P&LE R. Co. v. Ry. Labor Execs.' Ass'n
Annotate this Case
491 U.S. 490 (1989)
U.S. Supreme Court
P&LE R. Co. v. Ry. Labor Execs.' Ass'n, 491 U.S. 490 (1989)
Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Co. v.
Railway Labor Executives' Association
Argued March 29, 1989
Decided June 21, 1989
491 U.S. 490
Faced with heavy losses, petitioner Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Co. (P&LE) agreed to sell its assets to P&LE Rail Co., Inc. (Railco), a newly formed subsidiary of another railroad. Railco intended to operate the railroad as P&LE had except that it would not assume P&LE's various collective bargaining contracts, and would need only 250 of the 750 employees then working for P&LE. P&LE rejected the assertion of the unions representing its employees that the proposed sale could not be implemented until P&LE complied with the Railway Labor Act (RLA) provisions prohibiting carriers from changing rates of pay, rules, or working conditions embodied in agreements, 45 U.S.C. § 152 Seventh, unless they first give at least 30 days' written notice of, and proceed to bargain over, the intended agreement change, § 156. Section 156 also requires that the working conditions in question remain in status quo until the controversy is resolved. Most of the unions then filed § 156 notices proposing extensive changes in existing agreements to ameliorate the proposed sale's adverse impact on employees. P&LE again refused to bargain, asserting that the sale was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) under the Interstate Commerce Act (ICA), which requires that noncarriers such as Railco seeking to acquire a rail line first obtain the ICC's approval, 49 U.S.C. § 10901. Respondent Railway Labor Executives' Association (RLEA) filed suit on behalf of the unions in the District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment with respect to P&LE's RLA obligations and an injunction against the sale pending completion of RLA bargaining. The unions then went on strike, and the District Court denied P&LE's request for a restraining order on the ground that the Norris-LaGuardia Act (NLGA) prohibited it from enjoining a work stoppage growing out of a labor dispute. Subsequently, Railco filed an application for exemption from § 10901's requirements pursuant to the ICC's Ex Parte No. 392 Class Exemption (Ex Parte 392), which provides abbreviated procedures
for seeking approval for acquisitions by noncarriers of an operating railroad or its assets, and the ICC allowed the exemption to become effective on the date required by Ex Parte 392. Although § 10901 and Ex Parte 392 allow the ICC to require the acquiring company to provide protection for railroad employees affected by a sale, none of the unions requested protective provisions. The District Court then granted P&LE's reapplication for an order restraining the strike, ruling that the ICC's approval of the sale negated any duty that P&LE had to bargain over the sale's effects on its employees, and that the NLGA did not forbid issuance of an injunction under such circumstances. However, the Court of Appeals summarily reversed, holding that the ICA did not require accommodation of the NLGA's restrictions on the District Court's powers, and remanding for a determination whether the sale or strike violated the RLA. The District Court then held that, although P&LE did not have a duty to bargain over its decision to sell, the RLA required it to bargain over the sale's effects on its employees, and that § 156's status quo provision required that P&LE's RLA bargaining obligations be satisfied before the sale could be consummated despite the ICC's approval of the transaction. The court therefore granted RLEA's request for an injunction against the sale, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. This Court then granted P&LE's petitions for certiorari challenging, in No. 87-1888, the Court of Appeals' affirmance of the injunction against the sale and seeking, in No. 87-1589, reversal of the Court of Appeals' judgment setting aside the strike injunction.
1. The RLA did not require or authorize an injunction against the sale of P&LE's assets to Railco. Pp. 491 U. S. 502-512.
