Monday, March 10, 2008
Court: No Status Quo Requirement During Contract Negotiations
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Railway Labor Act does not impose a status quo requirement precluding parties from unilaterally changing working conditions before a collective bargaining agreement has been formed, even if negotiations have commenced, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
Affirming the decision of U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the Northern District of California, the court found that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was not entitled to injunctive relief preventing North American Airlines from altering the terms of pilots’ employment while the airline and the union engaged in collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
The airline, during the course of negotiations with the union for an initial collective bargaining agreement, sent a memorandum to all its employees regarding plans to cut costs by making scheduling changes for its pilots or making wage cuts.
North American considered the pilots’ cooperation necessary to execute any scheduling changes effectively, and sought input from the Teamsters during negotiations. After deeming the pilots unwilling to cooperate to its satisfaction, the airline made the unilateral decision to institute wage deductions and implement other changes to the pilots’ working conditions.
The Teamsters filed suit, alleging that North American had violated its obligations under section 2 of the RLA. It sought injunctive relief from any unilateral alterations to the pilot’s terms of employment and a return to the prior conditions.
The district court denied the Teamsters’ motion for preliminary injunctive relief on the ground that the union had failed to demonstrate a likelihood of prevailing on its claims, and later entered final judgment in favor of North American.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision.
Citing the opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court in Williams v. Jacksonville Terminal Co. (1942) 315 U.S. 386 (1942)—where the Supreme Court explained that the RLA’s status quo provisions are “aimed at preventing changes in conditions previously fixed by collective bargaining agreements,” and rejected the argument that section 2, read in context with the other provisions of the RLA, imposed a status quo requirement before a collective bargaining agreement is made—and Detroit & Toledo Shore Line R.R. Co. v. United Transportation Union (1969) 396 U.S. 142, Jusice Sandra S. Ikuta wrote for the majority that “the responsibility to ‘exert every reasonable effort to make…agreements’ commences before any agreement has been formed… [but the act] does not expressly impose any obligation on the parties to maintain the status quo during this preagreement time frame.”
“Shore Line did not even address the applicability of a status quo provision in the period before a collective bargaining agreement had been completed, and so it in no way modified Williams’s ruling that a carrier can ‘exercise its authority to arrange its business relations with its employee’ during the time frame before an initial collective bargaining agreement has been completed.”
Although the Teamsters raised several policy arguments, Ikuta opined that they would not overcome Williams’ conclusion that the status quo provisions of the RLA do not bind the parties prior to the formation of an initial collective bargaining agreement, reiterating that “the essential holding of Williams remains good law.”
Pointing out that the district court found that the parties had continued to negotiate in good faith, and that there was no indication that the parties would not eventually reach an agreement, Ikuta concluded that the Teamsters could not carry its burden to demonstrate that an injunction was the “only practical, effective means of enforcing the duty to exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain agreements.”
Justices Sidney R. Thomas and Richard C. Tallman joined Ikuta on her opinion.
The case is Intdeernational Brotherhood of Teamsters v. North American Airlines, No. 05-17436.
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