Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers v. Boston & Maine Corp., 85-1852

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
Citation788 F.2d 794
Docket NumberNo. 85-1852,85-1852
Parties122 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2020, 104 Lab.Cas. P 11,867 BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. BOSTON & MAINE CORPORATION, Defendant, Appellee.
Decision Date09 April 1986

Page 794

788 F.2d 794
122 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2020, 104 Lab.Cas. P 11,867
BOSTON & MAINE CORPORATION, Defendant, Appellee.
No. 85-1852.
United States Court of Appeals,
First Circuit.
Argued Feb. 5, 1986.
Decided April 9, 1986.

Page 796

Harold A. Ross, with whom Joseph E. Prekop, Ross & Kraushaar Co., L.P.A., Cleveland, Ohio, Donald J. Siegel, Segal Roitman & Coleman, Boston, Mass., were on brief, for plaintiff, appellant.

Stephen M. Olson, David J. Strasser, James E. Howard, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Pittsburgh, Pa., were on brief, for defendant, appellee.

Before COFFIN and ALDRICH, Circuit Judges, PETTINE, Senior District Judge *.

COFFIN, Circuit Judge.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (Brotherhood) filed suit in federal court in the District of Massachusetts seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for alleged violations of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. Sec. 151, et seq. (1982), by the Boston & Maine Corporation (B & M). The district court dismissed the case for want of subject matter jurisdiction, ruling that Brotherhood did not raise a "major" dispute under the RLA. Brotherhood appeals that decision and we affirm.


Brotherhood represents employees who have been affected by a change in the operations of B & M in New Hampshire. B & M leased the New Hampshire Lines, a portion of its track, to another railroad, New England Southern Railroad (NES). The New Hampshire Lines run from Manchester, New Hampshire, to Penacook, New Hampshire, spanning twenty-seven miles.

B & M and NES filed a joint petition pursuant to the Interstate Commerce Act (ICA), 49 U.S.C. Sec. 10505, with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) for exemption of the lease transaction. The ICC granted the requested exemption, subject to the employee protective conditions specified in Mendocino Coast Railway, Inc.--Lease and Operate--California Western Railroad, 354 I.C.C. 732 (1978), as modified at 360 I.C.C. 653 (1980).

B & M informed Brotherhood that it would make several operational changes because positions on the leased track would now be serviced by NES employees. First, the unit coal trains, which had run from Mechanicville, New York to Concord, New Hampshire would now stop in Bow, New Hampshire, rather than Concord. 1 Second, the length of the East Deerfield, Massachusetts to Concord route (EDCO/COED) was also shortened; Brotherhood members would work on the lines only as far as Manchester, New Hampshire, rather than Concord. 2 Third, B & M abolished the switching assignment at Concord, affecting one employee.

Pursuant to the RLA, Brotherhood served notice on B & M, proposing to revise and supplement the existing collective bargaining agreement to require that all traffic on B & M-owned trackage be serviced by B & M employees, regardless of leasing

Page 797

arrangements. In accordance with RLA requirements, B & M met with Brotherhood to discuss the proposal, but no agreement was reached.

Brotherhood then brought this action, contending that the proposed changes in working conditions were RLA violations, which presented "major" disputes under the Act. It sought a status quo injunction from the district court, enjoining B & M from proceeding with these changes. B & M argued that the district court lacked jurisdiction over Brotherhood's claims for two independent reasons: first, because the relief sought constituted a collateral attack on the ICC order exempting the lease from regulation, and second, because the disputes were "minor" under the RLA. The district court did not address B & M's ICC argument, but agreed with B & M that the disputes were minor.


We first review whether the district court was correct in finding that it had no jurisdiction because the disputes were minor. The RLA provides for the resolution of two types of disputes between carriers and labor organizations: major disputes and minor disputes. 3 A major dispute relates to the formation or modification of the collective bargaining agreement, including disputes over rates of pay, rules, or working conditions. Carbone v. Meserve, 645 F.2d 96, 98 (1st Cir.1981). 4 If a district court finds the existence of a major dispute, it may enjoin either party from altering the status quo during the course of the negotiated proceedings mandated by section 6 of the RLA. Detroit & Toledo Shore Line Railroad v. United Transportation Union, 396 U.S. 142, 155, 90 S.Ct. 294, 302, 24 L.Ed.2d 325 (1969).

