Flight Options, LLC and Flexjet LLC v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters 2017 WL 4583014

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (Pilots’ Union) brought an action against merging airlines Flight Options and Flexjet, seeking a preliminary injunction that ordered the airlines to bargain in good faith over the union’s proposed changes to pilots’ rates of pay and working conditions, pursuant to Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act (RLA). The court granted the injunction and the airlines appealed.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded. At issue in the appeal was whether negotiation over modification of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to integrate the merged pilots under CBA Section 1.5(c)(4) was required before negotiation over the union’s broad changes to the terms and conditions of employment under Section 6 of the Railway Labor Act (RLA). Airlines and unions must resolve their disputes consistent with the RLA, which has two procedural tracks: major or minor. Parties to major disputes, which relate to the formation of the CBA or efforts to change the terms of the CBA, must first try to resolve the issues through private negotiation and, if necessary, mediation. If both fail, then the parties must determine whether to go to arbitration. Parties to minor disputes, which relate to disagreements about how a CBA applies to a situation, must attempt to negotiate privately and if that fails, must proceed directly to binding arbitration.

The lower court assumed the dispute was major because it involved parties’ obligations under Section 6; however, the proper inquiry is whether the existing CBA controls the controversy. The Court found that under the CBA, the parties had a right to prioritize Section 1.5(c)(4) negotiations and the airlines did not have to bargain over Section 6 proposals including all pilots of the combined airlines until such time as a fully merged agreement is reached. The dispute was minor, with the question of how the CBA applied to be determined in arbitration.