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International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Allegiant Air, LLC

United States District Court, D. Nevada

July 22, 2014



ANDREW P. GORDON, District Judge.


In November 2013, Plaintiffs International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Airlines Division and Airline Professionals Association of the IBT, Local Union No. 1224 (collectively, the "IBT" or "Union") sued defendants Allegiant Air, LLC and Allegiant Travel Company (collectively, "Allegiant") in federal court[1] under the Railway Labor Act ("RLA").[2] The IBT seeks to restore the status quo working conditions that existed before August 2012, when both the National Mediation Board ("NMB") certified the IBT as the Allegiant pilots' exclusive bargaining representative and the IBT filed a notice of its intention to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") under RLA § 6 (45 U.S.C. § 156).

The IBT alleges that, before its certification by the NMB, an independent organization called the Allegiant Air Pilots Advocacy Group ("AAPAG") represented the pilots for purposes of the RLA. AAPAG negotiated and executed a series of "Pilot Work Rules" agreements with Allegiant, most notably in June 2009[3] and May 2010.[4] The parties refer to the latter as the 2010 Pilot Work Rules Agreement ("PWR"), and it is the most recent agreement between Allegiant and the pilots. The IBT contends that, after it filed its RLA § 6 notice, Allegiant unilaterally changed some of the rules contained in the PWR. According to the IBT, this violated the RLA's status quo protections.

The IBT opposes four changes in work conditions: (1) altering the Loss of Medical Certificate Protection program for pilots who become ill or disabled; (2) eliminating pay protections for pilots engaged in collective bargaining negotiations; (3) changing the leave of absence provisions for birth and adoption such that a pilot now receives five calendar days off following the arrival of a new child (regardless of how many days of work were scheduled in those five days) instead of five working days off with no restriction on when they are to be taken; and (4) replacing line bidding for pilot scheduling with a preferential bidding system ("PBS").[5] Further detail on these changes is provided below as necessary.

The Complaint asserts six claims for relief - five under the RLA and one for breach of contract. The first claim is based on RLA § 6 (45 U.S.C. § 156), which provides:

Carriers and representatives of the employees shall give at least 30 days' written notice of an intended change in agreements affecting rates of pay, rules or working conditions, and the time and place for the beginning of conference between the representatives of the parties interested in such intended changes shall be agreed upon.... In every case where such notice of intended change has been given, ... rates of pay, rules and working conditions shall not be altered by the carrier 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.

In short, RLA § 6 prohibits carriers from altering rates of pay, rules, and working conditions unless the carrier provides express notice of its intent to change the current "agreement" and engages in bargaining during the amenable period set forth by the parties. The IBT contends that Allegiant's unilateral changes to the status quo working conditions constitute ongoing violations of RLA § 6 because Allegiant did not provide express notice of those changes or engage in bargaining with the IBT as to those changes.

In related fashion, RLA § 2, Seventh (45 U.S.C. § 152, Seventh) provides that "[n]o carrier, its officers, or agents shall change the rates of pay, rules or working conditions of its employees, as a class, as embodied in agreements except in the manner prescribed in such agreements or in section 156 of this title [RLA § 6]." The IBT asserts that Allegiant violated RLA § 2, Seventh by unilaterally changing the working conditions during the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations without complying with RLA § 6.

As to the next claim, RLA § 2, First (45 U.S.C. § 152, First) provides: It shall be the duty of all carriers, their officers, agents, and employees to exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, and working conditions, and to settle all disputes, whether arising out of the application of such agreements or otherwise, in order to avoid any interruption to commerce or to the operation of any carrier growing out of any dispute between the carrier and the employees thereof.

Concerning this RLA section, the IBT contends that Allegiant's unilateral work rules changes demonstrate that Allegiant has not exerted every reasonable effort to maintain the PWR. IBT also contends that Allegiant has not exerted every reasonable effort to settle the disputes related to these work rules changes with IBT.

The IBT's fourth RLA claim is based on § 2, Fourth (45 U.S.C. § 152, Fourth), which provides in relevant part:

Employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.... No carrier... shall deny or in any way question the right of its employees to join, organize, or assist in organizing the labor organization of their choice, and it shall be unlawful for any carrier to interfere in any way with the organization of its employees, ... or to influence or coerce employees in an effort to induce them to join or remain or not to join or remain members of any labor organization....

The IBT contends that Allegiant's unilateral changes to the status quo working conditions during negotiations for a new CBA violate this section because Allegiant's actions are "intended and designed to interfere with and discourage the Allegiant pilot's right to join and remain members of a labor organization of their own choosing."[6] Essentially, the IBT asserts that the work rules changes undermine its bargaining power in the eyes of the pilots and lower the starting point for the negotiations; for the pilots to get what they believe they deserve will require more movement from Allegiant if the baseline work conditions are lowered.

The IBT's final RLA claim asserts a violation of § 204 (45 U.S.C. 184), which provides in relevant part:

It shall be the duty of every carrier and of its employees, acting through their representatives, ... to establish a board of adjustment of jurisdiction not exceeding the jurisdiction which may be lawfully exercised by system, group, or regional boards of adjustment, under the authority of section 153 of this title.

