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Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority v. Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen

argued: April 18, 1989.

SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY
v.
BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD SIGNALMEN, ET AL., BROTHERHOOD OF RAILWAY SIGNALMEN; RONALD E. MCKENZIE, GENERAL CHAIRMAN, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILWAY SIGNALMEN; V. M. SPEAKMAN, PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILWAY SIGNALMEN; W. KEEBLER, LOCAL CHAIRMAN, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILWAY SIGNALMEN; BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS; LARRY MCFATHER, PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS; R. W. GOODWIN, GENERAL CHAIRMAN, BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS; T. J. DORRICOTT, VICE CHAIRMAN, BROTHERHOOD OF LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS; GEOFFREY ZEH, PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD OF MAINTENANCE OF WAY EMPLOYEES; WILLIAM LARVE, VICE-PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD OF MAINTENANCE OF WAY EMPLOYEES; LEONARD W. ALLEN, GENERAL CHAIRMAN, BROTHERHOOD OF MAINTENANCE OF WAY EMPLOYEES; A. BENZ, LOCAL CHAIRMAN, BROTHERHOOD OF MAINTENANCE OF WAY EMPLOYEES; R.I. KILROY, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, TRANSPORTATION COMMUNICATIONS UNION; HOWARD RUDOLPH, GENERAL CHAIRMAN, TRANSPORTATION COMMUNICATIONS UNION; LANCE ROGERS, DISTRICT CHAIRMAN; C. E. WHEELER, PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILWAY CARMEN; A. J. TITUS, LOCAL CHAIRMAN, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILWAY CARMEN; JAMES J. PARRY, GENERAL CHAIRMAN, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILWAY CARMEN; EDWARD P. MCENTEE, INTERNATIONAL VICE-PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS; HARVEY LINDEMUTH, GENERAL CHAIRMAN, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS; F. A. HARDIN, PRESIDENT; C.P. JONES, CHAIRMAN, UNITED TRANSPORTATION UNION; D. M. THOMPSON, LOCAL CHAIRMAN, UNITED TRANSPORTATION UNION; J. E. BURNS, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS; INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS; CHARLES C. ARTHUR, JR., GENERAL CHAIRMAN, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS; KEITH BEAN, LOCAL CHAIRMAN, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS; SHEETMETAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION; RICHARD KING, INTERNATIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, SHEETMETAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION; R. P. BRANSON, GENERAL CHAIRMAN, SHEETMETAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION; R. F. SCHEMBERS, LOCAL CHAIRMAN, SHEETMETAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION; TRANSPORTATION WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA; CHARLES H. LITTLE, PRESIDENT, TRANSPORTATION WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. D.C. Civ. No. 89-1604.

Seitz,*fn* Sloviter and Greenberg, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Circuit Judge.

Appellants, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen and several other unions (the "unions") representing employees of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority ("SEPTA") Regional Rail Division, appeal from the order of the district court granting SEPTA's motion for a preliminary injunction. The order enjoined the unions' membership from engaging in a sympathy strike with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union ("IAM" or the "Eastern employees") members who are striking against Eastern Airlines ("Eastern") and directed the parties to arbitration. The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1337. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1).

BACKGROUND

SEPTA is divided into four divisions: the Regional Rail Division; the City Transit Division; the Red Arrow Division; and the Frontier Division. The Regional Rail Division, whose unions are the subject of the instant dispute, makes in excess of 90,000 passenger trips a day in the Counties of Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery in Pennsylvania.

At midnight, on March 4, 1989, IAM began a strike against Eastern. The district court found, and it is not challenged, that IAM intends to engage in secondary picketing at SEPTA facilities.*fn1 We emphasize that SEPTA did not dispute at the preliminary hearing, and does not dispute on appeal, that IAM members have the right to engage in secondary picketing at SEPTA facilities. SEPTA, however, contests the rights of its union employees to honor any IAM secondary picket line.

The dispute between SEPTA and the unions emerges from the parties' understanding of their collective bargaining agreements, including certain "side agreements" and the bargaining process leading up to the signing of the collective bargaining agreements. SEPTA believes that, all things considered, the collective bargaining agreements are properly read to prohibit the unions from honoring any secondary picket lines set up by IAM members. Not surprisingly, the unions take the opposite position.

