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AMTRAK v. UNITED TRANSP. UNION

September 27, 1993

NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED TRANSPORTATION UNION, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY S. HARRIS

 This case is before the Court on plaintiff's application for a preliminary injunction. With the agreement of the parties, the Court consolidated the hearing on the application for a preliminary injunction with a hearing on the merits pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(a)(2). Upon consideration of the entire record, including the arguments of counsel at the hearing held on September 21, 1993, the Court grants plaintiff's request for a permanent injunction, and denies defendant's motion for a conditional injunction. The Court also denies plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction as moot.

 Background

 The plaintiff, National Railroad Passenger Corporation, ("Amtrak"), an intercity railroad passenger service, was organized pursuant to the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, 45 U.S.C. § 501 et seq. Accordingly, labor disputes must be handled in accordance with the Railway Labor Act. 45 U.S.C. § 546 (b). The defendant, United Transportation Union ("UTU"), is the recognized collective bargaining representative of Amtrak's passenger conductors and assistant passenger conductors ("conductors"), also referred to as passenger train service employees. On January 29, 1986, Amtrak and UTU executed a collective bargaining agreement governing rates of pay, hours of service, and working conditions for conductors in "off-corridor" operations. *fn1"

 The underlying dispute in this case arises out of a disagreement between the parties regarding the performance of train car movement work at Metrolink, the commuter rail service in the Los Angeles, California, metropolitan area. Metrolink was opened in October 1992. Since its inception, Amtrak has assigned the maintenance and repair work at the Metrolink Central Storage and Maintenance Facility ("Taylor Yard") to maintenance-of-equipment employees, who are not represented by UTU. In conjunction with performing various maintenance functions, the maintenance-of-equipment employees routinely move trains within the maintenance facility, switch cars, run cars through washers, spot the trains, and make up the train consists for passenger and nonpassenger operations. Declaration of Robert M. Burk, Assistant Vice-President and Chief Mechanical Officer for Amtrak P 3; Defendant's Opposition Memorandum, at 2.

 UTU first objected to this practice on June 17, 1993, on the grounds that the car movement work was the exclusive work of UTU-represented conductors under Rule 1 of the collective bargaining agreement. Rule 1 defines the scope of UTU's representation:

 
This agreement will apply to the work or service of transporting passengers performed by the employees specified herein and governs rates of pay, hours of service and working conditions of all employees, as defined in this Rule, engaged in the performance of work presently recognized as the exclusive work of passenger train service employees on main lines, or branch lines or within yard facilities."

 Rule 1, Collective Bargaining Agreement, January 29, 1986 (emphasis added). Amtrak responded that the contested work does not fall under Rule 1, and therefore, is not subject to UTU's jurisdiction. After subsequent discussions failed to resolve the dispute, UTU announced that it would commence a peaceful withdrawal of services nationwide, at 12:01 a.m., August 25, 1993. On August 24, 1993, Amtrak filed a complaint seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, permanent injunction, and damages. Amtrak alleges that UTU has threatened to strike over a "minor dispute" under the Railway Labor Act and that such action violates the Act. This Court issued a temporary restraining order that same day, enjoining UTU from instigating, engaging in, or otherwise disrupting normal rail operations. The parties stipulated that the Order shall remain in effect until the Court rules on the merits.

 Discussion

 As noted, this case is governed by the Railway Labor Act. The Act establishes a dual framework for resolving disputes between a carrier and the employees' representative. In applying the Act, the Court must first determine whether the underlying controversy in this case constitutes a "major" or a "minor" dispute. Elgin, Joliet & E. Ry. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 65 S. Ct. 1282, 1290-91, 89 L. Ed. 1886 (1945); Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. Eastern Air Lines, Inc., 276 U.S. App. D.C. 199, 869 F.2d 1518, 1520 (D.C. Cir. 1989). This determination dictates the proper administrative procedures that the parties must adhere to for resolution of the dispute as well as this Court's authority to intervene in the controversy. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, 869 F.2d at 1520-21.

 Major disputes relate to disputes over the formation of collective bargaining agreements or efforts to alter the terms of an existing agreement. Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Railway Labor Executives' Ass'n, 491 U.S. 299, 109 S. Ct. 2477, 2480, 105 L. Ed. 2d 250 (1989) ("Conrail") (citing Burley, 65 S. Ct. at 1289-90)). In the event of a major dispute, the Railway Labor Act requires the parties to undergo a lengthy process of bargaining and mediation, during which the parties must maintain the status quo. 45 U.S.C. §§ 155, 156; Conrail, 109 S. Ct. at 2480. If no agreement has been reached after the parties have exhausted those procedures, the parties may resort to self-help. Id.

 Minor disputes, on the other hand, relate to disputes over the interpretation or application of an existing agreement. Id. Minor disputes in the railroad industry are subject to mandatory arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board or an adjustment board established by the employer and the union. 45 U.S.C. § 153; Conrail, 109 S. Ct. at 2480-81. The Board's jurisdiction is exclusive; district courts lack jurisdiction to adjudicate the merits, and exercise only limited judicial review over the Board's arbitral decision. 45 U.S.C. § 153 First(q); Conrail, 109 S. Ct. at 2481.

 The distinction between a major and minor dispute is, to a certain extent, a matter of pleading, in that the party who initiates the dispute takes the first step towards categorizing it as an issue of alteration or interpretation of the agreement. 109 S. Ct. at 2482. Therefore, an employer bears the relatively light burden of showing that its position is at least "arguably justified":

 
Where an employer asserts a contractual right to take the contested action, the ensuing dispute is minor if the action is arguably justified by the terms of the parties' collective bargaining agreement. Where, in contrast, the employer's claims ...

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