The IBT alleges that Allegiant violated this section by failing to establish a system board of adjustment in its work rules agreements with AAPAG. The breach of contract claim deserves no further explanation at this point.

The IBT moved for a preliminary injunction to restore the status quo under the PWR as of August 24, 2012 - the date of the IBT's RLA § 6 notice.[7] To resolve this motion, I must determine (1) whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction to enjoin Allegiant's alterations of the status quo; (2) whether AAPAG was the pilots' "representative" for purposes of the RLA; (3) whether the PWR is a binding "agreement" under the RLA; and (4) whether an injunction is warranted under the applicable legal standard, and, if so, the proper scope of the injunction. The answer to each of these questions is "yes."


A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

1. Representation Disputes

Federal district courts do not have subject matter jurisdiction to resolve so-called "representation disputes, " which "involve determining the collective bargaining representative of the employees and the proper bargaining unit, craft, or class of employees to be represented."[8] RLA § 2, Ninth (45 U.S.C. § 152, Ninth) places these disputes within the sole jurisdiction of the National Mediation Board ("NMB").[9] In this regard, the NMB's narrow role is to certify a bargaining representative. The Supreme Court has held that "[t]he Mediation Board makes no order.' And its only ultimate finding of fact is the certificate" of representation.[10] This certificate identifies the "individuals or organizations that have been designated and authorized to represent the employees involved in the [representation] dispute."[11] As put by the Ninth Circuit, "so long as the Board is acting with the purpose of find[ing] the fact' as to who is the employees' representative, the courts are deprived of jurisdiction to review Board decisions."[12]

However, the presence of a representation issue should not be mistaken as a representation dispute. [13] In AFLA v. Delta, the court needed to determine whether the Association of Flight Attendants was an RLA representative in order to impose defamation liability under an agency theory. The D.C. Circuit held that this was not a representation dispute, and thus the district court had jurisdiction to decide the defamation claim, even though the district court necessarily had to determine whether the union represented the flight attendants. "To the extent Delta suggests that every case that merely entails an issue of representation must be brought before the NMB, then, that argument plainly proves too much."[14]

Likewise, the instant dispute requires that I determine whether AAPAG represented the pilots for purposes of the RLA when the PWR was executed. But that determination is a far cry from a full-fledged NMB certification. I am not granting any rights or imposing any duties on AAPAG that an NMB certification would entail. Nor has AAPAG, which is apparently a defunct entity, or anyone else petitioned that I certify AAPAG as an RLA representative.

Allegiant argues that the NMB's certification of the IBT as the pilots' bargaining representative inhered a factual finding that AAPAG was not the pilots' former representative. It is true that the NMB stated that the pilots were not previously represented, but that conclusion was apparently based on faulty information provided by the IBT and not subsequently corrected by the pilots, AAPAG, or Allegiant. Notably, the IBT did not yet represent the pilots when it made those representations to the NMB and therefore those representations cannot be imputed to the pilots. There is no indication that the NMB performed an independent investigation of AAPAG's status or that anyone requested that the NMB do so.[15] Moreover, the NMB factual finding that demands deference is the affirmative identification of a bargaining representative.[16] I will not treat the NMB's seemingly misinformed remark that the pilots were not previously represented as a conclusive determination that AAPAG was not the pilots' RLA representative. In sum, this case does not constitute a "representation dispute."

2. Major/Minor Disputes

In Association of Flight Attendants v. Mesa Air Group, the Ninth Circuit explained the distinction between so-called "major" and "minor" disputes under the RLA:

The RLA mandates a long process of negotiation and mediation before unions and common carriers are permitted to use their various economic weapons to pressure the other side to reach an agreement.... The RLA provides two separate dispute resolution procedures that the parties to a labor negotiation can invoke during the negotiation process.... One set of procedures applies to what are labeled "major disputes" between the parties. The other set applies to what are labeled "minor disputes."[17]

Of crucial importance, federal district courts do not have subject matter jurisdiction to resolve minor disputes, but they do have jurisdiction over major disputes.[18] The resolution of minor disputes in the airline industry is solely within the province of an adjustment board established by the airline and the unions.[19]

However, there are several exceptions to an adjustment board's exercise of sole jurisdiction over minor disputes. Courts have jurisdiction to resolve a minor dispute if "1) the employer repudiates the private grievance machinery; 2) resort to administrative remedies would be futile ; 3) the employer is joined in a DFR [duty of fair representation] claim against the union; or 4) the union's DFR breach causes the employee to lose the right to present his or her grievance."[20] Of these, only the second is relevant here. "A proceeding in arbitration is futile only when, through bias, prejudice or predisposition on the part of the arbitration board, there would be no point in submitting the claim to arbitration."[21]

The relevancy of distinguishing between major and minor disputes is not just to determine the proper decision-maker. If a dispute is major, the parties are obligated to maintain the status quo until the lengthy bargaining and mediation processes for major disputes are exhausted, and courts may enjoin violations of the ...

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