In the News
U.S. Court Ruling Favours Private Interests
Court Grants Restraining Order Against Rail Workers
Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) went to Court at the end of January to demand a restraining order making it illegal for workers to go on strike against its attendance policy. For a strike to happen in railway transportation, workers must be in conformity with the Railway Labor Act‘s provision that the strike must be about a “major” dispute. If railway owners challenge the claim that the dispute has to do with major problems, the issue is decided by the Courts.
The judge in this case granted the restraining order, supporting BNSF’s claim that what the unions were raising constitutes a “minor dispute.” Below are some excerpts from the January 25 ruling.
“The Court’s role is not to decide whether Plaintiff BNSF Railway Company’s (‘BNSF’) new High Visibility (‘Hi Viz’) attendance standard is bad policy. Rather, the Court’s role is to determine whether the current labor dispute is either a ‘major’ or ‘minor’ dispute under the Railway Labor Act (‘RLA’).
“At this stage in the proceedings, the Court is not deciding whether this dispute is either major or minor as a matter of law. Instead, the Court is merely deciding whether ‘there is a substantial likelihood that the movant will prevail on the merits.’ Daniels Health Sci., LLC v.Vascular Health Scis., LLC, 710 F.3d 579, 582 (5th Cir. 2013). Based on the Parties’ past practice, BNSF has established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits that implementing the Hi Viz attendance standard is ‘arguably justified by the terms of the parties collective bargaining agreement’ such that the dispute is minor.
“The Court therefore concludes that BNSF has established a substantial likelihood that any resort to self-help [workers’ actions including a strike – Ed. Note] by the Unions would violate the RLA.
“And without a temporary restraining order barring an ‘illegal strike over a minor dispute,’ BNSF would suffer substantial, immediate, and irreparable harm. The Unions, however, will not suffer any harm as a result of a temporary restraining order that this Court, or an arbitrator, cannot remedy. The balance of harms therefore weighs in favor of injunctive relief. The record further establishes that a strike would exacerbate our current supply-chain crisis – harming the public at large, not just BNSF. A temporary restraining order will thus serve, rather than dis-serve, the public interest. Accordingly, the Court concludes that granting a temporary restraining order is appropriate.
“Accordingly, the Court ORDERS that, for the duration of this Temporary Restraining Order, SMART-TD and BLET – as well as their divisions, lodges, locals, officers, agents, employees, members, and all persons acting in concert or participation with any of them – are TEMPORARILY RESTRAINED and ENJOINED from authorizing, encouraging, permitting, calling, or otherwise engaging in any strikes, work stoppages, picketing, slowdowns, sickouts, or other self-help against BNSF or its operating rail subsidiaries over any dispute relating to the Hi Viz attendance standards.”
What then follows are a series of orders to the unions to make all efforts “to prevent and discourage their respective divisions, lodges, locals, officers, agents, employees, members, and all person acting in concert with any of them, from engaging in conduct enjoined by this Order.”
In an attempt to give historical background to the ruling, the judge quotes Harry Truman, writing in a letter in 1946: “I am sure [management] would like to break the unions and the unions would like to break them so they will probably fight a while and then settle so both will lose and in the long run only the man in the street will pay the bill.” He also quotes John F. Kennedy saying “Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate” and Lyndon Baines Johnson, quoting from Isaiah 1:18, saying “Come now, let us reason together.”
Missing is any examination of the urgency and validity of the workers’ concerns for their very lives. BNSF is simply declared to have history on its side with regard to the likelihood of the merits in its arguments. Railways are a critical infrastructure that is to be protected from the struggle of the workers for their rights under the hoax of not further damaging the supply chain. Why then are the workers afraid of negotiating with BNSF which, after all, is just imposing a policy devised without their input, which is an issue of life and death?
This is all despicable and shows the necessity for workers to examine very closely what is going on and step up their fight in defence of their rights and the rights of all, as well as for political renewal, so that the people are empowered to be the decision-makers in all matters affecting their lives.
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 28, 2022)