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IBT/HERE EMPLOYEE COUNCIL v. GATE GOURMET DIVISION AMERICAS

July 1, 2005.

IBT/HERE EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATIVES' COUNCIL, Plaintiff,
v.
GATE GOURMET DIVISION AMERICAS et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  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.

  II. BACKGROUND

  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.

  III. ANALYSIS

  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 ...


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