United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
Atlas Air, Inc. and Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, Inc., Appellees
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, et al., Appellants
September 7, 2018
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:17-cv-01953)
M. Gleason, Jr. argued the cause for appellants. With him on
the briefs were James Petroff and Trent R. Taylor. Joshua D.
McInerney entered an appearance.
A. Siegel argued the cause for appellees. With him on the
brief were Rachel Janger, Michael G. McGuinness, and Sloane
Before: Griffith, Circuit Judge, and Edwards and Randolph,
Senior Circuit Judges.
Griffith, Circuit Judge.
district court issued a preliminary injunction enjoining a
union's efforts to gain leverage over two commercial air
carriers during negotiations over an amended collective
bargaining agreement. Congress permits courts to issue such
injunctions in rare circumstances. Because this is one of
them, we affirm.
Air, Inc. and Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, Inc. (collectively,
"Atlas") are global commercial air carriers that
operate domestic and intercontinental flights for the U.S.
military, DHL, and Amazon, among others. Atlas's pilots
are represented by the International Brotherhood of
Teamsters; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,
Airline Division; and the Airline Professionals Association
of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local Union
No. 1224. We refer to them collectively as the
2011, after a protracted negotiation process, the Union and
Atlas entered into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
The CBA prohibits the Union from engaging in a work stoppage
or slowdown and permits Atlas to seek an injunction if the
Union does so. The CBA also creates a process to resolve any
"grievance[s]" that Atlas has over the
"interpretation or application" of its provisions.
Defs.' Ex. 1 at 126-27, No. 17-cv-1953 (D.D.C. Nov. 30,
2017), Dkt. No. 31-1.
entering the CBA, Atlas's business model and staffing
demands have changed significantly because of the rapid
expansion of e-commerce. In the past, most of Atlas's
business was international. Of late, the company's focus
has shifted to a growing domestic market. The Union tried to
work "collaboratively with Atlas" to alleviate the
growing pains caused by this change rather than holding the
company "accountable" to the precise terms of the
CBA. J.A. 172-73. But as domestic operations expanded,
pilots' frustrations increased. In 2014, the pilots
elected a new Chairman of the Atlas Pilots' Executive
Committee, the body through which the Union manages
day-to-day representation of the pilots. Captain Robert
Kirchner ran on a platform calling for "strict contract
compliance." J.A. 173. As he explained, if Atlas is
"allowed to bend and violate the terms of the [CBA] when
it suits them, [the company] will have no reason to negotiate
changes to the [CBA]" when it becomes amendable.
Id. When he assumed the role of Chairman in January
2015, Captain Kirchner launched several communication tools
to help educate pilots about their rights and
responsibilities under the CBA: "Atlas Teamsters Action
Message" podcasts (ATAM), "Atlas Pilots Crew
Call" question and answer sessions, "Chairman's
Update" emails, and "CBA Chat" videos.
February 16, 2016, about one year after Captain Kirchner took
office, the Union notified Atlas that it would seek to amend
the existing CBA. Around that same time, the Executive
Committee's communications efforts picked up steam. The
day before the Union issued that notice, the Communications
Chairman, Captain Michael Griffith, asked rhetorically on an
ATAM, "Are you going to continue to sell your talents
for a quick buck, or are you going to stop doing the Company
favors and follow the CBA to the letter and give your
[Executive Committee] and Negotiation Committee the leverage
and power they need today?" J.A. 638. Over the coming
months, the Union repeatedly called on pilots to be "all
in," "fly the CBA," and "fly the
contract." E.g., J.A. 631, 650; Pls.' Ex.
51 at 3, No. 17-cv-1953 (D.D.C. Nov. 30, 2017), Dkt. No.
5-54; Pls.' Ex. 100 at 54, No. 17-cv-1953 (D.D.C. Nov.
30, 2017), Dkt. No. 27-4. It encouraged pilots to
"SHOP," or "stop helping out Purchase,"
named for the location of Atlas's headquarters in
Purchase, New York. E.g., J.A. 640. According to
Captain Kirchner, "SHOP" or "shopping"
refers to the idea that pilots should not "help
out" Atlas "by permitting [it] to get away with
contract violations," but should instead insist on
"strict contract compliance." J.A. 178. The Union
asked pilots to "BOOT," which stands for
"block out on time." E.g., J.A. 652. By
contrast, Atlas encourages pilots to "block
out"-i.e., push back from the gate-up to
fifteen minutes early as a matter of course, or even earlier
with Atlas's approval. The Executive Committee also
encouraged pilots to think more carefully about when to call
in sick or accept overtime work.
