Fifth Circuit vacates injunction in crew-consist case
Today, Aug. 28, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued its decision in BNSF et al v. SMART-TD (Case No. 20-10162) concerning crew consist.
This decision is a long-awaited victory for the Union. The appellate court vacated the injunction that forced SMART-TD General Committees to bargain over crew consist, despite the existence of moratoria which bar such negotiation.
SMART-TD has always read those moratoria clauses to bar the service of Section 6 Notices to negotiate over crew consist until the last protected employee voluntarily separated from service. Indeed, that is the very reason for their existence.
But despite the long-standing nature of these clauses, the carriers presented a new and novel theory that the moratoria did not actually bar crew-consist negotiations.
The carriers tested this theory out by filing suit against SMART-TD in October 2019 and moving for a preliminary injunction in December 2019. In their request for an injunction, the carriers asked a district court in Texas to force SMART-TD to bargain now in spite of the moratoria. That court issued its decision on February 11, 2020, finding that even though the dispute over the moratoria was minor, and no arbitral determination had been made, SMART-TD was required to bargain now.
Under the RLA, minor disputes must be resolved through arbitration, not Section 6 bargaining. In the 22-page opinion, the appellate court walked through the various bases on which an injunction can be issued in Railway Labor Act (RLA) disputes. The 5th Circuit Court found that none existed here.
Rather, it concluded that the carriers had failed to exhaust the administrative remedy provided under the the RLA arbitration regarding the moratoria clauses.