pilots whose names appear on the System Seniority List to perform "all present or future flying, including flight training. . . . ferry flights . . . in or for the service of Eastern Air Lines." Eastern-ALPA Agreement at § 1(B). This language is clear and unambiguous and can only be interpreted one way -- prohibiting non-Eastern Orion pilots from conducting flight training on Eastern aircraft in or for the service of Eastern.
Despite the clear language of the scope provision, Eastern offers the following contractual justification for its actions: It argues that the training flights are in and for the service of Orion and as such are plausibly justified under the scope clause.
The clear and unambiguous language of Eastern's contract with Orion as well as Eastern's own statements refute Eastern's position and demonstrate that the training flights must be viewed together with the revenue flights -- as in and for the service of Eastern.
Eastern has conceded repeatedly that any revenue flights operated by Orion pilots will inure to the benefit of Eastern. The training flights are an integral part of the contract and a necessary precondition to qualify these Orion pilots to operate Eastern's revenue services. The only reason that Orion pilots are performing training flights is to fly Eastern revenue routes. Indeed, Orion could not satisfy its contractual obligation without conducting these training flights. As such, these training flights cannot be regarded separately from the revenue flights. They are operated together in or for the service of Eastern.
Furthermore, the terms of the contract between Eastern and Orion demonstrate that the training flights are operated in and for the service of Eastern. The contract expressly provides that the "Leased Aircraft" shall be operated by Orion "for the sole and exclusive benefit of [Eastern]." Eastern-Orion Agreement at § I 1.3. Eastern attempts to discount this provision by arguing that the term "Leased Aircraft" only applies to aircraft leased to fly revenue flights. It maintains that the aircraft currently leased to Orion for training purposes is a distinct asset not governed by the quoted provision of the contract. However, Eastern's interpretation of the term "Leased Aircraft" is expressly repudiated by the clear language in the contract governing the training of Orion pilots. Indeed, the contract specifically utilizes the term "Leased Aircraft" to describe the four to six aircraft that Eastern will furnish to Orion for training purposes. Nor do the several clauses which state that the "Leased Aircraft" will be operated for the benefit of Eastern distinguish between those aircraft leased to perform revenue flights or those leased to perform training flights.
Moreover, the nature and terms of the contract support the conclusion that the training flights are being performed in and for the service of Eastern. Eastern controls the operation of the training program. It pays for the training of Orion pilots and requires that the training be conducted in accordance with Eastern's manual and practices. In addition, Eastern retains the exclusive right to employ the Orion pilots to fly Eastern revenue flights. Indeed the "insurance policy" would be worthless if Eastern could not rely on having these trained pilots available for service to operate Eastern aircraft over Eastern's routes for Eastern's passengers.
Eastern's attempt to characterize its leasing arrangement as a dry lease,
authorized by past practice is equally unavailing. There is no dispute that dry leases are permissible under the scope clause, however, the Eastern-Orion contract cannot be interpreted plausibly as a dry lease.
Dry leases customarily involve the transfer of aircraft to an independent carrier which then uses it to further its own business. The lessor typically relinquishes all control over how the aircraft is utilized. Eastern has entered into numerous dry leases in the past
where it has leased aircraft to an independent air carrier. For example, it has leased planes to Federal Express, which in turn has used the aircraft for the benefit of Federal Express, flying Federal Express routes and distributing Federal Express parcels.
Eastern's contract with Orion differs markedly from the type of dry leases it has entered into in the past. Orion would operate the aircraft for the benefit of Eastern, flying Eastern routes and Eastern passengers. Further, rather than relinquishing control over the aircraft, Eastern retains complete control over how the aircraft are utilized. Not only is Eastern paying for and controlling the training program but it has reserved the right to designate the specific flights, times and schedules which Orion must fly. Finally, Mr. Matthews testified that Eastern has never before entered into this type of a lease where it trained non-Eastern pilots to operate Eastern flights. His admission thoroughly undermines Eastern's attempt to claim that its existing lease is justified by past practice.
Eastern's attempt to transform its disagreement into a minor dispute merely by designating the contract a dry lease must be rejected. Such an analysis elevates form over substance and would permit Eastern to defeat the clear, unambiguous language of the scope clause merely by the labels it chooses.
