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ROBERTS v. LEHIGH & NEW ENGLAND RY. CO.

December 7, 1962

William C. ROBERTS and John Strunk, Individually and on behalf of others adversely affected,
v.
LEHIGH & NEW ENGLAND RAILWAY COMPANY and Lodge 713, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen; Lodge 734, Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen; Lodge 619, Order of Railway Conductors & Brakemen



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CLARY

This case is before the Court on motions by all four defendants to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint.

Plaintiffs, who bring this action on behalf of themselves and others adversely affected, are former employees of defendant, Lehigh & New England Railway Company, and its predecessor, Lehigh & New England Railroad Company, and former members of the three defendant Brotherhoods: Lodge 713, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen; Lodge 734, Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen; and Lodge 619, Order of Railway Conductors & Brakemen.

 Plaintiffs allege that under a prior collective bargaining contract, the 1936 Washington Job Protection Agreement entered into by numerous unions and rail carriers, including the defendant Brotherhoods and the defendant Railway's predecessor, the Railway has a duty to grant severance pay to employees whose jobs are abolished as a result of that merger. It is asserted that the retirement agreements are a deliberate attempt by the Railway, joined in by the Brotherhoods, to avoid the necessity of these severance payments. It is further alleged that the retirement agreements amount to unauthorized alterations of the Washington Job Protection Agreement. Finally, plaintiffs charge that the manner in which the Brotherhoods entered the agreements, the grievance procedures under the agreements, and the provisions for compulsory retirement at age 65, amount to discrimination.

 All defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint and have asserted in their briefs and arguments that the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted, that it does not properly allege a class action and that the Court lacks jurisdiction.

 The crux of the jurisdictional objection is that Congress has granted to the National Railroad Adjustment Board all power over disputes growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of collective bargaining agreements. In pertinent part, the Railway Labor Act provide:

 'The disputes between an employee or group of employees and a carrier or carriers growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions * * * shall be handled in the usual manner up to and including the chief operating officer of the carrier designated to handle such disputes; but, failing to reach an adjustment in this manner, the disputes may be referred by petition of the parties or by either party to the appropriate division of the Adjustment Board with a full statement of the facts and all supporting data bearing upon the disputes.' 45 U.S.C.A. § 153 First (h) Fourth Division, (i).

 While the statute might appear to be phrased permissively, the Supreme Court, in Slocum v. Delaware, L. & W.R. Co., 339 U.S. 239, 70 S. Ct. 577, 94 L. Ed. 795 (1950), has determined that this section grants the Board exclusive primary jurisdiction over disputes between employees and carriers as to the interpretation of collective bargaining agreements. The Court feels that this is just such a dispute.

 Plaintiffs have asserted a myriad of charges of discrimination and illegal action against both the Brotherhoods and the Railway, the solutions of which, in all instances, require initial determination of the substantive meaning of the involved contracts. Plaintiffs lay claim to certain rights under the Washington Job Protection Agreement, and assert that the defendants, by entering into the retirement agreements, have discriminatorily denied these rights without justification. Thus, this claim depends essentially upon the meaning of the various agreements, and more important, the effect of each upon the others. This is precisely the style of interpretive functions with which the Board has been charged.

  The instant case differs from Felter v. Southern Pacific Co., 359 U.S. 326, 79 S. Ct. 847, 3 L. Ed. 2d 854 (1959) in which the validity of a dues checkoff agreement was properly decided by a District Court and not by the Board. In that case, there was no question of interpretation but only one of validity. The Court stated at page 327, footnote 3, at page 850 of 79 S. Ct.:

 'Since there was no question of interpretation or application of the collective agreement, but rather only one of its validity under the statute, the case is not one in which resort to the grievance and Adjustment Board machinery provided by the Railway Labor Act was required. 'This dispute involves the validity of the contract, not its meaning.' Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Howard, 343 U.S. 768, 774, 72 S. Ct. 1022, 96 L. Ed. 1283.'

 At this point, however, it is necessary to recognize and confront the distinction between the claim against the Railway and that asserted against the Brotherhood Locals. The before-quoted section of the Railway Labor Act speaks explicitly in granting jurisdiction in disputes between employees and carriers but is silent as to those between employees and their statutory representatives.

 This uncertain situation is further complicated by the line of cases allowing the Courts to hear discrimination claims asserted by railroad employees against their unions. E.g. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S. Ct. 99, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957); Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Howard, 343 U.S. 768, 72 S. Ct. 1022, 96 L. Ed. 1283 (1952); Tunstall v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen, 323 U.S. 210, 65 S. Ct. 235, 89 L. Ed. 187 (1944); Steele v. Lousiville & Nashville R.R. Co., 323 U.S. 192, 65 S. Ct. 226, 89 L. Ed. 173 (1944). The theory behind allowing such actions has been essentially this: The RLA imposes a duty upon the union to represent the minority as well as the majority. In performing this duty, the representative is not barred from making contracts which may have unfavorable effects on some members, but is barred from any discrimination of an irrelevant or invidious nature. Such discrimination is a violation of the union's statutory duty to represent and a violation of the employees' rights to be represented. Thus, the violation of a federal rights is implied from the statute and its policy. The cases, therefore, arise under a law regulating commerce and are within the jurisdiction of the Federal Courts. Tunstall v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Enginemen, supra, 323 U.S. at 213, 65 S. Ct. 235.

 While most of these cases have involved racial discrimination, over which the expertise of the Board does not necessarily extend, this possible distinction is not relied upon here. A search of these cases, however, reveals none which turn so essentially upon the interpretations of collective bargaining agreements as does the case at bar. As detailed before, a decision as to possible discrimination by the Locals ...


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