United States District Court for the District of Columbia
July 1, 2005.
IBT/HERE EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATIVES' COUNCIL, Plaintiff,
GATE GOURMET DIVISION AMERICAS et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge
DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER
This matter comes before the court*fn1 on the motion of
IBT/HERE*fn2 Employee Representatives' Council (the "Union")
for a temporary restraining order. The Union represents employees
of Gate Gourmet, Inc. (the "Company")*fn3 and seeks to
enjoin the Company from its announced plan to eliminate employer
contributions to the Company's health care plan (the "Plan")
beginning July 1, 2005. The Union argues that the court should
prevent the Company from eliminating its contributions pursuant to either (a) the
provisions of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151 et seq.
("RLA") that govern preservation of the status quo in major
disputes or (b) decisional law that suggests courts may issue
status quo injunctions in minor disputes to preserve the
jurisdiction of arbitration boards. The court determines that
this case involves a "minor" dispute as defined by the RLA and
that the Union therefore cannot seek a "major" dispute
injunction. The court refuses to issue a minor dispute injunction
to preserve the jurisdiction of the arbitration board, however,
because even assuming the court has the power to issue such
relief, this case, as a matter of law, does not amount to one of
the exceptional circumstances in which courts have suggested such
relief is available. Accordingly, the court denies the Union's
motion for a temporary restraining order.
In April 2000, the parties executed a collective bargaining
agreement (the National Master Agreement or "NMA") that became
effective on June 1, 2000, and amendable on June 1, 2004. Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 5-12; Defs.' Opp'n at 6. The Company services airlines,
and as the airline industry has struggled, so has the Company.
Defs.' Opp'n at 7-9; Goeke Decl. ¶¶ 5-11. In pursuing cost
reduction programs, the Company has endeavored to lower its
"single largest expense," labor costs. Goeke Decl. ¶ 13.
Beginning in December 2003, and in anticipation of the impending
amendability of the NMA, the Company entered negotiations with
the Union to cut costs.*fn4 Defs.' Opp'n at 10; see also
Am. Compl. ¶ 13 (describing the Company's proposals as "deep, across-the-board-cuts in wages and benefits").
In May 2005, following unsuccessful negotiations, the Company
provided the Union with the Company's "final offer," a package of
reduced benefits and compensation representing the Company's last
effort to negotiate with the Union.*fn5 Id. ¶ 18; Defs.'
Opp'n at 10; Bralich Decl. ¶ 5 & Ex. B. The Company then
announced that if the Union did not approve the proposal, the
Company would require all employees (i.e., Union and non-Union)
under the Plan to pay the full cost of medical coverage, with no
contributions from the Company.*fn6 Am. Compl. ¶ 20; Defs.'
Opp'n at 14; Bralich Decl. ¶ 18. The Union overwhelmingly
rejected the offer, negotiations ended, and the Company applied
for mediation. Am. Compl. ¶ 17; Defs.' Opp'n at 10.
The Union alleges that the Company informed its managers and
supervisors who were covered by the Plan (and thus, pursuant to
the NMA, subject to the proposed elimination of employer
contributions) that, effective July 1, 2005, the managers and
supervisors would receive a monthly payment in addition to their
salary. Am. Compl. ¶ 22. This payment, the Union alleges, offsets
or at least decreases the financial impact on managers and
supervisors of the Company's reduced contributions. Id. The
Company, pointing to "unacceptable" attrition levels, maintains
that the payment is part of a plan "to institute a broad-based
retention program for management and salaried employees." Defs.' Opp'n at 15-16;
Bralich Dec. ¶¶ 21-23.
A. Statutory Framework
The Norris-LaGuardia Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq. ("NLGA")
governs the issuance of injunctive relief in certain cases
growing out of or involving labor disputes. In general, the NLGA
"expresses a basic policy against the injunction of activities of
labor unions." Int' Ass'n of Machinists v. Street,
367 U.S. 740, 772 (1961). The act defines a labor dispute broadly: "any
controversy concerning terms or conditions of employment, or
concerning the association or representation of persons in
negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing, or seeking to arrange
terms or conditions of employment, regardless of whether or not
the disputants stand in the proximate relation of employer and
employee." 29 U.S.C. § 113(c).
The NLGA's "general limitation on district courts' power to
issue injunctions in labor disputes must be accommodated to the
more specific provisions of the [RLA]." Pittsburgh & Lake Erie
R. Co. v. Ry. Labor Executives' Ass'n, 491 U.S. 490, 513 (1989).
Under the RLA, courts classify disputes between labor and
management as "minor" or "major." E.g., Air Line Pilots Asso.,
Int'l., v. Eastern Air Lines, Inc., 863 F.2d 891, 895 (D.C. Cir.
