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Pullman Co. v. Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen


April 10, 1963


Author: Swygert


SWYGERT, C.J.: The action instituted below was for an injunction to enjoin a planned strike of the conductor-employees of plaintiff, The Pullman Company. The defendants include the Order of Railway Conductors and Brakemen and two officers of that labor organization.

A temporary restraining order was granted pending a trial on the merits which occurred on April 18, 1962. The trial judge, on April 23, 1962, entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and a final decree enjoining the strike. This appeal followed.

The injunction was granted on the ground that the conductors' organization had violated the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 152, et seq . It is clear that the District Court lacked jurisdiction to grant an injunction in this labor dispute, Norris-LaGuardia Act, 29 U.S.C. § 101, et seq ., unless a clear violation of the Railway Labor Act was shown.The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Chicago River & Indiana R. Co ., 353 U.S. 30 (1957); Virginia Ry. Co. v. System Federation No. 40, 300 U.S. 515 (1937).

The common stock of The Pullman Company is owned by fifty-three railroads that acquired its capital stock in 1947, following a decree of a federal district court in Philadelphia requiring Pullman, Inc. to divest itself of its sleeping car business.

The Pullman Company as it presently exists under railroad ownership is a service enterprise. Under its Uniform Service Contract with the railroads it serves, Pullman must offer its services as an innkeeper of hotels on wheels to any railroad which desires its service. Upon notice, any railroad can discontinue its service requirements; furthermore, each railroad has the right at any time to take over the operation of sleeping cars from Pullman.

The instant dispute revolves around the right of the railroads to discontinue their relations with Pullman on short notice and the disruptive effect this may have on the employees of Pullman represented by the conductors' organization. While other issues are collaterally involved in the dispute between Pullman and the organization, it is sufficient for our purpose to focus on this aspect of the dispute because it appears from the District Court's decision that the injunction was granted on the grounds: (1) the organization failed to exhaust the provisions of the Railway Labor Act as respects the formal notice requirements of Section (6) of the Act, 45 U.S.C. § 156; (2) the mediation efforts of the National Mediation Board as required by 45 U.S.C. § 155 had not been terminated as of the date of the proposed strike; (3) the organization had failed to obtain a proper strike ballot vote from its membership regarding the proposed strike; and (4) the "Joint Proposal" made to Pullman by the defendants related to intercorporate arrangements and hence was not "a proper subject of collective bargaining" under the Railway Labor Act.

On February 27, 1959, the organization served a Section (6) notice on Pullman, proposing wage increases. On March 30, 1959, Pullman served a notice on the organization proposing modification of rules governing working conditions. The organization filed its own notice for changes in rules governing working conditions on April 24, 1959; this notice related to consolidation of seniority rosters.

Negotiations between the parties were conducted but no agreement was reached. On September 22, 1959, the organization submitted a strike ballot to its members who voted to authorize a strike.

On November 7, 1960, after the strike ballot just mentioned, the organization served another Section (6) notice on the company proposing job protection and other rules for Pullman conductors.*fn1 An examination of the Section (6) notices shows that the one dated November 7, 1960, contains the matters at issue in this case.

With the assistance of the National Mediation Board, a mediation agreement was executed between the organization and Pullman on November 18, 1960, which resolved the wage issue between the parties. The mediation agreement continued the other issues raised by the Section (6) notices (including those raised by the notice of November 7, 1960) under the jurisdiction of the National Mediation Board. The agreement permitted the service of additional Section (6) notices by the company as counterproposals to the organization's notices. On December 5, 1960, the company served a Section (6) notice on the organization proposing the compulsory retirement of Pullman conductors at age sixty-six on and after January 1, 1962, and at age sixty-five on and after January 1, 1963.

The National Mediation Board terminated its services on August 4, 1961, and a strike was called for September 4, 1961.