A minor dispute contemplates an existing agreement and a disagreement regarding "the meaning or proper application of a particular provision with reference to a specific situation or to an omitted case." Carbone, 645 F.2d at 96 (quoting Elgin, J. & E. Railway v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 723, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 1290, 89 L.Ed. 1886 (1945). Such disputes are entrusted exclusively to arbitration by the National Railroad Adjustment Board (NRAB). 45 U.S.C. Sec. 153, First. A district court has no jurisdiction over such disputes, and thus a party may not obtain a status quo injunction. Carbone, 645 F.2d at 98. 5

Our task, then, is to determine whether the disagreements in this case were unilateral attempts to change the contract (major disputes) or were merely disagreements over the meaning or coverage of the contract (minor disputes). Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association v. Caribbean Atlantic Airlines, 412 F.2d 289, 291 (1st Cir.1969). If the railroad acted in a manner it admitted was not in conformity with the existing agreement, a major dispute would be found; the same result obtains when the railroad's claimed justification has no reasonable basis in the contract. Southern Railway v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Fire & Engineers, 384 F.2d 323, 327 (D.C.Cir.1967). When, however, the "railroad asserts a defense based on the terms of the existing collective bargaining agreement, the controversy may not be termed a 'major' dispute unless the

Page 798

claimed defense is so obviously insubstantial as to warrant the inference that it is raised with intent to circumvent the procedures prescribed by Sec. 6 for alteration of existing agreements." Id. In short, if the dispute is arguably a question of interpretation or application of the contract, the court must defer to the expertise of the NRAB and decline to exercise jurisdiction. REA Express, Inc. v. Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks, 459 F.2d 226, 231 (5th Cir.1972).

Brotherhood contends that B & M's operational changes present "major" disputes, entitling it to a status quo injunction from the federal court. In Count I of its complaint, Brotherhood challenged B & M's abrogation of a 1968 collective bargaining agreement applicable to the unit coal train route from Mechanicville to Concord. Since 1968, employees assigned to this route worked under conditions and rates of pay established by the 1968 agreement, whose conditions were more favorable than those in the general collective bargaining agreement. When the NES lease became effective, the coal trains no longer ran from Mechanicville to Concord, but instead ran from Mechanicville to Bow, five miles south of Concord. B & M indicated that Brotherhood employees on that route would now work under the conditions in the general collective bargaining agreement. B & M defended this action by reference to the 1968 agreement, asserting that the agreement did not apply to the new route because it expressly covered trains operating "between Mechanicville, New York and Concord, New Hampshire". (emphasis added). 6

Brotherhood argues that B & M has abrogated the 1968 collective bargaining agreement by not applying it to employees on the Mechanicville-to-Bow route. According to Brotherhood, this abrogation constitutes a unilateral change in the major conditions of employment. It further claims that B & M's contract defense, that the 1968 agreement only applies to trains between Mechanicville and Concord, is not arguably justified by the terms of that agreement. The pay and working conditions have changed but the route remains essentially the same. Unit coal trains still travel from from Mechanicville to Bow; after reaching Bow, the trains are now taken one mile south for work and the crew is taken ten miles south for rest, instead of the trains and crew being taken five miles north to Concord.

We note, as did the district court, that Brotherhood's argument that the 1968 agreement effectively has been made inoperable is not without some merit. As a result of the lease, no unit coal train employees will work on a Mechanicville to Concord route, and thus no employee will be eligible for the more favorable pay and working conditions available under the 1968 agreement.

Our task, however, is not to arbitrate this dispute, but to determine if "it is even arguable that" the railroad's action was warranted by the contract. Carbone v....

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