was unhappy with these efforts and the changes it began to
see in pilots' behavior. Atlas viewed SHOP and BOOT as
part of a Union attempt to orchestrate a work slowdown in an
attempt to ratchet up pressure on Atlas during their
negotiations over an amended CBA. When Atlas could not
convince the Union to stop this behavior, the company asked
the district court for an injunction. The Union disputed
Atlas's allegations and moved to dismiss for lack of
jurisdiction. After a three-day evidentiary hearing, the
district court determined that it had jurisdiction and
entered a preliminary injunction to prevent the Union from
encouraging pilots to "block out on time," call in
sick on short notice, and refuse to volunteer for overtime
shifts. Atlas Air, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of
Teamsters, 280 F.Supp.3d 59 (D.D.C. 2017). The Union
appealed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1292(a)(1) and 29 U.S.C. § 110.
begin by asking whether the district court had jurisdiction
to issue this type of preliminary injunction. Our review is
de novo. Foretich v. Am. Broad. Cos., 198 F.3d 270,
273 (D.C. Cir. 1999). To answer that question, we look to the
Railway Labor Act and the Norris-LaGuardia Act.
Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et
seq., Congress established different procedures to
resolve two types of labor disputes in the transportation
industry, which we refer to as major and minor disputes.
Consol. Rail Corp. v. Ry. Labor Execs.'
Ass'n (Conrail), 491 U.S. 299, 302 (1989).
A major dispute concerns the formation or amendment of a
collective bargaining agreement. Id. The process for
resolving a major dispute is complex and typically takes a
long time. Only once that process is complete may the company
or the union alter the status quo by engaging in a work
slowdown or stoppage. Bhd. of R.R. Trainmen v.
Jacksonville Terminal Co., 394 U.S. 369, 378 (1969).
Delaying the time at which labor or management may use
economic self-help encourages compromise and prevents
interruptions to commerce or carriers' operations.
Id.; Detroit & Toledo Shore Line R.R. Co. v.
United Transp. Union, 396 U.S. 142, 149-50 (1969);
see 45 U.S.C. § 152, First. The status quo
requirement is thus at the "heart" of the RLA, and
may be enforced by injunction. Jacksonville
Terminal, 378 U.S. at 377-78; see 45 U.S.C.
§ 152, First; Conrail, 491 U.S. at 302-03.
contrast, a minor dispute involves a question about how to
interpret an existing collective bargaining agreement, like
the meaning of a term or whether the agreement permits a
certain action. Elgin, J. & E. Ry. Co. v.
Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 723 (1945). As long as the
contested "action is arguably justified by the terms of
the parties' collective-bargaining agreement," we
treat the dispute as minor. Conrail, 491 U.S. at
307; Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. E. Air
Lines, Inc. (Eastern), 869 F.2d 1518, 1521
(D.C. Cir. 1989). The resolution process for a minor dispute
is less involved, and there is no "general statutory
obligation . . . to maintain the status quo" while that
process is ongoing. Conrail, 491 U.S. at 304. So
although "[c]ourts may enjoin strikes arising out of
minor disputes" in limited circumstances, they generally
may not enjoin other violations of the status quo.
Id. If in doubt, the dispute is minor.
Eastern, 869 F.2d at 1521.
disputes are also subject to the Norris-LaGuardia Act (NLGA),
29 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., which Congress enacted
in response to concerns that federal courts were using their
injunctive power too often to the detriment of workers.
Bhd. of R.R. Trainmen v. Chi. River & Ind. R.R.
Co., 353 U.S. 30, 40 (1957). To curtail such judicial
interference, Congress stripped federal courts of
"jurisdiction to issue any . . . temporary or permanent
injunction in a case involving or growing out of a labor
dispute, except in . . . strict conformity" with various
procedural requirements. 29 U.S.C. § 101. The NLGA also
categorically eliminates jurisdiction to enjoin certain types
of conduct in "any labor dispute," including work
stoppages and slowdowns. Id. § 104.
cannot have jurisdiction to enjoin slowdowns or work
stoppages in major labor disputes in the transportation
industry, see 45 U.S.C. § 152, yet at the same
time lack jurisdiction to enjoin such conduct in "any
labor dispute," 29 U.S.C. § 104. More than 50 years
ago, the Supreme Court resolved this conflict by holding that
"the specific provisions of the [RLA] take
precedence." Chi. River, 353 U.S. at 41-42, 41
n.23. Courts therefore have jurisdiction to issue injunctions
to preserve the status quo in major disputes in the
transportation industry, Conrail, 491 U.S. at
302-03, but in keeping with the goals of the NLGA, they
should only do so if "that remedy alone can effectively
guard the plaintiff's right[s]," Int'l
Ass'n of Machinists v. Street, 367 U.S. 740, 773
(1961). In order to verify that such an RLA injunction is
indeed essential, courts must generally comply with the
procedures set forth in the NLGA before issuing RLA
injunctions. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 101,