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.
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 ...