Blet v. Union Pacific R.R.

Decision Date15 May 2006
Docket NumberNo. 05 C 2401.,05 C 2401.
Citation432 F.Supp.2d 768
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Thomas Howard Geoghegan, Carol Tran Nguyen, Despres Schwartz & Geoghegan, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs.

Donald J. Munro, Matthew M. Hoffman, Goodwin Proctor LLP, Washington, DC, Thomas William Cushing, Union Pacific Railroad Company, Chicago, IL, for Defendants.


KENDALL, District Judge.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (the "BLET" or the "Organization") brings this action under Section 3 First (q) of the Railway Labor Act ("RLA" or "Act"), 45 U.S.C. § 153 First (q), to vacate a set of awards issued on March 15, 2005 by the National Railroad Adjustment Board (the "NRAB" or the "Board"). In those awards, the NRAB dismissed each of five grievance claims against Union Pacific Railroad (the "Carrier") upon its finding that "since no evidence of conference was set forth in the on-property record, the Board is without authority to assume jurisdiction over the claim." Before the Court now is the Carrier's Motion to Dismiss the Organization's Petition to Review and to Vacate Awards. Accepting all well-pled facts in the Petition and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the Organization, this Court holds that: (1) the RLA requires conferencing even if a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") does not require conferencing, (2) the Board did not unlawfully limit its jurisdiction by refusing to consider evidence of conferencing outside of the on-property record and (3) the Board's procedure did not violate due process. Accordingly, the Carrier's Motion to Dismiss is granted.

The Railway Labor Act

Congress enacted the RLA in 1926 to promote the speedy and peaceful resolution of railroad labor disputes.1 See Union Pacific Railroad v. Sheehan, 439 U.S. 89, 94, 99 S.Ct. 399, 58 L.Ed.2d 354 (1978); Kulavic v. Chicago & Illinois Midland Ry., 1 F.3d 507, 515 (7th Cir.1993). The RLA established a "mandatory, exclusive, and comprehensive system for resolving grievance disputes" between railroads and their employees. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers v. Louisville & Nashville R.R., 373 U.S. 33, 38, 83 S.Ct. 1059, 10 L.Ed.2d 172 (1963). As part of this system, the RLA called for unsettled minor disputes to be referred to local boards of adjustment. These early adjustment boards, however, were established by voluntary agreement of the parties and lacked the authority to bind the parties. See Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v Chicago River & LR. Co., 353 U.S. 30, 36, 77 S.Ct. 635, 1 L.Ed.2d 622 (1957). These boards also were "composed of equal numbers of management and labor representatives and deadlocks over particular cases became commonplace. Since no procedure for breaking such deadlocks was provided, many disputes remained unsettled." Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Price, 360 U.S. 601, 610, 79 S.Ct. 1351, 3 L.Ed.2d 1460 (1959). Congress amended the RLA in 1934 to deal with these early difficulties, abolishing the voluntarily-created local boards of adjustment in favor of a national board and providing that [u]pon failure of any division to agree upon an award because of a deadlock or inability to secure a majority vote of the division members ... then such division shall forthwith agree upon and select a neutral person, to be known as `referee,' to sit with the division as a member thereof, and make an award." 45 U.S.C. § 153 First (1); see Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Chicago River & I.R. Co., 353 U.S. 30, 36-37, 77 S.Ct. 635, 1 L.Ed.2d 622 (1957) (National Railroad Adjustment Board "mak[es] it unnecessary for parties to agree to establish their own boards"). The current National Railroad Adjustment Board is composed of four divisions, each division having jurisdiction over disputes involving different classes or crafts of employees. See 45 U.S.C. § 153(h).

