International Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers v. Northwest Airlines, Inc.

Citation673 F.2d 700
Decision Date16 March 1982
Docket NumberNo. 81-1477,81-1477
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Carmine A. Iannaccone (argued), Stryker, Tams & Dill, Newark, N. J., for appellant.

Kevin P. Quill (argued), Nolan, Bell & Moore, Newark, N. J., for appellee.

Before SEITZ, Chief Judge, GARTH, Circuit Judge and CAHN, District Judge *.


GARTH, Circuit Judge.

The question presented by this appeal is whether jurisdiction exists in a federal district court under Section 2 of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 152, which would permit the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO (IAM) to maintain an action against Northwest Airlines, Inc. (Northwest) for allegedly disciplining employees as a means of undermining IAM as their union representative. Northwest, denying these allegations, contended that the claims presented here by IAM constituted no more than a "minor dispute" which Section 3 of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 153, commits to resolution by arbitration. Thus, Northwest moved to dismiss IAM's complaint, on the ground that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The district court denied Northwest's motions, but certified the jurisdictional issue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).

We hold that since the record does not demonstrate that Northwest had violated Section 2 by attempting to destroy or undermine IAM's representation of its employees, that the dispute involving the disciplinary actions taken by Northwest are "minor" disputes without the jurisdiction of the federal district courts. Thus, we vacate the order of the district court.


IAM, in a verified complaint, alleged that Northwest has "interferred (sic) in the representation of its employee members of the (IAM) by harassment, threats, survalence (sic), discipline, suspension, and firing of shop stewards and committeemen who were acting on behalf of the (IAM) in performing representational duties." The complaint described one specific incident of harassment by Northwest against IAM shop stewards. According to the complaint, Northwest's Newark District Manager, Milo Matthews, threatened four IAM shop stewards that "he would get them after New Years." This threat according to IAM, allegedly resulted in the shop stewards resigning their union posts as shop stewards, even though they remained as Northwest employees. The complaint further charged that thereafter the four former shop stewards were discharged and two members of the IAM safety committee were suspended from employment on sham charges of infractions of company rules. Accordingly, the IAM claimed that the discharges and suspensions were motivated by anti-union animus and constituted a pattern of interference, harassment, and coercion in violation of Section 2 of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 152 Fourth, Eighth and Tenth.

The complaint alleged additional violations of the Act, in that, allegedly, Northwest officials made derogatory statements about IAM, advised employees not to use IAM for grievances, and professed that Northwest did not have to comply with the Act. Furthermore, Northwest allegedly refused to permit "authorized" IAM agents to represent the disciplined employees. IAM asserted that these actions by Northwest also constituted violations of the Section 2.

IAM sought an injunction prohibiting Northwest from interfering with the representation of its employees by IAM, requiring Northwest to "treat with" non-employee representatives of IAM, and prohibiting Northwest from disciplining employees for their activities as IAM representatives. In addition, the complaint sought reinstatement with full back pay for the six disciplined employees.

Northwest, on the other hand, denied that it had violated Section 2 or that its conduct in any way harassed or threatened IAM through its members. It asserted that the only true dispute presented, was whether the discharge and suspensions of the six individuals was for "just cause" under the IAM-Northwest Collective Bargaining Agreement, claiming that the six employees were disciplined solely because they violated work rules and regulations. Such disputes, according to Northwest, are expressly reserved by the Act and the Agreement to arbitration. 1

In support of its motion addressed to the court's jurisdiction, Northwest filed a verified statement of facts which detailed the following circumstances leading to Northwest's discipline of the six employees:

1. On February 16, 1978, Jeffrey Martens was suspended for five days for defacing the interior cabin wall of a Northwest aircraft by drawing a picture of his immediate superior holding a penis.

