Railway Labor Executives' Ass'n v. Pittsburgh & Lake Erie R. Co.

Decision Date08 April 1988
Docket NumberNo. 87-3797,87-3797
Citation845 F.2d 420
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
Parties128 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2030, 56 USLW 2598, 108 Lab.Cas. P 10,436 RAILWAY LABOR EXECUTIVES' ASSOCIATION, Appellee, v. PITTSBURGH & LAKE ERIE RAILROAD CO., Appellant, Interstate Commerce Commission, Intervenor.

John O'B. Clarke, Jr. (argued), Highsaw & Mahoney, P.C. Washington, D.C., Stanley W. Greenfield, Graydon R. Brewer, Greenfield and Associates, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellee.

Richard L. Wyatt, Jr. (argued), Ronald M. Johnson, Mary K. Qualiana, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Washington, D.C., G. Edward Yurcon, Vice President--Law, The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie R. Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellants.

Robert S. Burk, General Counsel, Henri F. Rush, Deputy General Counsel, John J. McCarthy, Jr., Deputy Associate General Counsel, Clyde J. Hart, Jr. (argued), Interstate Commerce Com'n, Washington, D.C., for intervenor.

Stephen M. Olson (argued), David J. Strasser, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Pittsburgh, Pa., for amicus curiae--P & LE Railco, Inc.

Ralph J. Moore, Jr., Richard T. Conway, Shea & Gardner, David P. Lee, Vice Chairman & General Counsel, Nat. Ry. Labor Conference, Washington, D.C., for amicus curiae Nat. Ry. Labor Conference.

Before BECKER, HUTCHINSON and COWEN, Circuit Judges.


BECKER, Circuit Judge.

In 1926, Congress enacted the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), in order to prevent railroad strikes from crippling interstate commerce. See ch. 347, 44 Stat. 577 (1926), now codified as amended at 45 U.S.C. Secs. 151-188 (1982); Detroit & Toledo Shore Line R.R. v. United Transp. Union, 396 U.S. 142, 148, 90 S.Ct. 294, 298, 24 L.Ed.2d 325 (1969). The RLA prohibits a railroad employer from changing "rates of pay, rules, or working conditions" while a dispute concerning changes in a collective bargaining agreement is being negotiated. 45 U.S.C. Sec. 156 (1982).

In 1887, Congress enacted the Interstate Commerce Act ("ICA"), beginning almost a century of comprehensive regulation of interstate transportation in this country. See ch. 104, 24 Stat. 379 (1887). After successive expansions of the scope of the ICA, see, e.g., Transportation Act of 1920, ch. 91, 41 Stat. 456 (1920); Transportation Act of 1940, ch. 722, 54 Stat. 898 (1940), the trend of increasing regulation was broken in 1976 and again in 1980, when Congress passed the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, Pub.L. No. 94-210, 90 Stat. 31, and the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, Pub.L. No. 96-448, 94 Stat. 1895. Most pertinent to this case, these Acts drastically reduced the amount of federal involvement in rail mergers and acquisitions, in an effort to implement a congressional policy favoring expedited approvals of sales of railroads, particularly railroads that are in danger of failing. See generally H.R.Conf.Rep. No. 1430, 96th Cong., 2d Sess., reprinted in 1980 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 3978, 4110. Under this legislation, the Interstate Commerce Commission ("ICC" or "Commission") has the express power to impose so-called "labor protective" conditions on a sale. See, e.g., 49 U.S.C. Secs. 10901(e), 11347 (1985).

This case presents an important question of first impression at the intersection of these two statutes: whether a railroad has a duty to refrain from completing a sale of its rail assets pending bargaining under the RLA over the effects of that sale on the employees' working conditions, when the ICC has granted expedited approval to the (proposed) sale without imposition of labor protective conditions.

The case arises in the context of an appeal from an order granting summary judgment for the plaintiff, Railway Labor Executives Association ("RLEA" or "the unions"), and granting a permanent injunction against the defendant, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad ("P & LE" or "the railroad"). Plaintiff RLEA is an unincorporated association of the chief executive officers of nineteen railway labor unions, including all fourteen unions that represent P & LE's employees. The district court, in granting summary judgment, ordered the railroad to comply with the "major dispute" resolution procedures of the Railway Labor Act. Moreover, in spite of the fact that the ICC had already approved the proposed sale, the court enjoined the railroad from proceeding with the sale of its assets until those procedures had been exhausted, unless the sale agreement included provisions guaranteeing that the employees' current working conditions, including rates of pay, be maintained (the "status quo injunction").

