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Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. United Transportation Union

November 7, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge


These matters are currently before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant summary judgment to the plaintiffs in case number 99cv3117 and will enter summary judgment for the defendants in case number 00cv0043.

I. Background

A. Factual Background *fn2

The disputes in these cases arise under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-188 ("RLA" or"the Act"), which governs negotiations between railway carriers and their employees. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Company ("Burlington") is a common carrier as defined by the RLA. 45 U.S.C. § 151. Burlington, along with several other railway common carriers ("the carriers") filed suit against the United Transportation Union ("UTU"), which represents"certain crafts or classes of [the carriers'] employees, including trainmen, firemen, engineers, conductors and yardmasters, for purposes of collective bargaining and other matters arising under the RLA." Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief filed in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry. v. United Transportation Union,("Burlington Compl.") ¶ 4. The lawsuit resulted from the UTU's delegation of its bargaining authority to several of its committees,*fn3 which then decided to opt out of national bargaining with the carriers and instead insisted on bargaining locally.

To fully understand the nature of the controversy, a detailed review of the circumstances underlying the parties' dispute is necessary. Because collective bargaining agreements do not normally contain expiration dates, the timing of when parties can propose changes to the agreements are contained in"moratorium clauses," which memorialize the parties' intentions not to seek changes in the terms of the agreements"prior to a specific future date." Carriers' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment ("Carriers' Stmt.") ¶ 5. Pursuant to § 6 of the RLA, once a railway employer or the representatives of the employees seek to change the terms"affecting rates of pay, rules, or working conditions" of the parties' collective bargaining agreement, the party seeking the changes must serve a written notice, referred to as a"Section 6 notice," on the other party so that a conference can be scheduled at which time the parties can attempt to reach an agreement regarding the proposed changes. 45 U.S.C. § 156.

Once the notice has been served, bargaining between the employer and its employees can take one of two forms. The first form of bargaining is referred to as"'local bargaining' or'local handling.'" Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief filed in General Committee v. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company ("Gen. Comm. Compl.") ¶ 12. Local bargaining or handling occurs where the"General Chairman of the Committee that served or was served with the notice and the highest officer of the carrier designated to handle such notices[]" conduct a conference to bargain over the proposed changes to the agreement. Id. The second type of bargaining, referred to as"national bargaining" or"national handling," takes places when there is"multi-employer bargaining between the bargaining representative for a group of carriers and either a bargaining committee of the union representing the interested employees of those carriers, or a bargaining committee comprised of representatives of several unions interested in the bargaining." Id.

Pursuant to 45 U.S.C. § 152 Third, each party to a collective bargaining agreement may designate a representative to represent its interests during the bargaining negotiations. Sometime prior to November 1, 1999, the UTU had designated the General Committees of Adjustment GO-386, GO-245, and Go-291 ("the Committees")"to represent brakemen, conductors, engineers, foremen, and yardmen employed by [Burlington] who are covered by collective bargaining agreements administered" by each"General Committee." Gen. Comm. Compl. ¶¶ 1-3. These three Committees informed Burlington that they were not going to participate in "national handling because they [had] concluded that the interests of the employees they represent will be best served by bargaining individually with [Burlington]." Id. ¶ 17. On or about November 1, 1999, the Chairman of the National Carriers' Conference Committee ("NCCC"), which had been designated by Burlington to represent its interests, Burlington Compl. ¶ 17, sent a notice pursuant to § 6 of the RLA to the UTU's International President Charles L. Little, informing him"that the carriers represented by the NCCC, including... [Burlington], were proposing under Section 6 of the [RLA] changes to agreements affecting rates of pay, rules, and working conditions applicable to employees represented by the UTU, including [Burlington's] employees...." Gen. Comm. Compl. ¶ 18.

Because the employees had designated the three General Committees to represent their interests, President Little responded to the NCCC's § 6 notice indicating that he was not the proper person to whom the § 6 notice should have been sent, and as required by § 6, the notice should"be served on the UTU General Chairperson(s) [of each of the three General Committees] with jurisdiction...." Id. ¶ 19. In response to President Little's correspondence, defendant Burlington advised the General Chairmen of the Committees that it had"'joined with other railroads in authorizing the [NCCC] to represent them with respect to the 2000 wages, rules and benefits round of collective bargaining on a concerted national basis...." Id. ¶ 20 (emphasis added). The General Committees responded by indicating that they had not designated the"UTU National Negotiating Committee to bargain on their behalf" and that they did not intend to bargain nationally, but wanted to bargain"directly and exclusively with... [Burlington] through whomever... [Burlington] might designate[] and authorize as its bargaining representative...." Id. ¶ 21.