All of the issues not settled by the mediation agreement were submitted to an Emergency Board appointed by the President of the United States on September 1, 1961, pursuant to Section 10 of the Railway Labor Act.

The Emergency Board reported to the President on December 11, 1961. The Board listed twenty-five issues in dispute that were yet unresolved. The Board's discussion in its report of the issue of "Job Stabilization and Severance Allowance" is pertinent to our discussion.*fn2

It is to be noted that in evaluating the organization's proposals in the Section (6) notice of November 7, 1960, the Emergency Board rejected any proposal for a "job freeze," and viewed the organization's proposal as to severance benefits as being impractical without additional ground work being laid. The Board's suggestions along this line clearly outlined the proper direction that future negotiations between the parties should take in finding a solution to the problem of job security raised by the Section (6) notice of November 7, 1960:

". . . It appears to us that the railroads, the Pullman Company and the Organization, all three must be involved . We think that at the very least, the Pullman Company and the Organization should jointly attempt to devise some program for protection of Pullman conductors under these circumstances, which they can present to the railroads as a group, or to an individual railroad at such time as it indicates its intention to reclaim its sleeping cars. One approach, which apparently was given some thought in connection with the New York Central and which seems to us to have merit, would be to give displaced Pullman conductors some preference in filling new assistant train conductor positions which are created as the result of such takeover."

The Board recommended that the proposal of the organization with respect to job stabilization be withdrawn.

The organization, declaring that they were attempting to comply with the suggestions of the Emergency Board, submitted on December 28, 1961, to Pullman a document intended to adapt the Washington Job Protection Agreement to the situation of Pullman conductors. On December 29, 1961, the organization presented to Pullman a letter which might be addressed jointly by Pullman and its conductors to the railroads using the services of Pullman, together with a "Joint Proposal" which Pullman and the organization might submit to the railroads. Pullman does not dispute the fact that the organization submitted various proposals, but insists that they were merely informal proposals not embodied in a Section (6) notice as required by the Railway Labor Act. Pullman agrees that the proposals fell in two areas:

"1. Extension of the Washington Job Protection Agreement benefits to Pullman conductors adversely affected by railroad mergers and abandonments;

"2. In the event of take-overs of sleeping car service, Pullman conductors to be come railroad employees, carrying their jobs and seniority with them and working under the terms of their collective bargaining agreement with Pullman."

Several meetings followed, various counter-proposals were made by Pullman, and numerous letters were exchanged by the parties without agreement being reached. On April 3, 1962, the organization gave notice of a strike to begin April 12. On April 3, the National Mediation Board gave notice that it would again enter the proceedings, in the meantime requesting a further postponement of the strike. The organization agreed to continue its conferences with Pullman and the Board, but declined to postpone the strike. The instant action began on April 10. First a temporary restraining order was granted; then followed the permanent injunction.

I. The District Court, in its findings of fact and conclusions of law stated:

Findings of Fact -

"11. The Conductors' second proposal of December 28, 1961, was a so-called 'Joint proposal' to be signed by Pullman and the organization, and the railroad users of Pullman service . . . This Joint Proposal was not included in the Conductors' notice of November 7, 1960, or any other notices served by the organization pursuant to Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act.

Conclusions of Law -

"2. Plaintiff and defendants are both subject to the duty imposed by the Railway Labor Act to exert every reasonable effort to settle all disputes in order to avoid any interruption to commerce or to the operation of any carrier. * * *

"3. Defendants' refusal to postpone their threatened strike pending the efforts of the National Mediation Board to mediate a settlement of the dispute violated the Railway Labor Act.

"6. The proposals first presented by defendants in December, 1961, raised new issues beyond the scope of any notice previously served by defendants pursuant to Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act. As to the issues now in dispute between the parties the processes of the Railway Labor Act have not been exhausted. The strike called by defendants is, therefore, illegal and should be enjoined."

We hold that these conclusions, both factual and legal, are, as a matter of law, erroneous.

We believe that a Section (6) notice is adequate if it informs a party of the purpose sought to be attained by the other party with sufficient definition to enable the former to understand the implications of the notice and proposed means adapted to the goal's attainment. The fact that the course suggested for the attainment of the goal proves to be unacceptable to one of the parties, or is found impractical by a Presidential Emergency Board (as here), does not render nugatory the good-faith tender of a Section (6) notice or affect its scope.

In the instant case, the Section 6 notice of November 7, 1960, adequately informed Pullman that the goal of the organization was job protection in situations arising from "the termination, cancellation or modification of any contract between The Pullman Company and any other common carrier by railroad" or the abandonment, transfer, consolidation or merger of any other common carrier by railroad that affects the operation of sleeping or parlor cars owned by or leased to The Pullman Company." Pullman was put on notice of its implications when the notice was given. Certainly, if the company was not cognizant of its implications at that time, it became so after the Emergency Board made its recommendations. To hold that every proffer of a new solution to a problem gives rise to a right on the part of one of the bargaining parties to demand a new Section (6) notice would foster inflexible attitudes, a result not consonant with free collective bargaining or the spirit of the Railway Labor Act.

The proposals of December, 1961, only attempted to implement the suggestions of the Emergency Board. The fact that Pullman and the organization reached an impasse in negotiations on the "means" by which job protection was to be accomplished is immaterial to whether the organization violated the Railway Labor Act. If the parties complied with the bargaining requirements of the Act, the District Court had no authority to grant the injunction.

In the words of the United States Supreme Court, "The parties are required to submit to the successive procedures designed to induce agreement. Section 5 First (b). But compulsions go only to insure that those procedures are exhausted before resort can be had to self help." Elgin, J. & E. R. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 725 (1945). See also, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co ., 31 Law Week 4240 (Mar. 4, 1963).

We think it significant that at no time before this suit was started did Pullman protest to the organization or any of the government boards that the proposals in question were not covered by the November 7, 1960, Section (6) notice.

II. Because of our determination that the proposals of December, 1961, were within the scope of the Section (6) notice filed on November 7, 1960, the conclusion of the District Court that the reentry of the National Mediation Board into the dispute on April 3, 1961, started a new running of the statutory thirty-day waiting period is erroneous. Only one such waiting period is required by the statute. Elgin, J. & E. Ry. Co. v. Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, 302 F.2d 540 (7th Cir. 1962). Pan American World Airways v. Flight Eng. Intern. Assoc ., 306 F.2d 840 (2d Cir. 1962).

III. We do not believe that the District Court could legally inquire into the strike authority of the conductors' organization as obtained from its membership.*fn3 The Order of Railroad Conductors and Brakemen is the duly certified bargaining representative of the Pullman conductors under the Railway Labor Act. Whether the conductors fully complied with the rules of their organization does not warrant, in this setting, an inquiry by the court. Such would be no more justified than would be an examination into the intracorporate activities of Pullman to determine whether it followed the desires of its stockholders or board of directors or was in compliance with its corporate charter in not acceding to the organization's proposals.

IV. The District Court found that the proposals made by the organization in December, 1961, contemplated intercorporate bargaining between Pullman and the railroads, and hence, were unlawful. It seems to us untenable to say that the organization violated the Railway Labor Act when these proposals embodied the very suggestions made to the parties by the Presidential Emergency Board and when the Board had asked the organization to withdraw its previous proposal with respect to job stabilization.

To hold that the District Court was correct in branding these proposals illegal, would be to say that the Emergency Board disapproved an impractical approach to the problem and suggested an illegal alternative. The Railway Labor Act should not be interpreted so as to create that kind of contradiction.

Since we are convinced that as a matter of law there was no showing of a violation by the Order of Railroad Conductors and Brakemen of the Railway Labor Act, the Norris-LaGuardia Act prevented the District Court from issuing the injunction. The order granting it is reversed.

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