulted in "successive attempts to establish effective machinery to resolve disputes not only as to wages, hours, and working conditions, ... but also as to the interpretation and application of existing contracts." Id. Congress's first attempt was the Transportation Act of 1920, which soon drew the ire of both labor and management for being toothless and allowing the circumvention of rulings made by the administrative agency the act created. Id.

In response, Congress enacted the Railway Labor Act of 1926, and amended it in 1934. Id. at 688, 83 S.Ct. 956. This framework was more successful. Id. Unlike agreements subject to the National Labor Relations Act, it made collective bargaining agreements in covered transportation sectors perpetual; absent change through the prescribed statutory mechanisms, a CBA subject to the RLA never expires. See Katherine Van Wezel Stone, Labor Relations on the Airlines: The Railway Labor Act in the Era of Deregulation , 42 Stan. L. Rev. 1485, 1495–96 (1990) [hereinafter Labor Relations on the Airlines ]; see also 45 U.S.C. § 152, Seventh; Bhd. of Ry. & S.S. Clerks v. Florida E. Coast Ry. , 384 U.S. 238, 243, 86 S.Ct. 1420, 16 L.Ed.2d 501 (1966). The RLA, after the 1934 amendments, also created two methods for resolving conflicts between labor and management, and enlisted the courts in enforcing the statutory scheme. Air Lines Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. Eastern Air Lines , 863 F.2d 891, 895 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (" Eastern Air Lines I ").

280 F.Supp.3d 68

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  • Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, No. 17-7172
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 5, 2019
    ...out on time," call in sick on short notice, and refuse to volunteer for overtime shifts. Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters , 280 F. Supp. 3d 59 (D.D.C. 2017). The Union appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1) and 29 U.S.C. § 110.II We begin by asking wheth......
  • Cal. Ass'n of Private Postsecondary Sch. v. DeVos, Civil Action No. 17-999 (RDM)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • October 16, 2018
    ...at least at times, rise to the level necessary to support the issuance of an injunction." Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters , 280 F.Supp.3d 59, 103 (D.D.C. 2017). This, however, is not such a time. To start, the declarations from the individual schools that CAPPS submitted in suppo......
  • BNSF Ry. Co. v. Int'l Ass'n of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, & Transp. Workers-Transp. Div., Civil Action No. 4:19-cv-00789-P
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • February 11, 2020
    ...enjoined to comply with a statutory duty to negotiate. See 45 U.S.C. § 152 First; cf. Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters , 280 F. Supp. 3d 59, 105 (D.D.C. 2017) (concluding that the balance of harms favored preliminary injunction in favor of the carrier in part because "in the absen......
  • Xiaomi Corp. v. Dep't of Def., Civil Action No.: 21-280 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 12, 2021
    ...at least at times, rise to the level necessary to support the issuance of an injunction." Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 280 F. Supp. 3d 59, 103 (D.D.C. 2017), aff'd, 928 F.3d 1102 (D.C. Cir. 2019); Armour & Co. v. Freeman, 304 F.2d 404, 406 (D.C. Cir. 1962) (finding irreparabl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, No. 17-7172
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • July 5, 2019
    ...out on time," call in sick on short notice, and refuse to volunteer for overtime shifts. Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters , 280 F. Supp. 3d 59 (D.D.C. 2017). The Union appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1) and 29 U.S.C. § 110.II We begin by asking wheth......
  • Cal. Ass'n of Private Postsecondary Sch. v. DeVos, Civil Action No. 17-999 (RDM)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • October 16, 2018
    ...at least at times, rise to the level necessary to support the issuance of an injunction." Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters , 280 F.Supp.3d 59, 103 (D.D.C. 2017). This, however, is not such a time. To start, the declarations from the individual schools that CAPPS submitted in suppo......
  • BNSF Ry. Co. v. Int'l Ass'n of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, & Transp. Workers-Transp. Div., Civil Action No. 4:19-cv-00789-P
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • February 11, 2020
    ...enjoined to comply with a statutory duty to negotiate. See 45 U.S.C. § 152 First; cf. Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters , 280 F. Supp. 3d 59, 105 (D.D.C. 2017) (concluding that the balance of harms favored preliminary injunction in favor of the carrier in part because "in the absen......
  • Xiaomi Corp. v. Dep't of Def., Civil Action No.: 21-280 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 12, 2021
    ...at least at times, rise to the level necessary to support the issuance of an injunction." Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 280 F. Supp. 3d 59, 103 (D.D.C. 2017), aff'd, 928 F.3d 1102 (D.C. Cir. 2019); Armour & Co. v. Freeman, 304 F.2d 404, 406 (D.C. Cir. 1962) (finding irreparabl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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