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U.S. Supreme Court

United Transp. Union v. Long Island R. Co., 455 U.S. 678 (1982)

United Transportation Union v. Long Island Rail Road Co.

No. 80-1925

Argued January 20, 1982

Decided March 24, 1982

455 U.S. 678


Respondent Railroad, formerly under private ownership, was acquired by New York State in 1966 and is engaged in interstate commerce. Some 13 years later, petitioner Union, representing the Railroad's employees, and the Railroad failed to reach an agreement after conducting collective bargaining negotiations pursuant to the Railway Labor Act, and mediation efforts also failed to produce agreement. This triggered a 30-day cooling-off period under that Act, at the expiration of which the Act permits a union to resort to a strike. Anticipating that New York would challenge the Railway Labor Act's applicability to the Railroad, the Union sued in Federal District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the labor dispute was covered by that Act and not the Taylor Law, the New York law prohibiting strikes by public employees. The Railroad then filed suit in a New York state court, seeking to enjoin an impending strike by the Union under the Taylor Law. Before the state court acted, the Federal District Court held that the Railroad was subject to the Railway Labor Act, and that that Act, rather than the Taylor Law, was applicable. The District Court rejected the Railroad's argument that application of the Railway Labor Act to a state-owned railroad was inconsistent with National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U. S. 833, wherein it was held that Congress could not impose the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act on state and local governments. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the operation of the Railroad was an integral state governmental function, that the Railway Labor Act displaced "essential governmental decisions" involving that function, and that the State's interest in controlling the operation of the Railroad outweighed the federal interest in having the federal Act apply.

Held: Application to a state-owned railroad of Congress' acknowledged authority to regulate labor relations in the railroad industry does not so impair a state's ability to carry out its constitutionally preserved sovereign function as to come in conflict with the Tenth Amendment. Pp. 455 U. S. 682-690.

(a) One of the requirements under National League of Cities, supra, at 426 U. S. 852, for a successful claim that congressional commerce power is invalid is that a state's compliance with federal law would directly impair its ability to "structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental

Page 455 U. S. 679

functions." Operation of a railroad engaged in interstate commerce is clearly not an integral part of traditional state activities generally immune from federal regulation. And federal regulation of state-owned railroads, whether freight or passenger, simply does not impair a state's ability to function as a state. Pp. 455 U. S. 683-686.

(b) To allow individual states, by acquiring railroads, to circumvent the federal system of railroad collective bargaining, or any of the other elements of federal regulation of railroads, would destroy the longstanding and comprehensive uniform scheme of federal regulation of railroads and their labor relations thought essential by Congress, and would endanger the efficient operation of the interstate rail system. Moreover, a state acquiring a railroad does so knowing that the railroad is subject to such scheme of federal regulation. Here, New York knew of and accepted federal regulation, and, in fact had operated under it for 13 years without claiming any impairment of its traditional sovereignty. Pp. 455 U. S. 686-690.

634 F.2d 19, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 455 U. S. 680

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