on Last Trip of the Month ("RALT") — was not included in the
current collective bargaining agreement ("Agreement"), which took effect
on May 5, 1997. American, contending that the RALT provision had been
omitted by mutual mistake, continued after the effective date of the new
Agreement to assign some pilots more than the monthly maximum flying
times. A dispute arose about this practice. APA filed a grievance with
the System Board of Adjustment ("Board"), which has jurisdiction over all
disputes arising out of the Agreement and whose decisions are "final and
binding upon the parties." APA's position was that the RALT provision had
been exchanged for the higher monthly maximums (85 hours per month) that
were built into the 1997 Agreement. On May 24, 1999, the Board issued a
decision in APA's favor. The parties then agreed that American would have
two months to change its scheduling practices to comply with the Board's
decision. It is APA's contention in this action that American has
continued its RALT scheduling practices past the expiration of that
two-month grace period, in violation of the Agreement and the Board's
American concedes that it has assigned pilots in excess of the
established monthly maximums, but it contends that these assignments were
"isolated, de minimis and inadvertent errors in the application of
complex reassignment provisions in a collective bargaining agreement
governing more than 10,000 pilots." Deft. Memorandum at 1.*fn1 American
asserts that it has taken good-faith, proactive measures to correct
scheduling errors, but it states that it cannot now or ever guarantee
that such mistakes will not occur in the future, because of the
inevitability of human error.
A threshold question is whether or not the Court has jurisdiction of
the dispute in this case. Under the RLA, minor disputes — disputes
that relate to "the meaning or proper application of a particular
provision with reference to a specific situation," Elgin v. Burley,
325 U.S. 711, 723, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 89 L.Ed. 1886 (1945), and "may be
conclusively resolved by interpreting the existing collective bargaining
agreement," Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Railway Labor Exec. Ass'n,
491 U.S. 299, 305, 109 S.Ct. 2477, 105 L.Ed.2d 250 (1989) — are
subject to exclusive and mandatory adjustment through arbitration and are
beyond the jurisdiction of federal district courts. American contends
that the instant dispute is a minor dispute that is outside the
jurisdiction of the federal courts and not a major dispute as APA
Federal courts do have jurisdiction of major disputes — "disputes
over the formation of collective agreements or efforts to secure them.
They arise where there is no such agreement or where it is sought to
change the terms of one, and therefore the issue is not whether an
existing agreement controls the controversy." Burley, 325 U.S. at 723, 65
S.Ct. 1282. APA's argument that American has effectively changed an
existing Agreement term arguably makes the dispute in this case a "major"
one, over which this Court does have jurisdiction.
The jurisdictional issue is not free from doubt, but we will
nevertheless proceed, as if jurisdiction were established, to evaluate
APA's motion in light of the established four-part test for the issuance
preliminary injunctions. To prevail on its motion, APA must demonstrate
that (1) there is a substantial likelihood it will succeed on the
merits; (2) it will be irreparably injured if an injunction is not
granted; (3) an injunction will not cause substantial harm to American;
and (4) the injunction will be in the public interest. See Davenport v.
International Bhd. of Teamsters, 166 F.3d 356, 360-61 (D.C.Cir. 1999).
Likelihood of Success on the Merits
APA's first merits argument is that American is in violation of a final
and binding decision of the Board. The violations appear at this stage of
the record's development, however, only to be technical. There is no
evidence of a refusal to comply with the award or of repudiation.
Indeed, defendant appears to have made extensive and good-faith efforts
APA's second merits claim, that American has made a unilateral change
in the term of the Agreement in violation of Section 2, Seventh of the
RLA, misses the mark. American has offered no contractual justification
for its action. See Air Line Pilots Ass'n, International v. Eastern Air
Lines, 869 F.2d 1518, 1523 (D.C.Cir. 1989) (emphasis added) ("In order to
find that a contract violation amounts to a unilateral change in . . .
the collective bargaining agreement, a court must find not only that the
agreement clearly prohibits the disputed conduct and that the party's
contractual justification on its face is totally implausible, but also
that the evidence `warrant[s] the inference that [the contractual
defense] is raised with intent to circumvent the procedures prescribed by
§ 6 [of the RLA], for alteration of existing agreements'").
American's justification is that it is not humanly possible to ensure
mistake-free compliance in a complex system of scheduling more than
10,000 pilots each day. That justification is not implausible on its
face. In the absence of record evidence tending to show an intent on
American's part to circumvent the procedures set forth in § 6 for
changing the terms of an existing agreement,*fn2 APA is unlikely to
succeed on the merits.
APA'S theory of irreparable injury is that leaving American free to
continue its alleged RALT scheduling practice in violation of the
Agreement exposes "APA's apparent inability to enforce contractual
rights," thus "undercut[ting] pilot good will toward the Union," upon
which goodwill APA depends "for continued financial and volunteer
support." Pltf. Memorandum at 13. Not only is that theory attenuated to
the point nearly of abstraction, but it is without support in the
record. Indeed, as American asserts without contradiction from APA, "APA
has represented its pilots vigorously and effectively in identifying and
remedying the implementation glitches since the Award. . . . With APA's
assistance, problems have been identified quickly, mutually acceptable
remedies have been implemented and the frequency of errors has dropped to
one in May 2000, and none so far in June 2000." Deft. Memorandum at 13.
Nor does APA dispute American's assertion that "[i]n the isolated
instances in which crew scheduling errors have occurred, the individual
pilots have received extra-contractual remedies in the form of premium pay
and/or pay protection for flights dropped from their schedule in the
month following the error." Id. (citing La Morte Decl., ¶¶ 78-80).
Balancing of Harms
APA argues that "any small harm to American caused by the loss of
passenger goodwill through canceled flights at the end of the month is
outweighed by the clear merit of the APA's claims." That assertion is
rejected, particularly inasmuch
as APA has made no showing of any realistic injury to itself for the
continuation of the status quo.
Both sides invoke a version of the truism that "peaceful settlement of
labor controversies under the RLA is a matter of public concern," see
Virginian Ry. v. System Fed'n No. 40, 300 U.S. 515, 552, 57 S.Ct. 592, 81
L.Ed. 789 (1937). Neither side derives advantage from the point.
Upon consideration of plaintiff's motion for a preliminary
injunction, it is this day of August 2000,
ORDERED that the motion is denied.