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AKRON & BARBERTON BELT R.R. CO. v. BROTHERHOOD OF

March 3, 1966

Akron & Barberton Belt Railroad Company, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, et al., Defendants


Holtzoff, D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

This is an action brought by a group of railroads against several organizations of railway employees for an injunction against calling a strike and for a declaratory judgment. The suit was instituted in the light of the termination of the effective period of two years, of an award of a compulsory arbitration directed by Congress in respect to certain issues in controversy between the parties. A temporary restraining order was granted at the institution of this action and has been extended by consent to continue until after the trial.

 Pursuant to a pretrial order made with the consent of the parties a hearing has been held on the following two basic issues in advance of the trial: (a) the effect of the expiration of the period during which the Award of Arbitration Board No. 282 continued in force, as provided in Section IV of that Award pursuant to Section 4 of Public Law 88-108; and (b) whether the Norris-LaGuardia Act is applicable to the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief. This decision deals with these two questions.

 At the outset it is desirable to analyze and summarize the somewhat complicated system prescribed by the Railway Labor Act (Act of May 20, 1926, 44 Stat. 577, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.) for amicable adjustments of labor disputes in the railroad industry. The statute contains a well conceived, carefully planned, elaborate scheme for the settlement of differences between carriers and their employees by means of negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. It provides in detail certain specified steps to be pursued in chronological order when such a controversy arises. Neither employers nor employees may unilaterally make or insist on any changes in agreements affecting rates of pay, rules, or working conditions, without first exhausting the remedies provided by the Act.

 The initial step to be taken either by a carrier or an organization representing employees, in the event that it desires an alteration in an existing arrangement, is to serve a 30-days' written notice of its intention to achieve the change. The time and place for the beginning of conferences between the representatives of the parties, are then to be agreed upon within ten days after the receipt of the notice. The date of the first conference must be within the 30-day period provided in the notice, Railway Labor Act, Sec. 5, 45 U.S.C. § 155.

 The Act further provided for the creation of the National Mediation Board appointed by the President, Railway Labor Act, Sec. 4, 45 U.S.C. § 154. If the negotiations between the parties do not result in a settlement of the dispute, either party is authorized to invoke the assistance of the Mediation Board. In addition the Mediation Board is empowered to proffer its services on its own initiative, in case of an emergency.

 If the negotiations and mediation still do not lead to an adjustment of the controversy, it may be submitted to a board of arbitration by agreement of the parties, Railway Labor Act, Secs. 7, 8, 45 U.S.C. §§ 157, 158. While such an arbitration is purely voluntary, the statute prescribes the manner of creation and organization of such a board and the procedure to be followed by it. The award is binding and enforcible.

 At the expiration of the last mentioned 30-day period the remedies provided by the Railway Labor Act are exhausted. If the dispute still remains unresolved, presumably either party may act unilaterally and resort to self help. To state it more bluntly, the railroads may then proceed to make the desired changes in rates of pay, rules or working conditions, or discharge employees whom they deem unnecessary. On the other hand, representatives of the employees may call them out on strike. Industrial strife is in the offing. If the dispute is on a sufficiently large scale, the possibilities of serious detrimental and even disastrous effects to the public, are readily envisaged. Lack of any further safeguard after the last stage of the statutory arrangement is passed, is the Achilles' heel of the enlightened and beneficent plan provided by the Railway Labor Act. This possible contingency is manifestly inescapable. It was hoped and even expected that the controversy would be settled at one of the earlier stages before the impasse is reached. In most cases the hope and expectations proved well-founded. Unfortunately in the nationwide controversy involved in this litigation, they were not realized. *fn1"

 The plan for the amicable adjustment of disputes consisting of a series of successive steps and stages that have been described, is not hortatory or precatory. It is legally binding and enforceable, except that an arbitration cannot be compelled. The leading decision on this subject is Virginian Railway Co. v. System Federation No. 40, 300 U.S. 515, 81 L. Ed. 789, 57 S. Ct. 592, in which Mr. Justice Stone (later Chief Justice) wrote an historic opinion, speaking for a unanimous bench. This case breathed the spirit of life into the Railway Labor Act. It overruled the contention of a railroad company that there was no duty to negotiate pursuant to the notices referred to in the statute. The Court held that on the contrary there was an obligation enforceable by legal sanctions to act under the various provisions of the Act. Specifically the Court ruled that it was the duty of the parties to negotiate after notices were served, and that this duty was enforceable by judicial decree. It sustained an order compelling the carrier to do so. On this point Mr. Justice Stone wrote as follows (pp. 548, 552):

 
The statute does not undertake to compel agreement between the employer and employees, but it does command those preliminary steps without which no agreement can be reached. It at least requires the employer to meet and confer with the authorized representative of its employees, to listen to their complaints, to make reasonable effort to compose differences - in short, to enter into a negotiation for the settlement of labor disputes such as is contemplated by § 2, First.
 
The peaceable settlement of labor controversies, especially where they may seriously impair the ability of an interstate rail carrier to perform its service to ...

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