Chicago & North Western Railway Company v. United Transportation Union

PETITIONER: Chicago & North Western Railway Company
RESPONDENT: United Transportation Union
LOCATION: Former New York Times Headquarters

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 402 US 570 (1971)
ARGUED: Jan 18, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for Chicago & North Western Railway Company v. United Transportation Union

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 18, 1971 in Chicago & North Western Railway Company v. United Transportation Union

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in Number 189, Chicago and Northwestern against United Transportation Company.

You may proceed whenever you’re ready, Mr. Dempsey.

William H. Dempsey, Jr.:

Thank you Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The question in this case has to do with Section 2 First of the Railway Labor Act, the provision that says that “it shall be the duty of parties to a railway labor dispute to exert every reasonable effort to dispose of their differences.”

More precisely, the question is whether if a Union violates Section 2 First, may the company secure a strike injunction notwithstanding the fact that all of the other formal procedural requirements of the Act had been met.

That is to say that conferences had been held and that mediation has been had and the Board has terminated jurisdiction and either an emergency board has or hasn’t been appointed, but in any case, the relevant cooling off period has run.

Now, I think that I can summarize very briefly the factual events that led to the presentation of this issue here.

The dispute between the parties has to do with the number of brakemen that should be employed upon the trains of the Northwestern.

This is a part or an aspect of a much broader long-standing controversy between the railroads and the Unions with respect to a wide range of work rules that the railroads have maintained are unduly burdensome anachronisms.

I suppose the most prominent example of this sort of a problem has to do with use of firemen on diesel locomotives.

Now, with respect to the brakemen problem, the carriers of the country secured very substantial relief in the mid-1960’s by virtue of a compulsory arbitration statute that was enacted by the Congress in late 1963 and pursuant to that legislation, arbitration board sat across the country and the consequence was that the carriers were authorized to eliminate thousands and thousands of brakemen positions or however subject to the obligation to protect the existing employees.

On the Northwestern, the authorization for elimination went to something in the way of 200 crews which represented a potential saving of something in the way of $2 million a year, but these awards expired in January of 1966 and so in June and July of 1965 the Union began its efforts to recapture its position by serving upon some 80 odd railroads Section 6 proposals which would have restored all of the eliminated positions.

And the --

Harry A. Blackmun:

Was that expiration by the very terms of the award?

There must be --?

William H. Dempsey, Jr.:

It was by the terms of the award Mr. Justice Blackmun as required by the statute.

Warren E. Burger:

What was the utility of the whole scheme if there was a terminal point on that presumably corrective action?

William H. Dempsey, Jr.:

Well, the hope of the Congress I take it was that during this 2-year period, as some of the courts have indicated who have reviewed this matter, that a new plateau of work rules and manning regulations would be achieved to collect the bargain.

And the alternative of course was to make the solution a permanent one and the Congress group Act from that and the hope that the parties would workout their own differences during this period, but unhappily that hope has not matured.

And what happened then of the expiration of the awards was that the Union in pursuit of these Section 6 notices insisted upon carrier by carrier negotiation which put them in the position to call whipsaw strikes against individual railroads and the consequence of all that was a series of strikes and threats of strikes in 1968 and 1969 and the consequence of that was the surrender by most of the nation's railroads of practically all the benefits that they had secured under this arbitration awards.

The Union got to the Northwestern rather late in this series of mediations but in any case conferences were had, mediation was held and the Board terminated its jurisdiction over the case in October of 1969, October 16th by the way, so that the 30-day cooling off period ran on November 16th of 1969.

And three days later the Northwestern brought this suit alleging that though conferences had been had and mediation had been held, that they were not the sort of conferences and it was not the sort of mediation contemplated by the Act because the Union which was charged had not fulfilled its obligations in terms of bargaining that were imposed upon it by Section 2 First.

The District Court granted a restraining order.

A hearing was had on the most of the preliminary injunction, but at the conclusion of the Northwestern’s evidence, the District Court dismissed the complaint without reaching the merits of the allegations on the ground that Section 2 First of the Act is not enforceable by the courts, but only by the National Mediation Board.

The District Court did grant an injunction pending appeal.

After an expedited appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed on the same rationale, but recognizing that its decision was contrary to a decision of the Fourth Circuit in the Piedmont Aviation case, the Court of Appeals stayed its mandate pending the outcome of these proceedings before this Court.

Here, the respondent urges the adoption of the rationale of the lower courts that is that Section 2 First does not impose judicially enforceable obligations.

The AFL amicus curiae on the other hand, suggests that even if 2 First is judicially enforceable that the mode of enforcement should not include strike injunctions because of the prohibitions of Norris-LaGuardia.

I want of course to touch upon both strands of these arguments but before I do that, I should like to indicate to the Court the range of different kinds of problems that have been dealt with by the courts under Section 2 First, because it is our view that if the decision of the lower court is affirmed there will be a very dislocating effect with respect to a substantial and important body of case law that has been built up on the premise of Section 2 First is enforceable.

Of course, one kind of case is the one that was alleged in the Court below in here that I won’t go to the evidence because the lower courts never reached it.