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ALASKA AIRLINES, INC. v. BROCK

January 22, 1986

ALASKA AIRLINES, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
William E. BROCK, et al., Defendants, Air Line Pilots Association International, et al., Intervening Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL

 GESELL, District Judge.

 Background

 When Congress passed the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 it included an employee protection program to protect employees who had relied on employment with regulated carriers and might be displaced in the transition to a deregulated, competitive market. Airline Deregulation Act, § 43, Pub.L. No. 95-504, 92 Stat. 1705, 1750 (1978) codified at 49 U.S.C. § 1552. Although this program, § 43 of the Act, has been in effect for over seven years, its turbulent history has prevented airline employees from receiving any substantial benefits from its provisions.

 Section 43 contains two prongs. The first directed the Secretary of Labor to establish a program for providing displaced workers with monetary assistance funded from the United States Treasury. 49 U.S.C. § 1552(a)-(c). Congress has never appropriated funds for this program so no implementing regulations have been promulgated and no assistance has ever been provided by the government.

 In addition to this monetary assistance, the statute establishes a second program, § 43(d), which obligates the airlines to give certain "protected employees" a first-right-of-hire when filling job vacancies. The Secretary of Labor's original proposed regulations were noticed for comment in 1979 but never resulted in a final rule. 44 Fed.Reg. 19146 (1979). A revised set of proposed regulations was issued in 1982 and published as a final rule in 1983. 47 Fed.Reg. 41304 (1982); 48 Fed.Reg. 53854 (1983). On the date these regulations became effective, this Court concluded that the unconstitutional legislative veto provision of the statute was not severable from its other provisions and therefore the regulations were invalid. Alaska Airlines v. Donovan, 594 F. Supp. 92 (D.D.C.1984). The Court of Appeals disagreed and remanded the case to resolve plaintiffs' remaining challenges to the regulations. Alaska Airlines, Inc. v. Donovan, 247 U.S. App. D.C. 132, 766 F.2d 1550 (D.C.Cir.1985), petition for cert. filed, No. 85-920 (November 27, 1985).

 Due to this combination of Congressional inaction, administrative delay and litigation, protection for airline employees has remained an unfulfilled promise. Many airlines have resisted recognizing any duty to hire or taken the position that there is no duty until the Department of Labor regulations become effective. The courts are just now beginning to address the issue of whether a private right of action exists to enforce the duty to hire. See McDonald v. Piedmont Aviation, Inc., 625 F. Supp. 762 (S.D.N.Y.1986) (holding that private cause of action exists).

 The Secretary has now reissued his regulations defining the airlines' duty to hire and requiring airlines to maintain a list of vacancies to assist protected employees in finding jobs. 50 Fed.Reg. 53094 (December 27, 1985). The plaintiffs, representing fifteen airlines that were certificated by the Civil Aeronautics Board prior to deregulation, argue that the Secretary's regulations are based on an erroneous and unconstitutional interpretation of the Act and that the Secretary arbitrarily and capriciously ignored the conflicts between his regulations and other legal obligations of the airlines.

 Discussion

 I. The Scope of the Duty to Hire.

 Resolving this dispute requires a careful examination of the language of the Act. Congress defined the phrase "protected employee" as a person who at the date of deregulation had been employed for at least four years by a certificated air carrier. 49 U.S.C. § 1552(h)(1). The Airline's argument that not all "protected employees" are protected by the hiring preference is not based on the language of the duty to hire, but on the language used to define those eligible for monetary assistance:

 
The Secretary of Labor shall, subject to such amounts as are provided in appropriation Acts, make monthly assistance payments . . . to each individual who the Secretary finds, upon application, to be an eligible protected employee. An eligible protected employee shall be a protected employee who on account of a qualifying dislocation (A) has been ...

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