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United Transp. Union v. Conemaugh & Black Lick R. Co.

filed: January 23, 1990.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil Action No. 87-1181.

Hutchinson, Nygaard and Weis, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hutchinson


HUTCHINSON, Circuit Judge.

Appellant, the United Transportation Union (Transportation Union), appeals an order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania granting appellee, Conemaugh & Black Lick Railroad Company (the Railroad or C&BL), summary judgment in the Transportation Union's action to restrain the Railroad from unilaterally reducing the size of its operating crews from three to two employees.

The Transportation Union filed this action in the district court under the Railway Labor Act (RLA or the Act), 45 U.S.C.A. §§ 151-188 (West 1986), alleging that the Railroad's unilateral reduction in crew size violated the status quo provision of the RLA, which prohibits the alteration of "rates of pay, rules, or working conditions" pending exhaustion of the negotiation and mediation procedures required by the Act. See 45 U.S.C.A. § 156. In its motion for summary judgment, the Railroad claimed that the parties had exhausted the RLA procedures without reaching an agreement before it implemented the crew size reduction and therefore it did not violate the Act's status quo provision. The Transportation Union filed a cross motion for summary judgment claiming that the parties had negotiated an agreement on crew size in a "Supplemental Settlement Agreement," and thus the Railroad unlawfully changed the status quo when it unilaterally implemented the reduction in crew size.

In its appeal, the Transportation Union does not clearly separate three closely related, but analytically distinct, arguments on the controlling status quo issue. The first, which we will call the waiver argument, was made and rejected in the district court. The waiver argument's hypothesis is that a party who agrees to anything after the Act's procedures have been exhausted waives that party's right to self-help and so revives the status quo. The Transportation Union appears to have abandoned this argument on appeal, perhaps wisely.*fn1 Accordingly, we will not directly consider the waiver argument.

The second argument, which the Transportation Union does press on appeal, is that the Supplemental Settlement Agreement these parties made to continue negotiations after the Act's procedures were exhausted implies an agreement to continue the status quo with respect to crew size. We will call this the implied agreement argument. The district court rejected this argument, which would have the same effect as the abandoned waiver argument. For the reasons set out below, we also reject the Transportation Union's implied agreement argument.

Finally, the Transportation Union presses an argument, ostensibly distinct from the second, that the express reference in the Supplemental Settlement Agreement to continued negotiation on crew size, read together with Rule Twenty-Four of the new master agreement incorporating local rules, necessarily provides for continuation of former Local Rule Five, which set the Railroad's crew size at three. We will call this the textual argument. The textual argument has an especially strong tendency to blur at one end into the implied agreement argument, as the implied agreement argument blurs into the logical flow of the waiver argument at the other end. It is not clear to us that the textual argument was precisely raised in the district court. We have, nevertheless, considered and rejected it. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth more fully below, we will affirm the district court's order granting the Railroad's motion for summary judgment and dismissing the Transportation Union's action to restrain the Railroad from exercising self-help in unilaterally reducing the size of its operating crews.


The Transportation Union currently represents the operating employees at the Railroad. Its status as their bargaining agent is recent and was attained well after May, 1986, when the Act's procedures for settlement of disputes were invoked in this case. The operating employees include engineers, conductors and brakemen. The Railroad is a wholly owned subsidiary, sometimes called a captive railroad, of Bethlehem Steel Corporation (Bethlehem Steel). Before May, 1987, the United Steelworkers of America (the Steelworkers) and the United Steelworkers of America Local 3176 (Steelworkers Local 3176) had captured the loyalty of the Railroad's operating employees and represented them for bargaining purposes. In the course of this dispute, the Steelworkers lost that loyalty. The Transportation Union was certified as the representative after a secret ballot election, allowing it to succeed the Steelworkers as the bargaining representative for the Railroad's operating employees.

Before this dispute arose, the Railroad, along with the other five captive railroads of Bethlehem Steel, had successfully negotiated a series of collective bargaining agreements with the Steelworkers. In negotiations, the practice of the Railroads and the Steelworkers had been to first negotiate a master agreement containing the terms and conditions of employment applicable to all of Bethlehem Steel's captive railroads, and thereafter to seek local agreements containing the terms and conditions of employment particularly applicable to the individual captive railroads.

In May, 1986, a master agreement was in effect between the captive railroads and the Steelworkers, in addition to a local agreement between the Railroad and Steelworkers Local 3176. The master agreement covered employees at Bethlehem Steel's six captive railroads. They were organized into bargaining units represented by eight separate Steelworkers locals. The master agreement provided for incorporation of the terms of these local agreements. See Joint Appendix (J.A.) at 194. The old master agreement was due to expire on August 1, 1986. On May 30, 1986 Bethlehem Steel's captive railroads received a written notice from the Steelworkers, conforming with § 6 of the Act, 45 U.S.C.A. § 156, expressing the union's desire to negotiate the terms and conditions of a new collective bargaining agreement. On June 4, 1986, the captive railroads themselves served written notice on the Steelworkers expressing their wish to negotiate a new master collective bargaining agreement.

Although the Railroad and the Steelworkers shared a consensus that a new agreement was needed, that consensus did not extend to its terms. This lack of consensus on terms was demonstrated at the outset. See J.A. at 109. The Railroad, in its June 6, 1986, notice to Steelworkers Local 3176, included a proposal to change existing C & BL Local Rule Five, which governed the size of operating crews. Under Local Rule Five, a crew consisted of three employees: an engineer, a ...

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