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Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, General Committee v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

January 24, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel



This dispute surrounds changes made to the vacation planning methods implemented by Union Pacific Railroad Company ("UP" or "Carrier"). The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen ("BLET" or "Union") opposes the changes and asks that I issue a preliminary injunction requiring UP to return all vacation planning to the status quo as it existed in 2010 until the dispute is resolved though arbitration. In the alternative, BLET asks that I order the parties to arbitrate the issues on an expedited 60-day basis and require UP to make the engineers whole if its unilateral forcing of vacations is not approved in the arbitration. For the following reasons, BLET's motion for a preliminary injunction is denied.


UP requires that all engineers be "full time" employees "marked up" and available for work on a seven-day, 24-hour basis. When called, engineers must present themselves at the terminal within one and a half and two hours. Because of the engineers' unpredictable schedules, planned vacation time is very important to the engineers and their families.

The parties have a National Agreement which addresses vacation and scheduling. Pursuant to the National Agreement, "due regard" shall be given to the preference of employees in the seniority order in the class of service in which engaged. The representatives of the carriers and the employers further agree to cooperate in arranging vacation periods.

In 1990, an award by Arbitrator La Rocco stated that "the Carrier should oblige the employee in fixing vacation dates in accordance with his desires or preferences, unless by doing so would result in a serious impairment in the efficiency of operations which could not be avoided by the employment of relief workers at that particular time or by the making of some other reasonable adjustment." A second award by La Rocco in 1993 provided that UP could not require vacations to be "flat lined" or spread out evenly or inflexibly over a 52 week period, without regard to service needs and engineers' preferences. The 1993 award also states that if a Carrier wishes to place an inflexible or absolute cap on the number of engineers who can take vacation during any single week, the Carrier must justify the cap by needs of service.

Traditionally, the process of setting vacations proceeded as follows. First, engineers submit their preferred vacation dates to their BLET Local Chairman. The Local Chairman then reviewed all requests, accounted for seniority, and then passed to the Carrier the BLET vacation requests. Following the submission, negotiations might take place as to the maximum numbers of engineers who are allowed to take vacations at one time, though usually an agreement was reached that was acceptable to both the BLET and the Carrier.

In 2009, BLET opposed UP's 2010 vacation scheduling efforts. In particular, the Kansas City and St. Louis vacation groups were unable to reach an agreement with UP until February, 2010. At the heart of these disagreements were cut backs in the number of engineers who were allowed to take vacation on any particular week. In some areas, the Carrier cut back the number of vacation slots available per week from fifteen to seven or eight. The Carrier also required a minimum number of engineers to be off every week of the year. BLET argued that these changes resulted in an impermissible denial of their preferences. They further contended that the Carriers had not shown that its service needs require such vacation scheduling. Pursuant to the Agreement, a Carrier is entitled to unilaterally rearrange vacations when required by the service needs of the company.

The prolonged talks in 2009 and early 2010 led to vacations being scheduled on a compressed 46-week year. To ensure that the 2011 schedule was prepared by the start of the year, work began on the 2011 vacation schedule in August 2010. Patrick Kenny, UP's Director of Crew Utilization, presented a proposed 2011 vacation schedule on November 9, 2010 which was rejected. Again, the rejection focused on a cut back in available vacation slots, and perceived "flat lining." Between November 16, 2010 and December 4, 2010 over 200 letters were sent to each Local Chairman regarding the 2011 vacation schedule. The correspondence informed the union representatives that the deadline to input their members' vacations was December 15, 2010. According to UP, "it became evident, based on BLET-GCA's failure to return calls or otherwise respond," that there would not be cooperation. An extension for inputting vacation was granted until December 21.

On December 16, 2010, UP sent a broadcast to all employees inviting them to enter their own vacation bids prior to December 21, 2010. This was a departure from previous protocol whereby engineers' vacation bids went through the Local Chairmen. On December 20, 2010 95% of employee's vacations had been scheduled. The remaining 5% were almost exclusively in the Kansas City or St. Louis service units. These units demanded up to 15 vacation slots per week with no minimums. On December 22, 2010, the Kansas City and St. Louis vacation groupings had still not been scheduled. UP extended the deadline for scheduling to December 27, 2010. Schedules were still not completed, and finally, on December 29, 2010, UP scheduled the vacations for Kansas City and St. Louis based on the offer made on December 22, 2010.


The parties argue this motion assuming that the dispute at hand is 'minor' in nature. Minor disputes are those "involving the interpretation of application of existing labor agreements." Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. v. Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 256 (1994). Major disputes relate to the formation of collective bargaining agreements or efforts to secure them. Id. at 253. Though BLET argues that this Court has jurisdiction to enter an injunction in minor disputes, it does not concede that this cannot be considered a major dispute.*fn1 For purposes of this motion, I consider this a minor dispute.

UP opposes the injunction on two grounds. First, UP disputes that this Court has jurisdiction to issue an injunction, contending that this ...

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