Among its roles, the RLA provides the machinery for resolving minor disputes between individual employees and their employers, where such disputes arise out of grievances or the interpretation of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules or working conditions. The first steps in the dispute resolution process take place on the railroad property. See Ryan v. Union Pacific R.R., 286 F.3d 456, 458 (7th Cir.2002). The parties' CBA here provides for an "on-property" process that includes a series of investigations, hearings and appeals up to the designated Labor Relations officer. See Petition, Exhibit B at 34 to A-36. Disputes that cannot be resolved on the property may be referred to the NRAB. See 45 U.S.C. § 153 First (i); Ryan, 286 F.3d at 458. In between these two stages, and at the center of the controversy in this case, is so-called "conferencing." The RLA discusses conferencing in two provisions:

All disputes between a carrier or carriers and its or their employees shall be considered, and, if possible, decided, with all expedition, in conference between representatives designated and authorized so to confer, respectively, by the carrier or carriers and by the employees thereof interested in the dispute.

45 U.S.C. § 152, Second.

In case of a dispute between a carrier or carriers and its or their employees, arising out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions, it shall be the duty of the designated representative or representatives of such carrier or carriers and of such employees, within ten days after the receipt of notice of a desire on the part of either party to confer in respect to such dispute, to specify a time and place at which such conference shall be held: Provided, (1) That the place so specified shall be situated upon the line of the carrier involved or as otherwise mutually agreed upon; and (2) that the time so specified shall allow the designated conferees reasonable opportunity to reach such place of conference, but shall not exceed twenty days from the receipt of such notice: And provided further, That nothing in this Act shall be construed to supersede the provisions of any agreement (as to conferences) then in effect between the parties. 45 U.S.C. § 152, Sixth (emphasis added). This statutory text, read in light of the historical purpose of the RLA, ultimately must guide this Court's resolution of the questions presented. See Burlington N. R.R., Co. v. Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, 481 U.S. 429, 444, 107 S.Ct. 1841, 95 L.Ed.2d 381 (1987) ("The Railway Labor Act `cannot be appreciated apart from the environment out of which it came and the purposes which it was designed to serve'"), quoting Elgin, J. & E. Ry. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 751, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 89 L.Ed. 1886 (1945) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting).

The Organization's Allegations

The Organization's petition seeks review of five awards issued by the First Division of the NRAB on March 15, 2005. (Compl.¶1.) The BLET and Union Pacific are parties to several agreements covering employees in the territory designated by Union Pacific as the Central Region. (Compl.¶ 8.) The Organization filed five claims with the Carrier relating to discipline decisions that the Carrier allegedly made in violation of one of the collective bargaining agreements. (Compl.¶11.) Pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the parties then engaged in an on-property investigation of the claims. (Compl.¶12.) After these on property proceedings, the Organization alleges that it held a conference with the Carrier regarding the claims. (Compl.¶14.) Failing to resolve the claims at the conference, the Organization sent a letter of intent to the NRAB to initiate hearings on the claims. (Compl.¶14.) In the letter of intent, the Organization did not allege that conferencing had occurred. (Compl.¶15.) The Carrier did not raise an objection regarding the lack of conferencing prior to or when the Organization filed its letter of intent. (Compl.¶18.) Indeed, neither party discussed conferencing in any of their pleadings or papers filed with the NRAB. (Compl.¶ 19.) The Carrier Board Member first raised an objection based on the lack of conferencing at the executive session of the NRAB held just prior to a March 18, 2004 hearing on these claims. (Compl.¶20.) The Organization argued that the Carrier's objection was untimely, but nevertheless offered to submit evidence that conferencing had, in fact, occurred. (Compl.¶ 22.) The neutral member of the NRAB panel, Referee Goldstein, initially said he would allow the submission of evidence on whether conferencing occurred but later refused to consider the evidence. (Compl.¶¶23, 25.) The NRAB then issued awards dismissing the five disciplinary claims, explaining in each:

The Board emphasizes that all evidence of the statutorily required conference is entirely absent from the on-property record where, in order to be considered by the Board, it must reside. Therefore, the Organization's belated production of support evidence, post-hearing in this case, no matter how convincing, cannot be entertained by the Board, given its function as an appellate tribunal, we stress.

See, e.g., Petition, Exhibit A, Award No. 26089, at 3.


When considering a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir.1995). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion will not be granted "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957).

Section 3 First (q) of the RLA allows this Court to set aside a NRAB award in whole or in part, or...

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