Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Railway Labor Executives' Association

PETITIONER: Consolidated Rail Corporation
RESPONDENT: Railway Labor Executives' Association
LOCATION: Conrail Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 88-1
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 491 US 299 (1989)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1989

Dennis J. Morikawa - on behalf of Petitioner
John B. O'Clarke, Jr. - on behalf of Respondents

Facts of the case

On February 20, 1987, Consolidated Rail Corporation ("Conrail") announced its decision to include drug screening in all periodic and return-to-duty examinations. Conrail had always enforced Rule G of its agreement with its unionized employees, which forbids the use or possession of "intoxicants, narcotics, amphetamines or hallucinogens" by its employees. Previously, it routinely used drug screening urinalysis as part of return-to-duty medical examinations of employees with drug-related problems and in other examinations where the examining physician suspected drug use.

The Railway Labor Executives' Association ("RLEA")-- comprised of individuals in leadership positions at more than eighteen craft unions-- filed suit against Conrail, alleging that Conrail violated Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"). The RLA, passed in 1926 and amended in 1934, created the National Railroad Adjustment Board, an arbitration board designed to settle minor disputes between railroad companies and labor organizations. Under Sections 5 and 6 of the RLA, major disputes require an extensive mediation and conciliation process.

District court Judge Anthony J. Scirica found that the dispute was "minor" under the Railway Labor Act because Conrail's decision was arguably justified by the terms of its agreement with the unions, and that the court had no jurisdiction over the dispute. Judge Dolores Sloviter of the U.S. Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit reversed. Judge Sloviter rejected the district court's conclusion that Conrail's prior use of medical examinations arguably justified unilaterally changing its drug testing policy. The appeals court held that the dispute was "major" because it changed the terms and conditions governing employment relationships.


Does the RLEA's opposition to Conrail's changed drug testing program create a "major" dispute under the Railway Labor Act?

Media for Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Railway Labor Executives' Association

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1989 in Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Railway Labor Executives' Association

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 88-1, Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Railway Labor Executives' Association.

Mr. Morikawa.

Dennis J. Morikawa:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

At issue today is the right of Conrail's Medical Department to continue its longstanding practice of establishing and maintaining the standards by which its employees will be deemed medically fit for duty.

The standards have always included Conrail's right to require that its employees submit to physical examinations, the purpose of which is to determine these employees' fitness for duty.

These examinations have routinely been required throughout Conrail's history as part of its regular business.

The focal point of this litigation then is the addition by Conrail of a drug test to these routine physical fitness examinations.

It is our contention this morning that the addition of that drug test was at least arguably related to the general fitness for duty standards which Conrail had the right to maintain, as it had over the years.

And, as a result, the challenge by the unions to the addition of this drug test to the physical examinations represented a claim which should have been resolved in the statutory adjustment process of arbitration provided under the Railway Labor Act.

We will demonstrate that the lower court exceeded the limited judicial role which the courts play in the process of determining the proper forum in which these disputes are to be resolved because in this case, we contend, that the lower court proceeded to decide the merits of the underlying dispute and in that process exceeded that role which the courts have clearly carved out in determining whether minor disputes exist in this... under the Act.

Now, I'd like to take a moment to examine Conrail's longstanding medical fitness for duty practices that have existed since 1976, the year when Conrail was first created, because we believe that these facts amply demonstrate the particular reasons why Conrail contended in the first place that the addition of the drug test was clearly related to its fitness for duty determinations.

First of all, since 1976, at the time Conrail first came into existence, the railroad had a Medical Department which determined standards for employee fitness.

Throughout the history of Conrail the Medical Department has had the discretionary right to always determine fitness-for-duty standards, part of that being the inclusion of these kinds of physical examinations.


William H. Rehnquist:

Is this... is this pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, Mr. Morikawa?

Dennis J. Morikawa:

--No, your Honor, it was not.

It was pursuant to the general policies that were implemented at the time that Conrail was created.

But it was never bargained over with the unions.

In fact, the whole issue of medical fitness-for-duty standards has been a subject which traditionally in the railroad industry has not been a subject over which the railroads and the unions have bargained.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Morikawa, I gather that before 1987 the medical screening did not include testing for drug use except on the basis of particularized suspicion.

Is that right?

Dennis J. Morikawa:

The lower court in this case characterized the kind of drug testing that had been done as being done on particularized suspicion.

And, frankly, your Honor, we're not quite clear what that term really means in the context of a physical examination.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

But we accept that as the case, do we not?

Dennis J. Morikawa:

As a matter of fact, we believe that if you look into the practices of the parties that did exist, it included not just testing at the discretion of a physician, as in that situation, but it also included drug testing that had been done by Conrail on a broader base in 1984 when for a period of six months it implemented drug testing across the board and part of these routine physical examinations.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Do you see any limits on the tests that Conrail could require for medical testing?

Could it test... initiate testing for AIDS or pregnancy, for example, in the urine specimens without characterizing it as a major dispute?

Dennis J. Morikawa:

We contend that Conrail had the right to determine fitness for duty, as it had been its practice.

Sandra Day O'Connor: