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United Transportation Union v. Soo Line Railroad Co.

March 6, 1972


Hastings, Senior Circuit Judge, Fairchild and Kerner,*fn* Circuit Judges.

Author: Hastings


This is an action by United Transportation Union (union), a voluntary labor organization, against Soo Line Railroad Company (railroad), to enforce certain awards rendered by Special Board of Adjustment No. 678 on July 23, 1969. After the awards were issued a dispute arose between the parties concerning the meaning thereof. In a series of letters to UTU the railroad stated its position. These letters were forwarded by the union to the chairman of the Special Board requesting an interpretation of the awards. The Board chairman issued an interpretation on September 5, 1969. The railroad refused to apply the awards as interpreted by the chairman member of the Board. The union thereupon filed the instant suit for enforcement. There being little factual dispute in the pleadings filed by the parties, the union moved for judgment on the pleadings and the railroad moved for summary judgment. After briefing, the district court in a short memorandum decision, followed by order and judgment, granted the union's motion for judgment on the pleadings and denied the railroad's motion for summary judgment. The railroad appealed. We affirm.

The Special Board was acting under authority granted pursuant to the Railway Labor Act, Title 45, U.S.C.A. § 153. However, Board 678 was established by a memorandum of agreement between the railroad and the union on May 4, 1966, prior to the effective date of the 1966 amendments to section 3 of the Act. The awards were entered July 23, 1969. The petition for enforcement was filed on March 17, 1970, under section 3, First (p) of § 153 of the Act. A board of special adjustment is authorized to interpret its awards as provided in section 3, First (m) of § 153 of the Act.

The undisputed facts underlying this litigation concern a work rule disagreement over conflicting claims of certain railroad employees designated as yardmen and roadmen, both of such classes being represented by the union. At issue was a challenged practice of the railroad that required roadmen to perform certain yard switching operations claimed to be in violation of the applicable labor agreement.

The Special Board denied all claims made on behalf of the yardmen and in Awards Nos. 56, 57, 58, 62, 63, 64, 65 and 66 it found that the labor agreement had been violated as to the roadmen. These 8 awards are the subject of this litigation. In so ruling the Board held that Article V of the National Agreement of June 25, 1964 permitted the use of roadmen for the yard switching operation in question. This ruling resulted from reading Article V together with the prior basic labor agreement (Agreement No. 2) and concluding therefrom that Article V removed the restrictions contained in Agreement No. 2 which prohibited the use of roadmen to perform yard switching except on Sunday, or because of emergency conditions, or because of a bad order car or cars. In reading the agreements, the chairman of the Special Board found that the road brakemen, who performed such switching, should have their claims sustained but limited their payments to "payment of the constructive allowances provided in Agreement No. 2(e) for road Brakemen switching while no yard crew is on duty * * * namely, 'one (1) hour at the yard rate.'"

Each of the awards was signed by the railroad carrier member of the Board. Only 2 of the 8 subject awards were concurred in by the union member, the remaining 6 having been signed by him in dissent. However, the railroad subsequently took the position that there was nothing due and payable to the road brakemen under the 8 awards and wrote separate letters to the union denying further payment of each of such separate awards. It was these letters that the union forwarded to the chairman of the special Board, with copies to the other two Board members, requesting an interpretation as to whether or not the roadmen were entitled to "one (1) hour at the yard rate" in each instance. The railroad paid all other claims which it conceded to be covered by the awards.

The chairman of the Special Board sent his interpretation by covering letter to the carrier and union members of the Board, in which he disagreed with the railroad's contention, stating, inter alia : "The findings * * * that the claimants are entitled to the constructive allowance provided in Agreement No. 2(e), * * * mean that such payments are to be allowed regardless of the day of the week, the type of switching, or the road train involved, as long as the switching was performed during the second twelve-hour period." The chairman explained his reasoning and applied it to each of the awards interpreted. As above stated, the railroad refused to pay the awards as interpreted and the present litigation resulted.


The railroad first contends that the Special Board did not issue a valid interpretation of the awards in question for the reason that the interpretation was issued by the referee (the chairman member) rather than by the three members of the Board and that it was therefore "a nullity and is not judicially enforceable." It argues that the memorandum of agreement of May 4, 1966, pursuant to which the Board was established, provides in Section 2 that the Board shall consist of 3 members; that Section 8 provides that the Board shall interpret awards upon the request of either party to a dispute; that section 3, First (m) of § 153 of the Act provides that such interpretation of an award under dispute shall be made by the Division of the Board; and that therefore the chairman of the Board "had no more authority or jurisdiction to issue an interpretation on an ex parte basis than did the carrier member, the employee member or, for that matter, the Sheik of Araby." Reserving judgment on participation by the Sheik of Araby, we think the railroad overreaches in its contention concerning the chairman of the Board.

The railroad would have a formal convening of the Special Board to interpret its own awards. There is no continuing dispute between the parties. In reality a request for an interpretation of an award is merely for a clarification, a matter on which the parties cannot shed any additional light. See Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Central of Ga. Ry. Co., 5 Cir., 415 F.2d 403, 417-418 (1969), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 1008, 90 S. Ct. 564, 24 L. Ed. 2d 500 (1970).

In the case at bar, the author of the railroad's letters refusing payment, which precipitated the union's request for interpretation, was the carrier member of the Board. He concurred in the awards in the first instance, which the railroad now considers to have been a mistake. Although we need not pass upon the matter of waiver in the resolution of this appeal, the railroad never at any time prior to the chairman's interpretation requested a formal convening of the Board for that purpose. Indeed, it does not now request a remandment to the Board for an interpretation. With the chairman who wrote the awards sitting in the swing seat, the result of such a remand is obvious. It is further significant that the chairman kept the other two Board members fully advised of his actions and there appears to have been no dissent. Considering the inherent informality of arbitration proceedings and particularly as specifically related to interpretations subsequently requested and made, and having in mind that the only relief requested on this appeal is that we should now refuse to enforce the awards, we find no error in the common sense approach of the district court when it concluded that it could "perceive no difficulty with a chairman issuing such an interpretation for the Board," pursuant to the authorization of interpretations by the Special Board in section 3, First (m) of § 153 of the Act.


The railroad next raises a dual jurisdictional issue. It first contends the awards as interpreted exceeded the Board's jurisdiction because "they purported to revise the express terms of the collective bargaining agreement in effect between the parties." It further contends the Board "did not have ...

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