United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
JOAN H. LEFKOW, District Judge.
This case arises from a labor dispute between Soo Line Railroad Company ("Soo") and two unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen ("BLET") and the United Transportation Union ("UTU"), about the creation of a cross-border freight pool between Thief River Falls, Minnesota and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Soo initiated this suit, requesting a declaratory judgment that the dispute is subject to mandatory arbitration under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151 et seq. ("RLA"). (Dkt. 1.) The unions counterclaimed and requested that the court declare that the dispute is subject to the mandatory bargaining provisions of the RLA. (Dkt. 9.) The unions also moved for a "status quo" injunction to prevent Soo from implementing the cross-border freight pool during the resolution of the dispute. (Dkt. 10.) On July 25, 2014, the court heard oral argument on the unions' request for a status quo injunction. For the reasons discussed below, the court orders an evidentiary hearing on the unions' motion to be held on August 26, 2014.
Soo, an indirect subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Railway Company ("Canadian Pacific"), operates a railroad system across a number of Midwestern states. Soo's trains are typically crewed by one engineer and one conductor. The engineers are represented by BLET and the conductors are represented by UTU. The rates of pay, rules, and working conditions that apply to Soo's engineers and conductors are governed by Soo's labor agreements with BLET and UTU.
Soo uses what is known as a "through freight pool" to staff its trains. Members of the pool are available on a "first in, first out" basis to fill assignments on runs supplied by the pool. On Mondays, Soo posts job bulletins that announce the freight pools for the following week and crew members are able to bid on their preferred pool. Positions within the pool generally are awarded in accordance with seniority. If a pool is not filled through the bidding process, Soo may force-assign the junior crew member who is not already assigned to a pool.
Soo's terminal in Thief River Falls, Minnesota serves as the designated home terminal for 22 engineers and 22 conductors. Prior to this dispute, Soo supplied crew members for trains operating on its track from Thief River Falls to Noyes, Minnesota (a distance of about 79 miles) from a through freight pool based out of Thief River Falls. Noyes is located on the Canadian border, adjacent to Canadian Pacific's terminal in Emerson, Manitoba. At Noyes, Soo's crew would hand off trains to Canadian Pacific for destinations in Canada and would receive trains from Canadian Pacific for destinations in the United States.
Soo now would like to operate its trains from Thief River Falls to Winnipeg, Manitoba (a distance of about 143 miles) without switching crews at the Canadian border. To do this, Soo proposed a new cross-border freight pool based in Thief River Falls. Unlike the run between Thief River Falls and Noyes, the new run would require crew members in the pool to operate trains outside the United States and, because of the length of the journey, would require that they rest in Winnipeg before returning to Thief River Falls.
Soo first informed the unions that it intended to create the cross-border freight pool in June 2013. ( See Dkt. 12-1 ("Semenek Decl."), ex. 1; dkt. 12-3 ("Babler Decl."), ex. 1.) In September 2013, Soo provided the unions with proposed agreements under the provisions of their labor agreements relating to "interdivisional service" between two divisions of the Soo rail system. ( See, e.g., Semenek Decl., ex. 3.) Both unions responded that the proposed change was not appropriately characterized as "interdivisional" service because the track in Canada was not Soo's property, but rather was the property of Canadian Pacific. ( See id., ex. 4; Babler Decl., ex. 4.) BLET further stated that the creation of a cross-border freight pool was a major dispute that required a section 6 notice under the RLA. (Semenek Decl., ex. 4 at 2.) Soo then abandoned its attempt to create the cross-border freight pool through an interdivisional agreement.
On June 13, 2014, Soo informed the unions that it would post a job bulletin creating the cross-border freight pool for a run between Thief River Falls and Winnipeg. The unions objected. On June 16, 2014, Soo filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment that the dispute is subject exclusively to arbitration under the RLA and requesting an injunction to prevent BLET and UTU from engaging in self-help for the duration of the arbitration. On June 21, 2014, Soo implemented the new freight pool from Thief River Falls to Winnipeg over the objection of BLET and UTU. Three days later the unions filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent Soo from implementing the cross-border pool.
The RLA, which applies to railroads and airlines, is meant to provide for "the prompt and orderly settlement" of labor disputes. Carlson v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 13-1944 & 13-2054, ___ F.3d ___, 2014 WL 3361072, at *10 (7th Cir. July 10, 2014) (quoting 45 U.S.C. § 151a). To that end, the RLA channels disputes into two categories and prescribes different resolution procedures for each. Courts have adopted the terms "major" and "minor" to distinguish between the types of disputes. See Elgin, Joliet & E. Ry. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 722-27, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 89 L.Ed. 1886 (1945). Because a court may only issue a status quo injunction in the event of a major dispute between the carrier and unions, the distinction is critical to the disposition of the unions' motion.
A major dispute involves the "formation or modification of a collective bargaining agreement." Carlson, 2014 WL 3361072, at *10 (citing Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. v. Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 252, 114 S.Ct. 2239, 129 L.Ed.2d 203 (1994); Chicago & N.W. Transp. Co. v. Ry. Labor Execs. Ass'n, 908 F.2d 144, 148 (7th Cir. 1990)). When a major dispute arises, the parties are required to participate in extensive negotiation and mediation. See Bhd. of Maint. of Way Emps. Div./IBT v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 745 F.3d 808, 810 (7th Cir. 2014); Nat'l Ry. Labor Conference v. Int'l Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 830 F.2d 741, 745 (7th Cir. 1987) (citing 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-160). During this process, the status quo prevails and the railroad must "preserve and maintain unchanged those actual, objective working conditions and practices, broadly conceived, which were in effect prior to the time the pending dispute arose and which are involved or related to that dispute." Burlington N.R.R. Co. v. United Transp. Union, 862 F.2d 1266, 1272 (7th Cir. 1988) (quoting Detroit & Toledo Shore Line R.R. v. United Transp. Union, 396 U.S. 142, 152-53, 90 S.Ct. 294, 24 L.Ed.2d 325 (1969)) (citing 45 U.S.C. §§ 155, 156, 160). A court may enjoin a violation of the status quo during this time without a showing of irreparable injury. See Consol. Rail Corp. v. Ry. Labor Execs. Ass'n, 491 U.S. 299, 302, 109 S.Ct. 2477, 105 L.Ed.2d 250 (1989). If no resolution is reached at the end of the RLA's prescribed resolution process, the parties may resort to self-help. See Bhd. of Maint. of Way Emps. v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry., 138 F.3d 635, 638 (7th Cir. 1997); Nat'l Ry. Labor Conference, 830 F.2d at 745.
A minor dispute arises "out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions." 45 U.S.C. § 153 First (i). In the event of a minor dispute, the parties must "submit their differences to the binding authority of an adjustment board, which exercises exclusive jurisdiction over the dispute." Nat'l Ry. Labor Conference, 830 F.2d at 745. During the resolution of a minor dispute, the railroad may apply its interpretation of the agreement and the union cannot strike. See Burlington N.R.R., 862 F.2d at 1272; Nat'l Ry. Labor Conference, 830 F.2d at 749; Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. v. Bhd. of Locomotive Eng'rs, No. 01 C 7743, 2002 WL 47963, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 14, 2002).
When the parties disagree about whether the dispute is major or minor, it is left to the courts to decide, but "the party seeking to establish that a dispute is minor and under the exclusive arbitral jurisdiction of a RLA Adjustment Board faces a relatively light burden.'" Norfolk S., 745 F.3d at 813 (quoting Consol. Rail, 491 U.S. at 307). A dispute is classified as minor unless the carrier's claim that its interpretation is justified by the labor agreement is "frivolous or obviously insubstantial." Nat'l Ry. Labor Conference, 830 F.2d at 746 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). A carrier's interpretation is "insubstantial" only if it would undermine the RLA's prohibitions against unilateral imposition of new contractual terms. Consol. Rail, 491 U.S. at 306. In making its determination, the court must be careful not to consider the merits of the underlying dispute; "its ...