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decided: March 25, 1957.



Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Harlan, Brennan; Whittaker took no part in the consideration or decision of this case

Author: Warren

[ 353 U.S. Page 31]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We are asked to interpret that provision of the Railway Labor Act*fn1 which created the National Railroad Adjustment Board for the resolution of minor grievances in the event that the parties were unable to settle them by negotiation. The ultimate question is whether a railway labor organization can resort to a strike over matters pending before the Adjustment Board.*fn2

[ 353 U.S. Page 32]

     The Chicago River and Indiana Railroad Company operates the switching and yard facilities at the Chicago stockyards. A segment of the employees of the River Road were represented by the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. A collective bargaining agreement between the Brotherhood and the River Road was in existence throughout the period covered by this case. The present disagreement arises from an accumulation of twenty-one grievances of members of the Brotherhood against the carrier. Nineteen of these were claims for additional compensation, one was a claim for reinstatement to a higher position, and one was for reinstatement in the employ of the carrier. When negotiations failed, the Brotherhood called a strike. Because of the serious nature of the impending work stoppage, the National Mediation Board proffered its services. The mediator was unsuccessful, and upon his withdrawal, the River Road submitted the controversy to the Adjustment Board. The Brotherhood promptly issued a strike call for four days later.

The River Road then sought relief from a District Court. Because of the threatened irreparable injury to the carrier, its employees and the 600 industries and 27 railroads served by it, the complaint prayed for a preliminary injunction, and ultimately a permanent injunction, against a strike by the Brotherhood over the grievances pending before the Adjustment Board. A temporary restraining order was issued, but that order was vacated and the complaint dismissed upon the finding by the district judge that the Norris-LaGuardia Act was applicable and that the court lacked jurisdiction to grant the relief requested. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed. 229 F.2d 926. A permanent injunction

[ 353 U.S. Page 33]

     was accordingly entered by the District Court and affirmed by the Seventh Circuit. We granted certiorari in order to resolve an important question concerning interpretation and application of the Railway Labor Act.*fn3 352 U.S. 865.

The grievances for which redress is sought by the Brotherhood are admittedly "minor disputes" as that phrase is known in the parlance of the Railway Labor Act. These are controversies over the meaning of an existing collective bargaining agreement in a particular fact situation, generally involving only one employee. § 2, Sixth.*fn4 They may be contrasted with "major disputes" which result when there is disagreement in the bargaining process for a new contract. § 2, Seventh.*fn5 See Elgin, J. & E. R. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 722-724.

The first step toward settlement of either kind of dispute is negotiation and conference between the parties. Section 3, First (i),*fn6 provides that --

"The disputes between an employee or group of employees and a carrier or carriers growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions . . . shall be handled in the usual manner up to and including the chief operating officer of the carrier designated to handle such disputes . . . ."

[ 353 U.S. Page 34]

     If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the section continues --

". . . but, failing to reach an adjustment in this manner, the disputes may be referred by petition of the parties or by either party to the appropriate division of the [National Railroad] Adjustment Board with a full statement of the facts and all supporting data bearing upon the disputes."

Section 3, First (m),*fn7 declares that --

"The awards of the several divisions of the Adjustment Board . . . shall be final and binding upon both parties to the dispute . . . ."

This language is unequivocal. Congress has set up a tribunal to handle minor disputes which have not been resolved by the parties themselves. Awards of this Board are "final and binding upon both parties." And either side may submit the dispute to the Board. The Brotherhood suggests that we read the Act to mean only that an Adjustment Board has been organized and that the parties are free to make use of its procedures if they wish to; but that there is no compulsion on either side to allow the Board to settle a dispute if an alternative remedy, such as resort to economic duress, seems more desirable.*fn8 Such an interpretation would render ...

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