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U.S. Supreme Court

Burlington No. R. Co. v. Maintenance Emps., 481 U.S. 429 (1987)

Burlington Northern Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of

Maintenance of Way Employes

No. 86-39

Argued February 23, 1987

Decided April 28, 1987

481 U.S. 429


Respondent Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes (BMWE), which represents railroad employees nationwide, had a dispute over renewal of a collective bargaining agreement with a small railroad that is a subsidiary of Guilford Transportation Industries, Inc. (Guilford), which also owns other railroads. After exhausting the settlement procedures mandated by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), BMWE instituted a lawful strike against the Guilford railroads. BMWE later extended its picketing to other railroads (including petitioners) with which Guilford interchanged traffic. In petitioners' consolidated actions, the Federal District Court entered a preliminary injunction against BMWE's picketing of any railroads other than those involved in the primary dispute. The court held that the "substantial alignment" test governs interpretation of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, §§ 1 and 4 of which bar federal courts from issuing injunctions against activities "growing out of" a "labor dispute." Under the test, the scope of lawful strike activity is confined to activities that further the union's economic interests in a labor dispute, and that are directed at the primary employer and other substantially aligned employers -- those having an ownership interest in, or providing essential services or facilities to, the primary employer. The court concluded that none of the petitioners were "substantially aligned" with Guilford, and that, thus, BMWE's secondary activity did not grow out of a labor dispute under the Norris-LaGuardia Act, and could be enjoined. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the District Court had no jurisdiction to enter an injunction.

Held: Under the Norris-LaGuardia Act, a federal court does not have jurisdiction to enjoin secondary picketing in railway labor disputes. Pp. 481 U. S. 437-453.

(a) The historical background of the Norris-LaGuardia Act -- particularly the legislative history showing that Congress was responding to what it considered to be unduly restrictive judicial construction of the anti-injunction provisions of § 20 of the Clayton Act -- reveals that Congress intended to preclude courts from enjoining secondary as well as

Page 481 U. S. 430

primary activity, and that railroads were to be treated no differently from other industries in such regard. Pp. 481 U. S. 437-440.

(b) Section 13(c) of the Norris-LaGuardia Act defines "labor dispute" as including

"any controversy concerning terms or conditions of employment . . . regardless of whether or not the disputants stand in the proximate relation of employer and employee,"

and § 13(a) provides that a case shall be held to "grow out of a labor dispute when the case involves persons who are engaged in the same industry." Under the plain meaning of this language, BMWE's dispute with the primary employer here was unquestionably a labor dispute, and the secondary activity against petitioners grew out of that dispute. Section 13(c)'s definition of "labor dispute" should not be narrowed by adoption of a test of "substantial alignment" of a picketed secondary employer with the primary employer. Congress intended the definition of "labor dispute" to be broad, and adoption of the substantial alignment test would require courts, contrary to Congress' intent, to second-guess which activities are truly in a union's economic interest in a labor dispute. Moreover, nothing in the Norris-LaGuardia Act or the RLA distinguishes permissible from impermissible secondary activities, and any judicial attempt to limit § 13(c)'s language would make the lawfulness of a strike depend upon judicial views of social and economic policy, which is what the Norris-LaGuardia Act was designed to forestall. Pp. 481 U. S. 440-443.

(c) Petitioners' contention that the injunction here was valid because, under the RLA, it is illegal for a union to resort to secondary picketing after the parties have exhausted the RLA's major dispute resolution procedures, is without merit. Although the Norris-LaGuardia Act does not deprive a federal court of jurisdiction to enjoin compliance with the RLA's major dispute resolution provisions -- involving negotiation, mediation, voluntary arbitration, and conciliation -- the RLA does not expressly limit the scope of self-help available to a union once its resolution provisions have been exhausted. The RLA's silence in this regard does not indicate that Congress viewed an express prohibition of secondary picketing to be superfluous, and intended to prohibit such picketing. Cf. Trainmen v. Jacksonville Terminal Co., 394 U. S. 369. There is no merit to petitioners' contentions that the prohibition in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) against some forms of secondary activity should govern construction of the RLA. Congressional policy, as expressed in the NLRA, remains that neither employers nor the NLRB are permitted to seek injunctions against the secondary conduct of railway employees. Nor is there any merit to the argument that a ban on secondary picketing may be inferred from the general language of § 2

Page 481 U. S. 431

First of the RLA, which places on employees the duty to attempt to settle disputes, and thereby avoid any interruption to interstate commerce. Nothing in the RLA indicates that Congress intended to permit federal courts to enjoin secondary activity as a means to settle strikes and avoid interruptions to commerce. Furthermore, the RLA provides a mechanism for the Executive Branch to intervene and interrupt any self-help measures by invoking an Emergency Board, thereby imposing a minimum 60-day cooling-off period. If the Board's recommendations are not initially accepted by the parties, Congress may enforce the Board's recommendation by statute, as was done in this case. Allowing secondary picketing in the self-help period is not inconsistent with the structure or purpose of the Act, and may in fact increase the likelihood of settlement prior to self-help. Pp. 481 U. S. 444-453.

793 F.2d 795, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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