The issue facing this Court is whether, under the scheme of the Railway Labor Act, this Court has jurisdiction to enjoin the Company from making the changes outlined above. To place the present controversy in proper perspective, we must first discuss the procedures prescribed under the Railway Labor Act for the treatment of disputes between railroads and unions.
As originally drafted by Congress in 1926, the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., was intended to encourage collective bargaining by railroads and their employees in order to prevent wasteful, commerce-crippling strikes.
Texas & N.O.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, 281 U.S. 548, 50 S. Ct. 427, 74 L. Ed. 1034 (1930). To this end, the Act established machinery for negotiations, mediation and arbitration to handle disputes between carriers and unions.
The application of the Railway Labor Act, and hence, the jurisdiction of the District Court, is governed by well recognized distinctions between classes of disputes. Under the Act, the courts have classified disputes as either "major" or "minor". In the leading case of Elgin, J. & E. Ry. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 723, 65 S. Ct. 1282, 1290, 89 L. Ed. 1886 (1945), the Supreme Court described "major" disputes as those "over the formation of collective agreements or efforts to secure them. They arise where there is no agreement or where it is sought to change the terms of one . . . ." The Court then defined a "minor" dispute as one "in which no effort is made to bring about a formal change in terms or create a new . . . [agreement] . . . [but] relates either to the meaning or proper application of a particular provision with reference to a specific situation."
If a dispute is "minor", the parties must seek to resolve it through negotiation and prescribed grievance procedures; and failing resolution of the dispute, it must then be submitted to binding arbitration by the National Railroad Adjustment Board. 45 U.S.C. § 153. Beyond the initial stages of negotiation, the procedure for major disputes is different. "Major" disputes are subject to mediation by the National Mediation Board, voluntary arbitration, conciliation attempts by the President, and finally if no agreement is reached, to self-help by the parties. Elgin, J. & E. Ry. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 65 S. Ct. 1282, 89 L. Ed. 1886 (1945).
The primary distinction between these procedures as they run their respective courses is the "status quo" requirement of Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act. If the dispute is characterized as "major", Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act specifically provides that the party seeking the change must give at least thirty days' written notice of the change and may not institute the change in rates of pay, rules or working conditions "until the controversy has been finally acted upon . . . by the Mediation Board, unless a period of ten days has elapsed after termination of conferences without request for or proffer of the services of the Mediation Board."
If a dispute is "minor" and the parties are unable to resolve it through negotiation or prescribed grievance procedures, then the National Railroad Adjustment Board has primary and exclusive jurisdiction under the Act, 45 U.S.C. § 153, to interpret the agreement of the parties and make an appropriate award. United Transportation Union v. Baker, 482 F.2d 228, 230 (6th Cir. 1973) (Hastie, J., sitting by designation) and cases cited therein. However, in the case of a "minor" dispute the party seeking to exercise a right allegedly established under an existing agreement may proceed to make the change pending a determination by the National Railroad Adjustment Board. Hilbert v. Pennsylvania R.R., 290 F.2d 881 (7th Cir. 1961); Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen v. Southern Pacific Company, 447 F.2d 1127 (5th Cir. 1971). If the dispute is a "major" dispute, neither party can unilaterally alter the status quo while such a dispute is working its way through the various stages provided in the Act, Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen v. Jacksonville Terminal Company, 394 U.S. 369, 89 S. Ct. 1109, 22 L. Ed. 2d 344 (1969); and to do so would be a violation of Section 6 of the Act for which a court may issue an injunction to maintain the status quo. United Transportation Union v. Burlington-Northern, Inc., 458 F.2d 354 (8th Cir. 1972). Section 6 bars any change in rates of pay, rules or working conditions pending a determination of the issues; however, Section 6 does not bar any change pending a determination of a "minor" dispute by the National Railroad Adjustment Board. Order of Railway Conductors v. Pitney, 326 U.S. 561, 66 S. Ct. 322, 90 L. Ed. 318 (1946).
In this case, the Union views the dispute as "major" (i.e., an attempt to impose unilaterally a change in working conditions which constitutes a change in the existing agreements) and the Company views the dispute as "minor" (i.e., a dispute arising out of the application or interpretation of the existing agreements). Judge Hastie, in Baker, supra, in seeking to resolve a similar conflict, concluded:
Confronted by such opposing characterization of particular disputes, the courts of appeals have consistently ruled that if the disputed action of one of the parties can "arguably" be justified by the existing agreement or, in somewhat different statement, if the contention that the labor contract sanctions the disputed action is not "obviously insubstantial", the controversy is within the exclusive province of the National Railroad Adjustment Board.