(a) The RLA did not require P&LE itself to give notice of its decision to sell and thereafter to bargain about the effects of the sale. Section 156 requires those actions only when the carrier is proposing a "change in agreements." In holding that the loss of jobs resulting from the proposed sale clearly would require such a "change," the Court of Appeals did not point out how the sale would alter any specific provision of any agreement; did not suggest that any such agreement dealt with the possibility of a sale, sought to confer any rights on employees in the event of a sale, or guaranteed that jobs would be available indefinitely; and did not explain how P&LE's decision to remove itself from the railroad business and terminate its position as a railroad employer would violate or require changing any agreement. Nor did the court purport to find an implied agreement that P&LE would not go out of business, would not sell its assets, or would protect its employees from the adverse consequences of a sale. Pp. 491 U. S. 503-504.
(b) Although the unions' § 156 notices may have proposed far-reaching changes in the existing agreements, the giving of those notices did not obligate P&LE to maintain the status quo and to postpone its sale to Railco beyond the time the sale was approved by the ICC and was scheduled to be consummated. Detroit & Toledo Shore Line Railroad Co. v. Transportation Union, 396 U. S. 142 -- which held that, when a rail union files a § 156 notice, the status quo provision forbids the railroad to make any change in preexisting "objective working conditions" even if those conditions are not contained in express or implied agreements -- does not control here, primarily because that case did not involve a carrier's decision to quit the railroad business, sell its assets, and cease to be a railroad employer. Textile Workers v. Darlington Mfg. Co., 380 U. S. 263, established that the decision to close down a business entirely is so much a management prerogative that only an unmistakable expression of congressional intent will require a ruling to the contrary. The RLA contains no expression of intent to render an employer's decision to go out of business and consequently to reduce to zero the number of available jobs a change in the conditions of employment forbidden by § 156's status quo provision. Where, as here, the collective bargaining agreement is silent concerning the sale of a railroad's assets and the railroad has proceeded in accordance with the ICA to obtain the ICC's approval of the sale, a union cannot delay the immediate consummation of the sale by filing a § 156 notice. This construction of the RLA satisfies the Court's obligation to avoid conflicts between overlapping statutory regimes, since it maintains the ICC's plenary authority over rail acquisitions by noncarriers. In contrast, enjoining the sale's consummation based on the unions' § 156 notices would likely result in the sale's cancellation and the frustration of Congress' intent through ICA amendments to deregulate the rail industry and to assist small rail lines with financial problems. Pp. 491 U. S. 504-511
(c) However, P&LE did have a limited duty to bargain in response to the unions' § 156 notices. Its decision to sell, as such, was not a bargainable subject. Nevertheless, to the extent that it could satisfy the unions' proposals for changes, it was required to bargain about the effects that the sale would or might have upon its employees. That obligation ceased on the date for closing the sale after the Ex Parte 392 exemption became effective. P. 491 U. S. 512
2. The record is insufficient to allow this Court to determine whether the Court of Appeals correctly set aside the injunction against the strike. Although the NLGA's general limitation on district courts' power to issue injunctions in labor disputes must give way when necessary to enforce a duty specifically imposed by another statute, the Court of Appeals correctly ruled that the ICA creates no such duty. While § 10901
does authorize the ICC to impose labor protective provisions and gives unions the right to seek such protection and the right to judicial review if dissatisfied, no applicable ICA provision requires unions to participate in ICC proceedings or to seek protection rather than striking. Furthermore, labor protection provisions run against the acquiring railroad rather than the seller, and nothing in the ICA relieved P&LE of its duty to bargain with the unions until its transaction was completed or empowered the ICC to intrude into the relationship between P&LE and the unions. However, the NLGA's limitation on injunctions must also be accommodated to the specific provisions of the RLA, such that district courts have jurisdiction and power to issue injunctive orders against strikes violative of those provisions. Since neither of the lower courts ever ruled on whether the RLA creates a duty not to strike while its dispute resolution mechanisms are underway, the matter must be resolved on remand. Pp. 491 U. S. 513-515.
No. 87-1589, 831 F.2d 1231, vacated and remanded; No. 87-1888, 845 F.2d 420, reversed and remanded.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court with respect to Parts I and III, and the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts II and IV, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 491 U. S. 515.
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