1988) ("Eastern Air Lines I"). "[M]ajor disputes seek to create
contractual rights, minor disputes to enforce them." Hawaiian
Airlines, Inc. v. Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 253 (1994). More
specifically, a major dispute concerns "changes in rates of pay,
rules, or working conditions and relates to the formation of
collective bargaining agreements or efforts to secure them,"
whereas a minor dispute "involves a controversy over the
interpretation or application of [an] agreement ? covering rates
of pay, rules, working conditions." Nat' R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Transp.
Workers Union, 373 F.3d 121, 123-24 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citations
and quotations omitted; modifications in original).*fn7
Parties must follow different dispute resolution procedures for
major and minor disputes. A major dispute is subject to section 6
of the RLA, 45 U.S.C. § 156. In a major dispute,
[a] party desiring to effect a change of rates of
pay, rules, or working conditions must give advance
written notice. The parties must confer, and if
conference fails to resolve the dispute, either or
both may invoke the services of the National
Mediation Board, which may also proffer its services
sua sponte if it finds a labor emergency to exist.
If mediation fails, the Board must endeavor to induce
the parties to submit the controversy to binding
arbitration, which can take place, however, only if
both consent. If arbitration is rejected and the
dispute threatens "substantially to interrupt
interstate commerce to a degree such as to deprive
any section of the country of essential
transportation service, the Mediation Board shall
notify the President," who may create an emergency
board to investigate and report on the dispute.
Trainmen v. Jacksonville Terminal Co., 394 U.S. 369
, 378 (1969)
(citations omitted). Significantly, "[w]hile the [major] dispute
is working its way through these stages, neither party may
unilaterally alter the status quo." Id.
By contrast, 45 U.S.C. § 153 governs minor disputes and
requires the parties to engage in binding arbitration. The
parties are "free to act under [their] interpretation of the
collective bargaining agreement until the arbitrator rules
otherwise[.]" Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Intern. v. Eastern Air
Lines, Inc., 869 F.2d 1518, 1519-20 (D.C. Cir. 1989) ("Eastern
Air Lines II") (holding that "[b]ecause we find that this case
involves only a `minor dispute' over the interpretation of the
collective bargaining agreement, the trial court had no
jurisdiction to issue a status quo injunction. Rather, the Union was required to take
its grievance to binding arbitration under the parties'
B. Legal Standard for a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order
This court may issue interim injunctive relief only when the
(1) a substantial likelihood of success on the
merits, (2) that it would suffer irreparable injury
if the injunction is not granted, (3) that an
injunction would not substantially injure other
interested parties, and (4) that the public interest
would be furthered by the injunction.
Mova Pharm. Corp. v. Shalala, 140 F.3d 1060
, 1066 (D.C. Cir.
1998) (quoting CityFed Fin. Corp. v. Office of Thrift
Supervision, 58 F.3d 738, 746 (D.C. Cir. 1995)); see also World
Duty Free Americas, Inc. v. Summers, 94 F. Supp. 2d 61
(D.D.C. 2000). It is particularly important for the movant to
demonstrate a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.
Cf. Benten v. Kessler, 505 U.S. 1084, 1085 (1992) (per curiam).
Indeed, absent a "substantial indication" of likely success on
the merits, "there would be no justification for the court's
intrusion into the ordinary processes of administration and
judicial review." Am. Bankers Ass'n v. Nat'l Credit Union
Admin., 38 F. Supp. 2d 114
, 140 (D.D.C. 1999) (internal
The four factors should be balanced on a sliding scale, and a
party can compensate for a lesser showing on one factor by making
a very strong showing on another factor. CSX Transp., Inc. v.
Williams, 406 F.3d 667, 670 (D.C. Cir. May 3, 2005) (citing
CityFed Fin. Corp., 58 F.3d at 747). "An injunction may be
justified, for example, where there is a particularly strong
likelihood of success on the merits even if there is a relatively
slight showing of irreparable injury." CityFed Fin. Corp.,
58 F.3d at 747. Because interim injunctive relief is an extraordinary form of
judicial relief, courts should grant such relief sparingly.
Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997). As the Supreme
Court has said, "[i]t frequently is observed that a preliminary
injunction is an extraordinary and drastic remedy, one that
should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing,
carries the burden of persuasion." Id. (citation omitted).
Therefore, although the trial court has the discretion to issue
or deny a preliminary injunction, it is not a form of relief
granted lightly. In addition, any injunction that the court
issues must be carefully circumscribed and tailored to remedy the
harm shown. Nat'l Treasury Employees Union v. Yeutter,
918 F.2d 968, 977 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (citation omitted).
Under the RLA, when applying the traditional standard for
issuance of injunctive relief to major disputes, "[t]he district
courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to enjoin a violation of
the status quo pending completion of the required procedures,
without the customary showing of irreparable injury." Consol.
