Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Chicago River Indiana Railroad Company

Decision Date25 March 1957
Docket NumberNo. 313,313
Citation1 L.Ed.2d 622,77 S.Ct. 635,353 U.S. 30
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. William C. Wines, Chicago, Ill., for petitioners.

Mr. Walter J. Cummings, Jr., Chicago, Ill., for respondents.

Mr. Chief Justice WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We are asked to interpret that provision of the Railway Labor Act1 which created the National Railroad Adjustment Board for the resolution of minor grievances in the event that the parties were unable to settle them by negotiation. The ultimate question is whether a railway labor organization can resort to a strike over matters pending before the Adjustment Board.2

The Chicago River and Indiana Railroad Company operates the switching and yard facilities at the Chicago stockyards. A segment of the employees of the River Road were represented by the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. A collective bargaining agreement between the Brotherhood and the River Road was in existence throughout the period covered by this case. The present disagreement arises from an accumulation of twenty-one grievances of members of the Brotherhood against the carrier. Nineteen of these were claims for additional compensation, one was a claim for reinstatement to a higher position, and one was for reinstatement in the employ of the carrier. When negotiations failed, the Brotherhood called a strike. Because of the serious nature of the impending work stoppage, the National Mediation Board proffered its services. The mediator was unsuccessful, and upon his withdrawal, the River Road submitted the controversy to the Adjustment Board. The Brotherhood promptly issued a strike call for four days later.

The River Road then sought relief from a District Court. Because of the threatened irreparable injury to the carrier, its employees and the 600 industries and 27 railroads served by it, the complaint prayed for a preliminary injunction, and ultimately a permanent injunction, against a strike by the Brotherhood over the grievances pending before the Adjustment Board. A temporary restraining order was issued, but that order was vacated and the complaint dismissed upon the finding by the district judge that the Norris-LaGuardia Act, 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 101—115, was applicable and that the court lacked jurisdiction to grant the relief requested. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed. 229 F.2d 926. A permanent injunc- tion was accordingly entered by the District Court and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit. We granted certiorari in order to resolve an important question concerning interpretation and application of the Railway Labor Act.3 352 U.S. 865, 77 S.Ct. 97, 1 L.Ed.2d 73.

The grievances for which redress is sought by the Brotherhood are admittedly 'minor disputes' as that phrase is known in the parlance of the Railway Labor Act. These are controversies over the meaning of an existing collective bargaining agreement in a particular fact situation, generally involving only one employee. § 2, Sixth.4 They may be contrasted with 'major disputes' which result when there is disagreement in the bargaining process for a new contract. § 2, Seventh.5 See Elgin, J. & E.R. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 722—724, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 1289, 1290, 89 L.Ed. 1886.

The first step toward settlement of either kind of dispute is negotiation and conference between the parties. Section 3, First (i)6 provides that—

'The disputes between an employee or group of employees and a carrier or carriers growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions * * * shall be handled in the usual manner up to and including the chief operating officer of the carrier designated to handle such disputes * * *.'

If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the section continues—

'* * * but, failing to reach an adjustment in this manner, the disputes may be referred by petition of the parties or by either party to the appropriate division of the (National Railroad) Adjustment Board with a full statement of the facts and all supporting data bearing upon the disputes.'

Section 3, First (m)7 declares that—

'The awards of the several divisions of the Adjustment Board * * * shall be final and binding upon both parties to the dispute * * *.'

This language is unequivocal. Congress has set up a tribunal to handle minor disputes which have not been resolved by the parties themselves. Awards of this Board are 'final and binding upon both parties.' And either side may submit the dispute to the Board. The Brotherhood suggests that we read the act to mean only that an Adjustment Board has been organized and that the parties are free to make use of its procedures of they wish to; but that there is no compulsion on either side to allow the Board to settle a dispute if an alternative remedy, such as resort to economic duress, seems more desirable. 8 Such an interpretation would render meaningless those provisions in the Act which allow one side to submit a dispute to the Board, whose decision shall be find and binding on both sides. If the Brotherhood is correct, the Adjustment Board could act only if the union and the carrier were amenable to its doing so. The language of § 3, First, reads otherwise and should be literally applied in the absence of a clear showing of a contrary or qualified intention of Congress.

Legislative history of the provisions creating the National Railroad Adjustment Board reinforces the literal interpretation of the Act. The present law is a composite of two major pieces of legislation. Most of the basic framework was adopted in 1926.9 In 1934, after eight years of experience, the statute was amended, and in that amendment the Adjustment Board was born. 10

The distinction between 'major disputes' and 'minor disputes' was found in the 1926 statute. Above the level of negotiation and conference, each was to follow a separate procedure. Section 3, First,11 of that Act called upon carriers or groups of carriers and their employees to agree to the formation of boards of adjustment, composed equally of representatives of labor and management, to resolve the 'minor disputes.' If this step were unsuccessful, these disputes along with the 'major disputes' became a function of the Board of Mediation, predecessor of the National Mediation Board.

The obvious lack of any compulsion toward a settlement of disputes was a basic characteristic of the Act and proved to be a major weakness in the procedures for handling 'minor disputes.' As stated in the Report of the House of Representatives Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, after hearings on the 1934 amendment: 'In many instances * * * the carriers and the employees have been unable to reach agreements to establish such boards (of adjustment).' H.R.Rep. No. 1944, 73d Cong., 2d Sess. 3. This was not the only weak- ness, however. 'Many thousands of these (minor) disputes have been considered by boards established under the Railway Labor Act; but the boards have been unable to reach a majority decision, and so the proceedings have been deadlocked.' Ibid.

This condition was in market contrast to the declared purpose of the 1926 Act '* * * to settle all disputes, whether arising out of the application of * * * agreements or otherwise, in order to avoid any interruption to commerce or to the operation of any carrier growing out of any dispute between the carrier and the employee thereof.' § 2, First.12 The Report continued:

'These unadjusted disputes have become so numerous that on several occasions the employees have resorted to the issuance of strike ballots and threatened to interrupt interstate commerce in order to secure an adjustment. This has made it necessary for the President of the United States to intervene and establish an emergency board to investigate the controversies. This condition should be corrected in the interest of industrial peace and of uninterrupted transportation service.' Ibid.

The means chosen to correct this situation are the present provisions of § 3, First, concerning the National Railroad Adjustment Board. The Board was set up by Congress, making it unnecessary for the parties to agree to establish their own boards.13 In case of a deadlock on the Adjustment Board, which continued the policy of equal representation of labor and management, the appro- priate division is allowed to select a neutral referee to sit with them and break the tie. If the division cannot agree even on a referee, the Act provides that one shall be appointed by the National Mediation Board.14 Thus was the machinery built for the disposition of minor grievances.

The change was made with the full concurrence of the national railway labor organizations. Commissioner Joseph B. Eastman, Federal Coordinator of Transportation and principal draftsman of the 1934 bill, complimented the unions on conceding the right to strike over 'minor disputes' in favor of the procedures of the Adjustment Board:

'The willingness of the employees to agree to such a provision is, in my judgment, a very important concession and one of which full advantage should be taken in the public interest. I regard it as, perhaps, the most important part of the bill.'15

Asked if the Act made it a matter of discretion whether disputes would be submitted to the Adjustment Board, he replied in the negative. It was, he said, a matter of duty—

'* * * and it is my understanding that the employees in the case of these minor grievances—and that is all that can be dealt with by the adjustment board—are entirely agreeable to those provisions of the law.

'I think that is a very important concession on their part. * * * (T)his law is in effect an agreement on the part of the parties to arbitrate all of these minor disputes.'16

The chief spokesman for the railway labor organizations was ...

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