United States District Court, D. Colorado
BLET GENERAL COMMITTEE OF ADJUSTMENT BNSF, former ATSF, BLET GENERAL COMMITTEE OF ADJUSTMENT BNSF-MONTANA RAIL LINK, former B&Q/GN/NP/SP&S, BLET GENERAL COMMITTEE OF ADJUSTMENT BNSF, former &S/FW&D/CRI&P, Plaintiffs,
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant.
Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.
are three collective bargaining representatives for employees
of Defendant BNSF Railway Company. Plaintiffs brought this
action as a result of Defendant's consolidation of
collective bargaining agreements (“CBAs”) during
the implementation of new interdivisional rail service
(“ID service”). In the present motion, Plaintiffs
seek a status quo injunction requiring Defendant to operate
under the CBAs previously in effect while the parties engage
in the Railway Labor Act's (“RLA”)
arbitration process. According to Plaintiffs, I have
jurisdiction to enter such an injunction, because this a
“major dispute” under the RLA. In a separate
motion, Defendant seeks to dismiss this case, because it
involves only a “minor dispute.” I hold that the
present dispute is minor under the RLA. Defendant's
actions were arguably justified by the terms of the 1986
National Agreement the parties entered into, which Plaintiffs
do not dispute is part of the parties' CBAs. Accordingly,
I grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, and I deny
Plaintiffs' Motion for a Status Quo Injunction.
is comprised of several former railroads that the Interstate
Commerce Commission consolidated in 1996. Am. Compl. ¶
5, ECF No. 11. Plaintiffs negotiate and administer CBAs with
Defendant. Id. ¶ 4. Some of the CBAs and other
labor agreements pertain to all of Defendant's employees,
and others apply only on certain railroads. Id.
2017 Defendant notified Plaintiffs that it planned to
establish ID service to operate rail lines between new
locations. Id. ¶ 7. Defendant stated it was
instituting this service pursuant to Article IX of the
National Agreement, and that such service would be subject to
the Colorado and Southern Railway (“C&S”)
CBA, regardless of whether the employees were previously
governed by that agreement. Id.; ECF No.
20-3. The National Agreement permits Defendant
to serve a written notice proposing the conditions for new ID
service. ECF No. 20-2. The service then operates on a trial
basis until the parties complete arbitration. Id.
subsequently informed Defendant that it could not replace the
existing CBAs without obtaining their agreement. Id.
¶ 8. Although the parties engaged in negotiations, they
did not resolve the dispute. Id. ¶ 9. In
January 2018 Defendant unilaterally implemented the ID
service on a trial basis and required all new railway lines
to operate under the C&S CBA. Id. ¶ 10;
Decl. of Milton H. Siegele ¶ 15, ECF No. 20-1. This
allegedly caused many of Defendant's employees to undergo
lower wage rates, loss of their profit-sharing plan, loss of
their 401(k) employer match, changes in layover time and pay,
and changes in job assignments and work schedules. Am. Compl.
result, Plaintiffs filed suit on March 19, 2018. Compl., ECF
No. 1. In their Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs assert
Defendant violated the RLA's “major dispute
provisions” by making changes to rates of pay and
working conditions without performing the required
procedures. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-27. Additionally,
Plaintiffs allege Defendant violated various labor agreements
between the parties, including the New York Dock
conditions, the Cramdown Agreement, and the North Loop
Agreement. Id. ¶¶ 13-21. Generally, these
agreements require Defendant to follow certain procedures
when modifying CBAs. Id.
March 27, 2018, Plaintiffs filed the present Motion for a
Status Quo Injunction, ECF No. 16. Plaintiffs seek to restore
the CBAs previously in effect at least until the parties
complete the formal arbitration process. Id.
According to Plaintiffs, an injunction is proper, because
Defendant's authority to unilaterally change the CBAs is
a major dispute under the RLA. Id. at 3-8.
April 17, 2018, Defendant responded to Plaintiffs' motion
and contemporaneously filed the present Motion to Dismiss.
Resp. to Mot. for Injunction, ECF No. 21; Mot. to Dismiss,
ECF No. 19. Defendant's response and motion argue that I
lack subject matter jurisdiction to decide this case, because
it involves only a minor dispute. Resp. to Mot. for
Injunction 4-7; Mot. to Dismiss 12-19. According to
Defendant, the plain language of the National Agreement
arguably permits it to unilaterally determine working
conditions on a trial basis when establishing ID service.
Mot. to Dismiss 12-14. Additionally, Defendant relies on the
parties' past practices and relevant arbitration awards
as support for its authority to make the disputed changes.
Id. at 14-16.
11, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a reply in support of their
request for an injunction and a response to Defendant's
motion. Reply in Supp. of Mot. for Injunction, ECF No. 27;
Resp. to. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 28. Plaintiffs primarily
rely on a recent arbitration award, which held that the
National Agreement does not permit a different carrier to
unilaterally change existing CBAs. Resp. to Mot. to Dismiss
5-8. According to Plaintiffs, this arbitration award
“expose[s] [Defendant's] position as
‘frivolous or obviously insubstantial' . . .
.” Id. Defendant filed a Reply in Support of
its Motion to Dismiss on May 25, 2018, ECF No. 29.
parties' motions seek resolution of same question-is
Defendant's authority to use the C&S CBA for its
consolidated rail lines a major or minor dispute? If the
dispute is major, I have jurisdiction to require Defendant to
use the prior CBAs until the parties complete the
“lengthy process of bargaining and mediation” the
RLA requires. Consol. Rail Corp. v. Ry. Labor Execs.'
Ass'n (Conrail), 491 U.S. 299, 302-03
(1989). If this is a minor dispute, I lack jurisdiction over
it, and the issue must be determined by the National Railroad
Adjustment Board (“NRAB”). Id. at 304
(“The Board (as we shall refer to any adjustment board
under the RLA) has exclusive jurisdiction over minor
disputes.”). I find that this case involves a minor
determining whether disputes are major or minor, courts look
to whether the carrier seeks to create contractual rights or
merely enforce them. Id. at 302. Major disputes
relate to “the formation of collective bargaining
agreements or efforts to secure them.” Id.
(quoting Elgin, J. & E.R. Co. v. Burley, 325
U.S. 711, 723 (1945)). In contrast, minor disputes involve
“controversies over the meaning of an existing
collective bargaining agreement in a particular fact
situation.” Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. v. Norris,
512 U.S. 246, 253 (1994) (quoting Bhd. of R.R. Trainmen
v. Chi. River & Ind. R.R. Co., 353 U.S. 30, 33
(1957)). The “distinguishing feature of [a minor
dispute] is that the dispute may be conclusively resolved by
interpreting the existing agreement.” Conrail,
491 U.S. at 305.
carrier “bears a ‘relatively light burden' in
establishing exclusive jurisdiction in the Adjustment Board
under the RLA.” Bhd. of Maint. of Way Emps. Div. v.
Burlington N. Santa FeRy. Co., 596 F.3d 1217,
1223 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Conrail, 491 U.S. at
307)). In fact, “a party need only show that the
contested action is ‘arguably justified' by the
terms of the collective bargaining agreement.”
Id. (quoting Conrail, 491 U.S. at 304-05).
An action is arguably justified by the CBA “if ...