Eastern's argument that it has an absolute right to engage in pre-strike preparations irrespective of its collective bargaining commitments must be rejected as inconsistent with the case law and the statute. Indeed, the two decisions that Eastern relies upon to support its proposition are inapposite. Air Line Pilots Association International v. United Air Lines, Inc., 802 F.2d 886 (7th Cir. 1986); Teamsters v. World Airways, 111 L.R.R.M. 2170 (N.D.Ca. 1982). Neither involved a claim that the training programs violated the relevant scope clause or any other contractual provision. In United Air Lines, the court stated that "it is unchallenged that the relevant collective bargaining agreement made no mention of defendant's pilot training practices and procedures." 802 F.2d at 916.
Similarly, the court in World Airways found that the training program did not trample upon any preexisting contractual obligations. Moreover, the court expressly rejected Eastern's claim that pre-strike preparations are per se legitimate. It held that only those training programs which do not interfere with ongoing operations and are taken in good faith are consistent with the RLA.
Eastern's reliance on Brotherhood of Ry. and Steamship Clerks v. Florida East Coast Ry., 384 U.S. 238, 16 L. Ed. 2d 501, 86 S. Ct. 1420 (1966) for the proposition that it has the "unfettered" right to engage in strike planning "self help" measures to fulfill its duty to operate in the event of a strike is equally misplaced. Florida East Coast involved the legitimacy of self help measures taken in the face of an ongoing strike. Indeed, the Court held that self-help measures were available only after the parties had exhausted all the procedures provided under the RLA. Further, contrary to Eastern' suggestion, the Court never granted management an "unfettered" right to abrogate its contractual obligations even in the face of an ongoing strike. "Any power to change or revise the basic collective agreement must be closely confined and supervised. . . . The carrier must respect the continuing status of the collective bargaining agreement and make only such changes as are truly necessary." Id. at 247-248.
Eastern's attempt to extend the limited ruling in Florida East Coast to the pre-strike realm is inconsistent with the case law and the Act. Indeed, such an extension would controvert the core objectives of the RLA. The central purpose of the "interminable, protracted" mediation process prescribed by the RLA is to "encourage collective bargaining by the parties 'in order to prevent, if possible, wasteful strikes and interruptions of interstate commerce especially in cases where major disputes are involved.'" United Air Lines, 802 F.2d at 895 (quoting Detroit & Toledo Shore Line Railroad v. United Transportation Union, 396 U.S. 142, 148, 24 L. Ed. 2d 325, 90 S. Ct. 294 (1969)). To accomplish this goal and to ensure the continuation of vital public services, the RLA bars either party from unilaterally altering the established status quo until the mediation process has been exhausted. 45 U.S.C. §§ 152, Seventh, 155, First, 156, 160. Allowing management to pursue self help measures in abrogation of its collective bargaining agreement before a strike has been called,
would thwart this requirement. The RLA does not provide for such an exception in the name of pre-strike preparations. Indeed, such an exception could very well provoke the very strike that the RLA procedures were designed to prevent.
Nor can Eastern justify its training program by arguing that it would otherwise face a financial crisis. Even if the Court were to accept Eastern's cries of potential insolvency, these predictions do not provide a basis for thwarting the clear proscriptions of the RLA. More importantly, the record demonstrates that Eastern can adopt alternative strike contingency plans which would protect it from a potential strike while not violating its existing collective bargaining commitments. At the preliminary injunction hearing, Mr. Matthews identified several such options. See trans. at 62-64 (March 14, 1988). Eastern could hire permanent strike replacements to fly the aircraft in the event of a strike
or subcontract to a third party carrier already qualified to operate passenger routes.
Eastern's statements to its own employees, to Congress and to this Court that it leased the aircraft solely to prepare Orion pilots to fly Eastern passengers on Eastern aircraft
undermine its belated attempt to argue otherwise. Based on the facts available at this time, this Court concludes Eastern's actions violate the collective bargaining agreement and constitute a major dispute under the RLA. An injunction is appropriate at this time to preserve the status quo until the parties have completed the mediation process.
An appropriate Order shall be entered to effectuate this Opinion.