Rail Corp. v. Ry. Labor Executives' Ass'n, 491 U.S. 299, 303
(1989); Southern Ry. Co. v. Bhd. of Locomotive Firemen and
Enginemen, 337 F.2d 127, 133-34 (D.C. Cir. 1964) (holding that a
showing of irreparable injury for injunctive relief is not
required in light of the public interest in settlement of labor
disputes and the fact that the duty to maintain the status quo
"contains no qualification to the effect that the carrier has no
obligation to [maintain the status quo] unless irreparable
injury would otherwise result").
C. The Plaintiff Fails to Demonstrate a Substantial Likelihood of
Success on the Merits
1. The Parties are Engaged in a Minor Dispute
In determining whether this dispute is major or minor, "[t]he
court does not consider the merits of the underlying dispute; its
role is limited to determining whether the dispute can be characterized as involving the proper application or meaning of a
contract provision." Eastern Air Lines II, 869 F.2d at 1521
(quoting Railway Labor Exec. Ass'n v. Norfolk & W. Ry. Co.,
833 F.2d 700
, 704 (7th Cir. 1987)). The court must resolve any doubt
as to whether the dispute is major or minor in favor of the
latter characterization, id., and "must not place undue
emphasis on the contentions or maneuvers of the parties," but
should instead look to the terms of the existing agreement,
Rutland Ry. v. Bhd. of Locomotive Eng'rs, 307 F.2d 21
, 33 (2d
Cir. 1962). See also Con. Rail Corp., 491 U.S. at 305 (holding
that the distinction between major and minor disputes turns not
on a "case-by-case determination of the importance of the issue
presented," but on whether "the terms of an existing agreement
either establish or refute the presence of a right to take the
disputed action"). Ultimately, "if the action is arguably
justified by the terms of the parties' agreement," the dispute
is minor. Consolidated Rail Corp., 491 U.S. at 310 (emphasis
In this case, Article 24 of the NMA ("Health and Life
[w]hile administration of the [P]lan remains a
Company prerogative, bargaining unit Employee's
contribution rates for the various health plans and
optional life insurance will be the same each year
as the contribution rates for management/salaried
Further, the Company agrees that should there be any
change in the benefit level of the Health Care and
Life Insurance Plans during the term of this
agreement[,] it will apply to the Employees covered
under this Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Pl.'s Mot. at 5 (emphasis added). The Union does not dispute
that, at least superficially (i.e., without taking into account
the retention payment) the Company's elimination of employer
contributions applies equally to Union and non-Union employees.
Thus, the court concludes that the Company's interpretation of
Article 24 of the NMA as permitting the reduction in employer contributions is "arguably justified" based on a plain reading of
Article 24. Consol. Rail Corp., 491 U.S. at 310.
Nevertheless, the Union argues that the Company's retention
payments constitutes bad faith and therefore creates a major
dispute subject to a status quo injunction. E.g., Pl.'s Mot.
at 26. A completely unreasonable interpretation of a collective
bargaining agreement may create an inference of bad faith,
thereby constituting a repudiation of the agreement and thus a
major dispute. Air Line Pilots II, 869 F.2d at 1519. But for
this to occur,
even if the court is absolutely convinced that the
agreement prohibits the party's action, it may not
infer that the party has repudiated the agreement,
generating a major dispute, unless the court makes
the "essential finding" that the party's proffered
interpretation is "so inherently unreasonable as to
amount to bad faith."
Id. at 1523 & n. 5 (rejecting the argument that a court can
find a major dispute simply based on a violation of the contract
and stating that, "[t]o hold otherwise would allow the court to
find a major dispute based solely on its view of the merits
usurping the role of the arbitrator in interpreting and applying
Here, it is impossible for the court to make the "essential
finding" that the Company's proffered interpretation of the NMA
"is so inherently unreasonable as to amount to bad faith." Id.
at 1523. Indeed, the bad faith rubric seems entirely
inappropriate for the analysis, because the Union does not take
issue with the Company's interpretation of the NMA as allowing
the elimination of employer contributions to the Plan. The Union
instead emphatically criticizes the almost simultaneous
elimination of employer contributions and the issuance of
retention payments to certain non-Union workers. It is not the
court's role to ponder the suggestive contemporaneity of these
events. Rather, the court is constrained to look for a provision
in the NMA on which the initial action elimination of employer
contributions is arguably justified. Having found that
justification in Article 24, this court's role is at an
end.*fn8 Cf. Eastern Air Lines II, 869 F.3d at 1521
(noting that the court may "`peek' at the merits of the party's
contractual justification only when it is unclear whether there
is an agreement or contractual provision that, when interpreted
one way or the other, will resolve the dispute").