Each of the collective bargaining agreements between SEPTA and the unions contains an arbitration provision. Moreover, each of these agreements also contains a "no-strike" provision. The no-strike provision in the body of each of the collective bargaining agreements, except for the agreement between SEPTA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union ("IBEW"),*fn2 provides substantially as follows: with respect to any strike by the Union, the provisions of the Railway Labor Act shall apply. In addition, except for the IBEW agreement, each of the agreements has attached to it a "side letter" agreement, the validity of which is not challenged by the unions for the purposes of this appeal. These side letter agreements are all substantially the same. Each refers to the no-strike provision in the relevant collective bargaining agreement and prohibits the signatory union from engaging in any "sympathy strike . . . in support of any job action or picketing by any SEPTA non-commuter rail employes."

The text of several of the side letter agreements states that the side letter agreements are subject to a "policy statement" of the signatory union. The Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen ("Signalmen") makes its side letter agreement subject to the following policy:

It is the policy of the Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen to support its members in declining to work when another railroad labor organization is on strike. When a strike exists a member should decline to work until pickets have been removed, and the strike is over. It is the further policy of the Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen that the right to decline to work during the strike of another railroad labor organization is a part of the rights of railroad employees guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and the Railway Labor Act. The Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen will support its members in the free exercise of these rights.

The policy statement of the United Transportation Union ("UTU") provides that "[when] a strike of any other nationally recognized labor organization is in effect and danger to the safety of our members exists in or about the area affected by the strike, and/or if there exists any substantial present or potential threat of danger to the members enroute to or from their work, and/or to the members' families, it is the policy of the United Transportation Union to support its members in declining to enter the territory directly affected." The policy statement of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers provides that "[it] is the policy of the B. of L.E. that it will support and, if necessary, place the full power of the B. of L.E., behind the members of the B. of L.E., who, because of fear of hazard or injuries to themselves or families or damage to their personal property decline to cross picket lines, and if such conditions do exist the management of the railroad so affected will be notified by the Local or General Chairman of the B. of L.E."

Based on the language of the collective bargaining agreements, the side-letter agreements, the policy statements, and additional testimony adduced at the preliminary hearing, the district court held that a "minor dispute," see 45 U.S.C. §§ 152, Sixth and § 153, First(i), existed between SEPTA and the unions as to whether the unions could engage in a sympathy strike with the Eastern employees. The district court found that (1) the IBEW has, without question, contractually agreed not to engage in any sympathy strike at any SEPTA operations; and (2) the other collective bargaining agreements "could clearly be determined at arbitration . . . to prohibit the defendant unions from honoring with a sympathy strike secondary picketing by any unions and not just strikes by 'SEPTA non-commuter rail employees.'"

Having concluded that a minor dispute existed, the district court held that it had jurisdiction to enjoin the unions from striking while the minor dispute was being arbitrated in accordance with the procedures set forth in the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"). The district court then found that SEPTA, in addition to proving that a minor dispute existed, satisfied the other criteria for obtaining preliminary injunctive relief,*fn3 and enjoined the unions from violating the RLA by, inter alia, engaging in a sympathy strike. The district court also directed the "defendant and plaintiff [to] proceed to arbitration under their respective contracts and the RLA minor dispute resolution procedures to resolve their dispute concerning defendant unions' claimed right to honor the . . . [IAM] picket lines." It is the issuance of this preliminary injunction which the unions appeal.

We must review the order of the district court and determine if the district court abused its discretion, committed an obvious error in applying the law, or made a serious mistake in considering the proof in issuing the preliminary injunction at issue. United Telegraph Workers, AFL-CIO v. Western Union, 771 F.2d 699, 703 (3d Cir. 1985). An "abuse of discretion is a clear error of judgment, and not simply a different result which can arguably be obtained when applying the law to the facts of the case." Id.

II. DISCUSSION

The threshold question is whether the dispute between SEPTA and the unions can be termed a "minor dispute" as that phrase is used in the context of the RLA. 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. If we find that a minor dispute exists, we must then determine whether the preliminary injunction prohibiting the unions from going on strike was properly issued.

A. EXISTENCE OF A MINOR DISPUTE

The RLA, and the concepts that are a part of it, "cannot be appreciated apart from the environment out of which it came and the purposes which it was designed to serve." Elgin, J & E Ry. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 751, 89 L. Ed. 1886, 65 S. Ct. 1282 (1945) (Frankfurter, J. dissenting). "In adopting the . . . [RLA], Congress endeavored to bring about stable relationships between labor and management in the most important national industry." Brotherhood of Ry. Trainmen v. Chicago River & Ind. R.R., 353 U.S. 30, 40, 1 L. Ed. 2d 622, 77 S. Ct. 635 (1957). It was the goal of Congress to "prevent, if possible, wasteful [strikes] and [the] interruption of interstate commerce." Burlington Northern R.R. v. Brotherhood of Maintenance of the Way Employes, 481 U.S. 429, 95 L. Ed. 2d 381, 107 S. Ct. ...


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