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Burlington Northern v. United Transportation Union

March 28, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge




Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) is a common carrier as defined under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et. seq. The National Carriers' Conference Committee (NCCC) represents BNSF and several other railroads in labor negotiations under the RLA. United

Transportation Union (UTU) represents conductors, trainmen, firemen, and yardmasters employed by BNSF under the RLA for collective bargaining and other matters. UTU is composed of 11 General Committees of Adjustment, authorized under UTU's constitution to make and interpret labor agreements with representatives from transportation companies.


NCCC sent a notice to UTU under Section 6 of the RLA proposing changes to rates of pay, rules, and working conditions embodied in various collective bargaining agreements with UTU. Three of the General Committees have asserted the right under the RLA to bargain with BNSF over the proposed changes. BNSF maintains that the General Committees do not have the right to bargain individually over the proposed changes, but must instead bargain through the national negotiators selected by other UTU General Committees around the country who have decided to bargain on a concerted basis.

BNSF and other carriers bargaining through NCCC filed suit against UTU seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to require the three General Committees that wish to bargain individually to bargain with BNSF and other NCCC-represented carriers on a national basis (through the national negotiators selected by UTU) and to require UTU to bargain on a craft-wide basis. (Civil Action No. 99-3117). The three General Committees then filed suit against BNSF and NCCC seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent BNSF and NCCC from forcing a bargaining agent on the General Committees that they do not wish to select and to prevent BNSF from changing, through its bargaining with UTU's negotiators, the agreements that the three General Committees argue they are authorized to make and maintain. (Civil Action No. 00-0043). UTU, the three General Committees, and BNSF have all filed motions for summary judgment.

Since the filing of these lawsuits, UTU's national negotiators have commenced bargaining with BNSF on behalf of all of the other General Committees and a tentative agreement has been reached. The three General Committees that are parties to these lawsuits did not participate in the bargaining.


A. Standard of Review for Cross Motions for Summary Judgment

Upon consideration of cross motions for summary judgment, the Court may grant such a motion if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon material facts that are not genuinely disputed. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Rhoads v. McFerran, 517 F.2d 66, 67 (2d Cir. 1975). The Court finds that the cross motions present no genuinely disputed material facts that would preclude a grant of summary judgment in this case.

B. Standing to Sue

The carriers argue that the Committees are without standing to object to national handling. They argue that if UTU is the rightful bargaining representative for the employees only UTU has a legal interest in this dispute. They assert that the Committees have no right to designate a bargaining representative and thus have suffered no injury capable of judicial redress. The carriers also argue that the Committees are not within the zone of interest protected by the RLA because the RLA's focus is to protect the carriers and the employees, not the Committees.

The carriers arguments are without merit. Under UTU's constitution, the Committees are the chosen representatives of the employees. Additionally, they have been authorized to make and maintain the specific scheduling agreements subject to change. They have a stake in whether national handling is found to be obligatory because it will severely diminish their voices at the bargaining table. The Court finds that UTU and the Committees have standing to bring this lawsuit under the RLA.

C. The Railway Labor Act

Under the RLA, both the carriers and their employees have a duty to "to exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, and working conditions" in order to avoid any interruption to commerce. 45 U.S.C. § 152 First. *fn1 By giving notice pursuant to 45 U.S.C. § 156 ("Section 6 notice"), either party can propose a change in its agreement. The RLA protects the right of both the carriers and the employees to designate their own representatives for bargaining "without interference, influence, or coercion by either party over the designation of representatives by the other;..." 45 U.S.C. § 152 Third. *fn2

Freedom of choice in the selection of representatives by each side in a bargaining dispute is considered essential to the RLA's statutory scheme. See Texas & New Orleans R.R. v. Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, 281 U.S. 548, 569 (1930). The RLA defines the term "representative" to mean any person, union, or organization designated by a carrier or by its employees to act for it. 45 U.S.C. § 151.

The two main issues in these cases are: 1) who will represent the parties at the bargaining table, and 2) where will the bargaining take place-locally or through national handling. *fn3

The main case in the D.C. Circuit addressing the issue of national handling is Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, 383 F.2d 225 (1967). However, this case did not address a party's right to choose its bargaining representative under Section 2 Third or the interplay between Sections 2 First and Third. In Atlantic Coast Line, the carriers argued that national handling is mandatory under the RLA; the union argued that national handling is never mandatory. The court rejected both arguments and instead adopted a more individualized approach. The court held: "What constitutes good faith bargaining in the railroad industry is colored by how parties have actually bargained in the past. The Railway Labor Act does not universally and categorically compel a party to a dispute to accept national handling over its protest. Such bargaining is certainly lawful, however. Whether it is also obligatory will depend on an issue-by-issue evaluation of the practical appropriateness of mass bargaining on that point and of the historical experience in handling any similar national movements." Atlantic Coast Line, 383 F.2d at 229. The court went on to find that based on the history and circumstances presented in the case, national handling was not required.

The relationship between Sections 2 First and Third was addressed for the first time in this circuit in Alton & Southern Railway v. Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees, 928 F.Supp. 7 (D.D.C. 1996). *fn4 In that case, the district court found that Atlantic Coast Line required the court to make an objective determination as to what is reasonable and appropriate based on how the parties actually bargained in the past notwithstanding the representation issue. The court was reluctant to allow the introduction of the representation issue to defeat national handling. The court reasoned that if Section 2 Third could be used to defeat national ...

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