2. An Injunction is Not Necessary to Preserve the Jurisdiction of
The general rule is that courts lack jurisdiction to issue
injunctive relief in minor disputes because parties must submit
minor disputes to arbitration. E.g., Eastern Air Lines II,
869 F.2d at 1521 (holding that if a "`dispute is arguably resolved by
reference to the collective bargaining agreement,' it is a minor
dispute over which the courts have no jurisdiction"). Courts have
nonetheless held that "even when a dispute has been found to be
minor, a trial court may exercise equitable power to impose
conditions requiring the employer to maintain the status quo,
pending resolution of the dispute in arbitration." Eastern Air
Lines II, 869 F.2d at 1521 n. 2 (citation omitted) (noting that
"[t]his exception applies only when an injunction is necessary to
preserve the arbitrator's ability to decide the dispute");
Niagara Hooker Employees Union v. Occidental Chem. Corp.,
935 F.2d 1370
, 1377 (2nd Cir. 1991) (stating that "the union may
obtain a status quo injunction against an employer when the employer's action
has the effect of frustrating the arbitral process, or rendering
it a `hollow formality'") (quoting Lever Bros. Int'l Chem.
Workers Union, Local 217, 554 F.2d 115
, 123 (4th Cir.
The Union argues that any favorable award granted by an
arbitrator would be an "`empty victory' because [the award] could
not remedy the employees' inability to obtain medical treatment
in the time period from July 1 when most employees will lose
their health coverage under the Gate Gourmet benefit plan and
the date an arbitration decision finally issues." Pl.'s Mot. at
32. This court is aware of the personal difficulties workers will
encounter as a result of this court denying injunctive relief.
E.g., Pl.'s Mot. at 33 & Rolack Decls. But such hardship even
the extreme cases to which the Union directs this court's
attention does not constitute an event that would affect the
arbitrator's "ability to decide the dispute." Eastern Air Lines
II, 869 F.2d at 1521 n. 2. But hinging the issuance of an
injunction on an assessment of the degree of that hardship
distracts from the proper inquiry: whether injunctive relief is
needed to remedy a fundamental impediment to effectuating the
congressional goal of arbitration. No such impediment exists in
this case.*fn10 In any event, if the arbitrator finds that
the Company's contributions should have remained in effect, he can order
retroactive reinstatement. Defs.' Opp'n at 20; see also Aluminum
Worker's Local 215 v. Consol. Aluminum Corp., 696 F.2d 437, 444
(6th Cir. 1982) (holding that granting an injunction for injuries
related to temporary unemployment would "invite virtually every
employee laid-off or discharged in a manner which arguably
contravened the collective bargaining contract to resort to the
courts to stay the onset of joblessness. We cannot avoid the
conclusion that such a situation would have as much, if not more,
of a corrosive effect upon the arbitral process as [the
company's] actions allegedly will have here") (citing Buffalo
Forge Co. v. United Steelworkers of Am., AFL-CIO, 428 U.S. 397,
410-11 (1976)). Accordingly, the court holds that the Union fails
to demonstrate that arbitration of this dispute will be rendered
meaningless without an injunction from this court.
D. Other Factors
The Company urges this court to deny the Union's motion for a
temporary restraining order due to the Union's unreasonable delay
in seeking the requested relief. Defs.' Opp'n at 19 (arguing that
"[t]he Union's delay in filing its papers until one week before
the alleged deadline for a court ruling, when it could have filed
more than six weeks ago (and has been working on its papers for a
month), makes clear that the only emergency here is one the Union
created") (citing Fund for Animals v. Frizzell, 530 F.2d 982,
987-88 (D.C. Cir. 1975)). Because the court is denying the
Union's motion on substantive grounds, the Company's argument
regarding delay does not factor into the court's analysis.
Furthermore, because the Union cannot show any likelihood of
success on the merits, and because that failure goes to this
court's jurisdiction to proceed versus letting congressionally-mandated arbitration run
its course, the court need not address the other factors for
granting injunctive relief. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit
Comm'n v. Holiday Tours, Inc., 559 F.2d 841, 843 (D.C. Cir.
1977) (holding that, "[w]ithout such a substantial indication of
probable success, there would be no justification for the court's
intrusion into the ordinary processes of administration and
For the foregoing reasons the court, this 1st day of July,
2005, denies the Union's motion for a temporary restraining
order. An order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion issued on
June 30, 2005.