2. On February 16, 1978, Thomas Petersel was suspended for three days for smoking in a no smoking area of an aircraft while standing beneath a smoke detector. On February 17, 1978, Petersel, while on disciplinary leave, reported for work, and was directed to leave the premises. Petersel refused to heed this direction and threatened a supervisor with physical harm, calling him a "fat fucking fag." As a result of these actions, Northwest discharged Petersel.

3. On February 18, 1978, Gerald McDonnell was discharged for various violations of company rules including making obscene gestures (feigning masturbation) at management officials in full view of passengers and calling his supervisor a "fag" and asking if he "wanted a date with some young boys."

4. On February 22, 1978 Michael Nelson was discharged for failing to cooperate in an investigation concerning apparent sabotage to Northwest aircraft and ground loading equipment, refusing to record his time of arrival at his work location, and engaging in a work slowdown. Previously, Northwest had disciplined Nelson for leaving the premises during work hours. An investigation of these incidents disclosed that on such occasions Nelson left the airport during his shift to visit his paramour.

5. On March 1, 1978 Robert Williams was suspended for three weeks for conduct including: failure to report to work at the start of his shift; unauthorized absence from his work areas on February 18, 1978; making disrespectful and slanderous remarks to management; indicating that he was engaged in a work slowdown; unauthorized absence from work on February 23, 1978; and insubordination resulting from his return to work after being withheld from service indefinitely on February 23, 1978.

6. On March 13, 1978 Michael McCarthy was discharged for punching his immediate supervisor. The supervisor was a fellow member of IAM.

IAM's contentions are found in its verified complaint and in the affidavits submitted with its motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, both of which were denied. None of the particular facts recited above were controverted under oath in any response by IAM.

Pursuant to the procedure provided in Article XII of the Northwest-IAM Collective Bargaining Agreement, the six employees had grieved their discharges and suspensions. After an initial hearing and appeal, their grievances were denied on April 26, 1978. IAM then sought arbitration before the IAM-Northwest System Board of Adjustment in accordance with Article XIII of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Due to the illness of the neutral member of the System Board, hearings were not scheduled before the Board until September 21 and 22, 1978. In the interim, on May 9, 1978, IAM filed the present action in the district court in the district for New Jersey. 2

On July 8, 1980, Northwest moved "for an Order dismissing the complaint or alternatively granting summary judgment dismissing the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction...." Northwest contended that the Act and the applicable collective bargaining agreement required that the subject matter of the complaint be arbitrated by the NWA-IAM System Board of Adjustment, the exclusive statutory mechanism for resolving the labor disputes alleged by IAM. The district court denied Northwest's motion, but on Northwest's application, certified the jurisdictional issue for interlocutory appeal, which was granted.


The Railway Labor Act is made applicable to the airline industry by 45 U.S.C. §§ 181-187. See International Association of Machinists v. Central Airlines, 372 U.S. 682, 685-89, 83 S.Ct. 956, 958-60, 10 L.Ed.2d 67 (1963). Section 3(i), of the Act, 45 U.S.C. § 153(i) provides that "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" are to be resolved by the National Adjustment Board after negotiation between the parties fails. Section 204 of the 1936 amendments to the Act, 45 U.S.C. § 184, requires the parties to a collective bargaining agreement in the airline industry to establish a board of adjustment to resolve through arbitration, the grievances and other disputes to which § 153(i) refers.

As contrasted with Section 153(i) disputes, controversies arising under Section 2 which involve representational conflicts, are not committed to the adjustment boards for resolution. Such disputes are governed by 45 U.S.C. § 152, which we discuss infra in part II.B.


It is now well-established that Congress intended to commit so-called "minor disputes"-those arising out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of collective bargaining agreements-to the exclusive jurisdiction of the boards of adjustment established under the Act. Andrews v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad, 406 U.S. 320, 92 S.Ct. 1562, 32 L.Ed.2d 95 (1971).

In this Circuit, Goclowski v. Penn Cent. Transp. Co., 571 F.2d 747 (3d Cir. 1977) unambiguously sets out the differences between minor and major disputes:


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