Since the parties could not reach an agreement regarding whether the committees could opt to bargain locally, on November 24, 1999, Burlington and several other railway carriers filed suit against the UTU and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers in the matter styled Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry. v. United Transportation Union, 99cv3117("the Burlington case"). Subsequently, on January 7, 2000, the three General Committees of Adjustment -- GO-386, GO-291, and GO-245 filed their complaint against Burlington in the action titled General Committee of Adjustment GO-386 v. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry., 00cv0043 ("the General Committee case"). Both cases were assigned to another judge of this Court who issued an order consolidating these cases on April 26, 2000. On March 28, 2001, the prior judge issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order denying summary judgment to Burlington in both cases and granting summary judgment to Burlington's opponents in both cases.

Burlington appealed. The Circuit Court held that this Court's colleague"did not properly apply the governing law," General Comm. of Adjustment, GO-386 v. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Ry., 295 F.3d 1337, 1341 (D.C. Cir. 2002), and therefore vacated the judgment and remanded the cases to this court"for further proceedings consistent with [its] opinion." Id. These matters were then reassigned to this judge.

Prior to the Circuit Court's ruling,"the General Committees served separate § 6 notices on the carriers." Carriers' Stmt. ¶ 24. Representatives of the carriers and the General Committees had met pursuant to an order of the other district judge, and discussed national negotiations and other issues, but no agreement resulted from these discussions. Id. Meanwhile, national bargaining between the NCCC and the UTU continued,"without prejudice to each side's position as to the UTU's obligation to bargain nationally on behalf of all employees it represents." Id. ¶ 25. The result of these negotiations was the negotiation of a"tentative national agreement" which was subsequently ratified by 76 percent of the UTU's separate crafts of employees. Id. ¶ 26. This agreement was signed by the UTU and the carriers on August 20, 2002, however, Burlington has not applied the terms of the new agreement to those employees represented by the General Committees involved in this litigation, pending a ruling from this Court. Id. ¶¶ 26, 30. A new moratorium bars the service of any new § 6 notices until November 6, 2004. Id. ¶ 27.

B. The Parties' Arguments

The carriers and the unions have each filed motions for summary judgment. The carriers contend that based on the Circuit Court's ruling, there are two questions for this Court to resolve: (1) whether the UTU had an obligation"to engage in... national handling during the 1999 wage and rules movement on behalf of all the employees it represents on the participating railroads"; and (2)"whether the UTU could insist on bargaining with one particular railroad... [,]Burlington[,]... through local sub-committees, each claiming to represent only a fragment of certain crafts of employees of [Burlington], or whether it was obligated to bargain on a craft-wide, system-wide basis." Carriers' Memorandum of Points and Authorities on Motion for Summary Judgment ("Carriers' Mem.") at 1.*fn4

According to the carriers, the answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second is no. Regarding the issue of national handling, the carriers argue that pursuant to the test set forth in Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Atlantic Coast Line R.R., 383 F.2d 225 (D.C. Cir. 1967), which the Circuit Court held governs these matters,"there can be no genuine dispute that national handling was obligatory for the 1999 wage and rules movement." Carriers' Mem. at 2. Regarding the issue of craft wide system bargaining, the carriers argue that UTU violated the RLA by"delegating its authority to sub-committees that insist on bargaining for only a piece of a single railroad[,]" when Burlington had proposed changes that would affect"all UTU represented employees across the entire railroad system." Id. at 3. This is so, according to the carriers, because"both § 2 First and § 2 Fourth of the RLA clearly preclude the UTU from insisting on bargaining for less than an entire craft where – as here – the railroad is proposing craft-wide changes." Id. at 4.

In their cross-motion for summary judgment, the lone Committee*fn5 in this action with interests that are still adverse to those of the carriers, argues that neither the RLA nor the Circuit Court's ruling in Atlantic Coast Line mandate that it engage in national handling. GO-386 argues that the UTU's delegation of its bargaining authority to it does not violate the RLA for several reasons: First, GO-386 argues that Section 2 Third protects a union's right to delegate its bargaining authority to bargaining agents and thus the UTU had the right to delegate its authority to GO-386. Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff GO-386's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and in Opposition to the Carriers' Motion for Summary Judgment ("GO-386's Mem.") at 23-24. Second, GO-386 states that the UTU's bargaining agents collectively have system-wide authority and thus, Burlington's argument that the UTU has violated the RLA by failing to designate a bargaining agent with authority to bargain for the entire unit must be rejected. Id. at 28.

Regarding the Atlantic Coast Line test, which GO-386 reluctantly concedes governs this dispute despite the Circuit Court's ruling, id. at 38, GO-386 argues that application of that test to this case mandates a conclusion that"national handling of the proposed changes to the agreements... is not obligatory...." Id. at 41. Thus, GO-386 argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because"no reasonable trier of fact could find that multi-employer bargaining over the changes that... [Burlington] and GO-386 (including former GO-291) have proposed be made... is reasonably calculated to bring the parties to agreement on the issues that are important to GO-386." Id. at 21. On the other hand, GO-386 argues that the carriers are not entitled to summary judgment because"it is clear that a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that multi-employer bargaining is not reasonably calculated to bring about a resolution to the disputes raised by [the parties'] proposed agreement changes." Id. at 22 (emphasis added).*fn6

II. Analysis

A. Summary Judgment ...

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