Detroit and Toledo Shore Line Railroad Company v. United Transportation Union

Decision Date09 December 1969
Docket NumberNo. 29,29
Citation90 S.Ct. 294,396 U.S. 142,24 L.Ed.2d 325
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Francis M. Shea, New York City, for petitioner.

Richard R. Lyman, Toledo, Ohio, for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises a question concerning the extent to which the Railway Labor Act of 19261 imposes an obligation upon the parties to a railroad labor dispute to maintain the status quo while the 'purposely long and drawn out' 2 procedures of the Act are exhausted. Petitioner, a railroad, contends that the status quo which the Act requires be maintained consists only of the working conditions specifically covered in the parties' existing collective bargaining agreement. Respondent railroad brotherhood contends that what must be preserved as the status quo are the actual, objective working conditions out of which the dispute arose, irrespective of whether these conditions are covered in an existing collective agreement. For the reasons stated below, we think that only the union's position is consistent with the language and purposes of the Railway Labor Act.

The facts involved in this case are these: The main line of the Detroit and Toledo Shore Line (Shore Line), petitioner's railroad, runs from Lang Yard in Toledo, Ohio, 50 miles north to Dearoad Yard near Detroit, Michigan. For many years prior to 1961, Lang Yard was the terminal at which all train and engine crews reported for work and from which they left at the end of the day. As the occasions arose, the Shore Line transported crews from Lang Yard to perform switching and other operations at various points to the north, assuming the costs of transportation and overtime for the crew members. On February 21, 1961, the railroad advised respondent the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen (BLF&E)3 of its intention to establish 'outlying work assignments'4 at Trenton, Michigan, a point on the main line about 35 miles north of Lang Yard. These new assignments would have required many employees to report for work at Trenton rather than Lang Yard where they had been reporting. The BLF&E responded to this announcement by filing a notice under § 6 of the Railway Labor Act5 proposing an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement to cover the changed working conditions of the employees who would work out of Trenton. Section 6 requires both the carrier and union to give the other party a 30-day notice of an 'intended change in agreements affecting rates of pay, rules, or working conditions.'6 Since the union thus invoked the 'major-dispute' settlement procedures of the Railway Labor Act,7 the dispute first went to conference and, when the parties failed to agree between themselves, then to the National Mediation Board.

While the case was pending before the National Mediation Board, the Shore Line announced two new outlying assignments at Dearoad, Michigan, at the northern end of the line. Because work crews could be taken by cab from Dearoad south to Trenton, the railroad concluded that it no longer needed to establish assignments at Trenton and so advised the Mediation Board. When the Dearoad assignments were announced, the union withdrew from the Mediation Board proceedings, and, before a Special Board of Adjustment convened under § 3 of the Act,8 challenged the railroad's right under the parties' collective agreement to establish outlying assignments. On November 30, 1965, the Special Board ruled that the Shore Line-BLF&E agreement did not prohibit the railroad from making the assignments.9

Relying in part on the ruling of the Special Board, the railroad notified the union on January 24, 1966, that it was reviving its plan for work assignments at Trenton. Again the union responded by filing a § 6 notice of a proposed change in the parties' collective agreement. This time the union sought to amend the agreement to forbid the railroad from making any outlying assignments at all. The parties were again unable to negotiate a settlement themselves, and on June 17, 1966, the union invoked the services of the National Mediation Board. While the Mediation Board proceedings were pending, the railroad posted a bulletin definitely creating the disputed work assignments at Trenton effective September 26, 1966. Faced with this unilateral change in working conditions, the union threatened a strike. The railroad then brought this action in the United States District Court to enjoin the BLF&E10 from calling and carrying out the allegedly illegal strike. The union counterclaimed for an injunction prohibiting the Shore Line from establishing outlying assignments on the ground that the status quo provision of § 6 of the Railway Labor Act forbids a carrier from taking unilateral action altering 'rates of pay, rules, or working conditions' while the dispute is pending before the National Mediation Board. The pertinent part of § 6 provides:11

'In every case where * * * the services of the Mediation Board have been requested by either party * * *, rates of pay, rules, or working conditions shall not be altered by the carrier until the controversy has been finally acted upon * * * by the Mediation Board, * * *.' 45 U.S.C. § 156.