We have little difficulty in concluding that the railroad's decision to sell its rail assets and the consequential elimination of a substantial number of rail jobs presents a so-called "major dispute" under the Railway Labor Act and, therefore, that the railroad must bargain over the effects of that decision. Under the RLA, the railroad must maintain the status quo, including the existence of current jobs and rates of pay, while the bargaining process is pending. We have much greater difficulty with the question of the effect of the ICA on this duty, for there is a strong tension between the policies of the two Acts and, unfortunately, Congress has stranded the courts at the crossing. P & LE contends that the policies expressed in the ICA, particularly as applied by the Interstate Commerce Commission in this case, should relieve the railroad of any obligations it has under the RLA. The unions, however, argue that the status quo injunction does not conflict with the Commission's approval and is, in fact, mandated by the RLA.

We confess to finding the solution proposed by each party to be unsatisfactory. Dominating our thinking, however, is a reluctance to impinge on a congressional statutory mandate (the RLA) without a clear congressional authorization (and we find none), or to find an implied repeal of the requirements of the venerable Railway Labor Act without an unavoidable conflict between the mandates of the two statutes (and such a conflict is not ineluctable). See Watt v. Alaska, 451 U.S. 259, 266-67, 101 S.Ct. 1673, 1677-78, 68 L.Ed.2d 80 (1981). We are particularly reluctant to find such a repeal here, where Congress has so recently addressed itself to deregulating the rail industry, yet has not chosen to relieve management of any of the onerous burdens imposed by the RLA. Moreover, because the Commission's approval of the transaction was merely permissive, we do not view an injunction against the sale as an attack on the ICC's order; and because the approval stemmed from a process in which labor's interests are only one of fifteen factors considered by the Commission, we do not believe that Congress intended that rail labor rely solely on the ICC for protection, to the exclusion of labor's rights under the RLA. For these reasons, we conclude that Congress did not intend the Commission's approval of the transaction without the imposition of substantive labor protective conditions to relieve the railroad of its obligation to comply with the exclusive, congressionally-mandated RLA dispute resolution procedures.

We recognize that, arguably, in our effort to avoid impinging on the RLA, our decision instead has the effect of contravening the mandate of the ICA. We do not believe that it does but, if we are mistaken, we still believe we have reached the correct result: plainly, if either a grant or a denial of the status quo injunction will conflict with a statutory mandate, we must reconcile the two statutes as much as possible and attempt to reach a result that will produce the minimum possible conflict with congressional intent. As we will demonstrate, any conflict with the ICA produced by the order to maintain the status quo is substantially less than the conflict with the RLA that would result from a denial of the injunction. We therefore choose the path of least destruction, and the one we deem most consistent with Supreme Court precedent. If Congress intended a different result--and we concede that a different result might well be desirable--it should have said so. We therefore will affirm the district court's order.

A. The Railway Labor Act

The Railway Labor Act is the product of a joint effort by labor and management representatives to channel labor disputes into constructive resolution procedures as a means of avoiding interruptions to commerce and preventing strikes. See Detroit & Toledo Shore Line R.R. v. United Transp. Union, 396 U.S. 142, 148-49 & n. 13, 90 S.Ct. 294, 298-99 & n. 13, 24 L.Ed.2d 325 (1969). There are two types of disputes that can arise under the RLA--"major" disputes, which involve efforts to form or proposals to change collective bargaining agreements, and "minor" disputes, which require the interpretation or application of a specific provision of a collective bargaining agreement. 1 See Detroit & Toledo Shore Line, 396 U.S. at 148, 90 S.Ct. at 298; Elgin, J. & E. Ry. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 722-28, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 1289-92, 89 L.Ed. 1886 (1945); International Ass'n of Machinists v. Northwest Airlines, 673 F.2d 700, 705-06 (3d Cir.1982).

Major disputes "look to the acquisition of rights for the future, not to assertion of rights claimed to have vested in the past"; in minor disputes, "the claim is to rights accrued, not merely to have new ones created for the future." Elgin, J. & E. Ry., 325 U.S. at 723, 65 S.Ct. at 1290. Minor disputes are resolved through a formal grievance process that culminates in binding arbitration performed by the National Railroad Adjustment Board. RLA Sec. 3, 45 U.S.C. Sec. 153. Major disputes, on the other hand, are channeled into an exhaustive bargaining process, designed to force the parties into serious negotiation and to encourage compromise. RLA Sec. 6, 45 U.S.C. Sec. 156; see Detroit & Toledo Shore Line, 396 U.S. at 148-50, 90 S.Ct. at 298-99.

When a minor dispute arises, the parties are not...

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