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Haerum v. Air Line Pilots Association and Its Piedmont Master Executive Council

decided: December 20, 1989.

STEIN J. HAERUM, GEORGE B. GEBHARDT, WILLIAM R. FREY, JR., STEVEN T. BLACK, GARY D. BETTING, DUANE W. CLAWSON, STEPHEN F. MCKEON, STEPHEN A. VERRILL, KENNETH E. NEWBERRY, AND DAVID M. GOLDMAN, APPELLANTS,
v.
THE AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION AND ITS PIEDMONT MASTER EXECUTIVE COUNCIL, APPELLEES



Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Neal P. McCurn, Chief Judge, granting summary judgment against a group of pilots alleging that a union breached the duty of fair representation owed to the pilots under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151 et seq. (1982 & Supp. V 1987). Affirmed. Judge Kearse concurs in a separate opinion.

Oakes, Chief Judge, and Kearse and Altimari, Circuit Judges.

Author: Oakes

OAKES, Chief Judge:

A group of pilots formerly employed by Empire Airlines ("Empire pilots") appeal a judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Neal P. McCurn, Chief Judge, granting summary judgment in favor of the Air Line Pilots Association ("ALPA") and its Piedmont Master Executive Council ("Piedmont MEC") upon the Empire pilots' claim that the union breached its duty of fair representation under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151 et seq. (1982 & Supp. V 1987). We affirm.

In October 1985, Piedmont Aviation proposed acquiring Empire Airlines. At that time, appellee ALPA was the bargaining representative under the Railway Labor Act for the pilots then working for Piedmont ("Piedmont pilots"), but not for the Empire pilots. Following announcement of the proposed merger, Piedmont and ALPA proceeded to negotiate a seniority list integrating the Piedmont pilots with the Empire pilots. Allegedly, the integrated seniority list resulted in the Empire pilots receiving seniority rights inferior to those of the Piedmont pilots.

Empire and Piedmont subsequently submitted the terms of the proposed acquisition to the Department of Transportation ("DOT") for its approval pursuant to 49 U.S.C.App. §§ 1378(b)(1) & 1551(b) (1982). After the DOT granted its preliminary approval on December 9, 1985, the Empire pilots filed comments opposing the merger on grounds that the seniority provisions would be unfair to Empire employees and that the merger thus was not in the public interest as required by 49 U.S.C.App. § 1378(b)(1). The Empire pilots requested the DOT to deny final approval of the merger unless Piedmont entered into collective bargaining, and arbitration if necessary, with the Empire pilots to resolve their seniority rights more equitably.

On January 23, 1986, the DOT granted final approval for the acquisition and, in so doing, rejected the Empire pilots' call for additional collective bargaining. The DOT advanced a number of rationales for setting aside the Empire pilots' plea for added protection. It noted, first, that the impending acquisition did not pose a threat of future labor strife; second, that Government policy ordinarily deferred to the free market to regulate private sector labor disputes; third, that the Empire pilots lacked a bargaining representative with which Piedmont and ALPA could negotiate; and, finally, that the acquisition overall improved the Empire pilots' wages and working conditions. Although the Empire pilots had a right to appeal the DOT's decision to a federal court of appeals, see 49 U.S.C. app. § 1486 (1982), they did not do so and instead let the decision stand.

Following the merger, the former Empire pilots, now Piedmont employees, remained dissatisfied with their seniority status vis-a-vis the long-time Piedmont pilots. In mid-1987, when USAir proposed merging with Piedmont, the former Empire pilots used this as an opportunity to revive-their grievances from the earlier Empire-Piedmont merger. At the November 1987 meeting of the Piedmont MEC (ALPA's administrative subdivision governing pilots working for Piedmont), Donald Cox, a former Empire pilot, moved that the Piedmont MEC negotiating committee meet with Piedmont to renegotiate the existing seniority agreement. Cox's proposal envisioned that ALPA and the Piedmont MEC would work to secure the former Empire pilots a higher position on the Piedmont seniority ladder than the former Empire pilots had received from the 1985 negotiations. Cox asserted that seniority renegotiation was necessitated both by the impending USAir-Piedmont merger and the disaffection felt by the former Empire pilots regarding their placement on the seniority list following the 1985 Piedmont-Empire merger. Cox's motion failed. The record indicates that the MEC did not debate the proposal either before or after voting upon it.

The former Empire pilots thereafter filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York on January 19, 1988, alleging that ALPA and the Piedmont MEC breached the duty of fair representation under the Railway Labor Act. They based their action, first, on ALPA's and the Piedmont MEC's refusal to file a grievance on behalf of the former Empire pilots pertaining to their claim that they were not receiving the full wages due under the collective bargaining agreement between Piedmont and ALPA. Second, the Empire pilots alleged that ALPA's and the Piedmont MEC's refusal in November 1987 to renegotiate the seniority list also constituted a breach of the duty of fair representation.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of ALPA and the Piedmont MEC. The district court held that the Empire pilots had not produced any evidence to show that the ALPA or Piedmont MEC, in failing to file the wage grievance, either had exceeded its discretion or had acted discriminatorily, arbitrarily, or with hostility towards the Empire pilots. Concerning the portion of the Empire pilots' claim based upon ALPA's and the Piedmont MEC's refusal to renegotiate the seniority agreement, the district court ruled that the Empire pilots' attempt to support their claim by reference to the unfairness of the 1985 seniority agreement was barred by the six-month statute of limitations on duty of fair representation actions. Additionally, the district court held, any such argument attacking the adequacy of the 1985 seniority agreement would constitute an impermissible collateral attack on the 1986 DOT order approving the merger. Considering, therefore, only the "changed circumstances" after the Empire-Piedmont merger and the events immediately surrounding the Empire pilots' plea for renegotiation, the district court ruled that the Empire pilots had not mounted enough of a case to withstand a motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the Empire pilots do not challenge the district court's ruling as it pertains to their wage grievance and instead attack the ruling only insofar as it pertains to ALPA's and the Piedmont MEC's refusal to renegotiate.

Although we disagree with the district court and find that the Empire pilots may use ALPA's and the Piedmont MEC's conduct during the 1985 negotiations to establish its duty of fair representation claim, we nevertheless affirm the district court's conclusion that the Empire pilots have not established sufficient issues of fact to withstand summary judgment.

Discussion

A. Use of Events from the 1985 Seniority Agreement

1. Statute of Limitations. The Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., governs the rights and responsibilities as between air carriers and their employees. See 45 U.S.C. § 181 (1982). The Act imposes upon a union the duty to provide fair representation to all members of its collective bargaining unit. See Steele v. Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co., 323 U.S. 192, 198-204, 89 L. Ed. 173, 65 S. Ct. 226 (1944). Charges alleging a breach of a union's duty of fair representation under the Railway Labor Act are subject to a six-month statute of limitations. See Welyczko v. U.S. Air, Inc., 733 F.2d 239, 240 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1036, 83 L. Ed. 2d 402, 105 S. Ct. 512 (1984). ...


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