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Air Serv Corp. v. Service Employees International Union Local 1

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

December 2, 2016

Air Serv Corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
Service Employees International Union, Local 1, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John Z. Lee United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Air Serv Corporation (“Air Serv”) has sued Defendant Service Employees International Union, Local 1 (“the Union”), which represents Air Serv employees who are assigned to work at the Chicago O'Hare International Airport. Air Serv alleges violations of the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., and moved for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining the Union's officers, agents, and members from engaging in a strike or similar concerted action. For the reasons stated herein, as well as for the reasons stated on the record during a hearing held by this Court on November 28, 2016, Air Serv's motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction is denied.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Air Serv is a Georgia corporation that provides aviation-related services to commercial airlines at approximately fifty airports nationwide. Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 1. Included among these airports is the Chicago O'Hare International Airport (“ORD”), where Air Serv employs approximately five hundred employees who provide services to United Continental Holdings, Inc. (“United”) as well as to various international airway carriers affiliated with United. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Approximately two hundred Air Serv employees working at ORD are currently represented by the Union. Id. ¶ 21. These employees work as wheelchair agents and electric cart drivers at Terminals 2 and 5 of ORD. Id.

         The most recent collective bargaining agreement between Air Serv and the Union became effective in June 2013 and expired in June 2016. See Id. For the past several months, Air Serv and the Union have been engaged in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. Id. ¶¶ 23-25. Unable to arrive upon mutually agreeable terms, the Union announced in mid-November the possibility of a strike involving hundreds of employees at ORD, including Air Serv employees. Id. ¶ 27. On November 21, 2016, the Union confirmed that a strike would take place on November 29, 2016. Id. ¶ 27.

         Seeking to avoid the strike, Air Serv filed a complaint and an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction before this Court on November 28, 2016. After conducting a hearing, the Court denied Air Serv's motion for the reasons stated on the record in open court. The Court now elaborates upon those reasons in the present Memorandum Opinion and Order.

         Legal Standard

         A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy that is “never to be indulged in except in a case clearly demanding it.” Girl Scouts of Manitou Council, Inc. v. Girl Scouts of the USA, Inc., 549 F.3d 1079, 1085 (7th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). The party moving for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction bears the burden of making a clear showing that it is entitled to the relief it seeks. See Goodman v. Ill. Dep't of Fin. & Prof'l Regulation, 430 F.3d 432, 437 (7th Cir. 2005).

         In determining whether to grant a motion for a preliminary injunction, courts engage in an analysis that proceeds in two separate phases: a threshold phase and a balancing phase. See Girl Scouts, 549 F.3d at 1085-86. To survive the threshold phase, the party seeking a preliminary injunction must show that it will suffer irreparable harm without the injunction, that traditional legal remedies would be inadequate, and that its claim has a likelihood of success on the merits. Id. at 1086. If these threshold requirements are not met, the motion for a preliminary injunction must be denied. Id. If, however, the moving party satisfies this initial threshold, the court proceeds to the balancing phase, in which the moving party must demonstrate that the harm that would be caused without an injunction outweighs the harm that would be suffered by the nonmoving party in the event the injunction is granted. Id.

         Analysis

         Air Serv seeks to enjoin the Union's members from engaging in a strike on the ground that the RLA prohibits the Union from striking in lieu of using other procedures to resolve its dispute with Air Serv. Mem. Supp. at 6-12, ECF No. 8. In response, the Union argues that the Court may not issue an injunction under the RLA because Air Serv is not an entity that falls within the scope of the RLA. Br. Opp. at 6-14, ECF No. 14. The Court agrees with the Union that Air Serv has not met its burden of showing it is entitled to relief under the RLA. The Court therefore denies Air Serv's motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

         I. Two-Part Jurisdictional Test Under the RLA

         In general, the Norris-LaGuardia Act (NLGA), 29 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., strips courts of jurisdiction to enter injunctions against labor unions in cases arising from labor disputes, “express[ing] a basic policy against the injunction of activities of labor unions.” Int'l Ass'n of Machinists v. Street, 367 U.S. 740, 772 (1961). Where a challenged action violates the RLA, however, “the specific provisions of the [RLA] take precedence over the more general provisions of the [NLGA], ” allowing a party to seek injunctive relief that would otherwise be barred by the NLGA. United Air Lines, Inc. v. Int'l Ass'n of Machinist & Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, 243 F.3d 349, 362 (7th Cir. 2001) (quoting Pittsburgh & Lake Erie R.R. Co. v. Ry. Labor Executives' Ass'n, 491 U.S. 490, 513 (1989)); see also United Air Lines, Inc. v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l, 563 F.3d 257, 274 (7th Cir. 2009). Accordingly, where a party moves for injunctive relief under the RLA, “courts can issue injunctions to enforce the RLA provisions at issue notwithstanding the NLGA.” United Air Lines, 243 F.3d at 362.

         The RLA applies to a company and its employees when the company is “directly or indirectly owned or controlled by” a rail or airway carrier engaged in interstate or foreign commerce. 45 U.S.C. § 151. In making the threshold determination as to whether a company is subject to the RLA, courts have employed a two-part jurisdictional test developed by the National Mediation Board (NMB), the federal agency tasked with administering the RLA. See, e.g., Paulsen v. PrimeFlight Aviation Servs., Inc., 16 CIV 5338 (BMC), 2016 WL 6205796, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 24, 2016) (citing cases applying the NMB's two-part test). This test asks, first, whether the functions performed by the company's employees are among those traditionally performed by carrier employees, and second, whether the company is directly or indirectly owned or controlled ...


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