The District Court dismissed the railroad's complaint, from which no appeal has been taken, but it granted the injunction sought by the union restraining the railroad from establishing any new outlying assignments at Trenton or elsewhere.12 The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the issuance of the injunction against the railroad. 401 F.2d 368 (1968). We granted certiorari, 393 U.S. 1116, 89 S.Ct. 990, 22 L.Ed.2d 121 (1969).

In granting the injunction the District Court held that the status quo requirement of § 6 prohibited the Shore Line from making outlying assignments even though there was nothing in the parties' collective agreement which prohibited such assignments. The Shore Line vigorously challenges this holding. It contends that the purpose of the status quo provisions of the Act is to guarantee only that existing collective agreements continue to govern the parties' rights and duties during efforts to change those agreements. Therefore, the railroad argues, what Congress intended by writing in § 6 that 'rates of pay, rules, or working conditions shall not be altered' was that rates of pay, rules, or working conditions as expressed in an agreement shall not be altered. And since nothing in the railroad's agreement with the union precluded the railroad from altering the location of work assignments, this working condition was not 'expressed in an agreement.' Thus, the argument runs, the railroad could make outlying assignments without violating the status quo provision of § 6, and the judgments below must be reversed.

We note at the outset that the language of § 6 simply does not say what the railroad would have it say. Instead, the section speaks plainly of 'rates of pay, rules, or working conditions' without any limitation to those obligations already embodied in collective agreements. More important, we are persuaded that the railroad's interpretation of this section is sharply at variance with the overall design and purpose of the Railway Labor Act.

The Railway Labor Act was passed in 1926 to encourage collective bargaining by railroads and their employees in order to prevent, if possible, wasteful strikes and interruptions of interstate commerce.13 The problem of strikes was considered to be particularly acute in the area of 'major disputes,' those disputes involving the formation of collective agreements and efforts to change them. Elgin, J & E.R. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 722—726, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 1289—1291, 89 L.Ed. 1886 (1945). Rather than rely upon compulsory arbitration, to which both sides were bitterly opposed, the railroad and union representatives who drafted the Act chose to leave the settlement of major disputes entirely to the processes of noncompulsory adjustment. Id., at 724, 65 S.Ct. at 1290. To this end, the Act established rather elaborate machinery for negotiation, mediation, volun- tary arbitration, and conciliation. General Committee of Adjustment of B.L.E. v. Missouri-K.T.R. Co., 320 U.S. 323, 328 333, 64 S.Ct. 146, 148—151, 88 L.Ed. 76 (1943). It imposed upon the parties an obligation to make every reasonable effort to negotiate a settlement and to refrain from altering the status quo by resorting to self-help while the Act's remedies were being exhausted.14 Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Jacksonville Terminal Co., 394 U.S. 369, 378, 89 S.Ct. 1109, 1115, 22 L.Ed.2d 344 (1969); Elgin, J. & E.R. Co. v. Burley, supra, 325 U.S. at 721 731, 65 S.Ct., at 1288—1294; Texas & N.O.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Railway & S. S. Clerks, 281 U.S. 548, 565—566, 50 S.Ct. 427, 432, 74 L.Ed. 1034 (1930). A final and crucial aspect of the Act was the power given to the parties and to representatives of the public to make the exhaustion of the Act's remedies an almost interminable process. As we noted in Brotherhood of Railway & Steamship Clerks, etc. v. Florida E.C.R. Co., 384 U.S. 238, 246, 86 S.Ct. 1420, 1424, 16 L.Ed.2d 501 (1966), 'the procedures of the Act are purposely long and drawn out, based on the hope that reason and practical considerations will provide in time an agreement that resolves the dispute.'

The Act's status quo requirement is central to its design. Its immediate effect is to prevent the union from striking and management from doing anything that would justify a strike. In the long run, delaying the time when the parties can resort to self-help provides time for tempers to cool, helps create an atmosphere in which rational bargaining can occur, and permits the forces of public opinion to be mobilized in favor of a settlement without a strike or lockout. Moreover, since disputes usually arise when one party wants to change the status...

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