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Aircraft MechanicS Fraternal Association v. Southwest Airlines Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

July 13, 2017

AIRCRAFT MECHANICS FRATERNAL ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Sam A. Lindsay, United States District Judge

         Before the court are Plaintiff AMFA's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 38), filed January 22, 2016; and Defendant Southwest Airlines Co.'s Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 40), filed February 12, 2016. After careful consideration of the motions, briefs, appendix, record, and applicable law, the court grants Defendant Southwest Airlines Co.'s Cross Motion for Summary Judgment; denies Plaintiff AMFA's Motion for Summary Judgment; and dismisses with prejudice this action.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

         On November 11, 2015, Plaintiff Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (“Plaintiff” or “the Union”) brought this action against Defendant Southwest Airlines Co. (“Defendant” or “Southwest”) to vacate a labor arbitration award (“Bloch Award”) pursuant to the Railway Labor Act (“Act” or “RLA”), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. Plaintiff is a labor union acting on behalf of the mechanics (“Mechanics”) employed by Southwest. In Plaintiff's Petition to vacate the Bloch Award, the Union contends that Arbitrator Richard Bloch (“Arbitrator Bloch”) recognized but did not follow a previous arbitration award-the Sauter Award. The Union contends that Arbitrator Bloch, therefore, violated the RLA and exceeded his jurisdiction under the parties' Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”), as the RLA and CBA require the Sauter Award to be treated as final and binding. The Union further contends that the court should vacate the Bloch Award and remand this action for another arbitration.

         The parties stipulated to the admission of the System Board of Adjustment (“Board”) proceedings into the record and agreed that no discovery was necessary. Further, they agreed that the issues presented in the Petition should be addressed through cross-motions for summary judgment. On January 22, 2016, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment. Defendant filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and a response to Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on February 12, 2016. Plaintiff filed its reply to Defendant's motion for summary judgment on February 19, 2016. Defendant filed its reply to Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on February 26, 2016. Both parties agree that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that there is a legal dispute that can be resolved by summary judgment based on the applicable law.

         The court now sets forth the facts in accordance with the standard in Section II of this opinion. Plaintiff and Defendant are parties to a CBA that governs the terms and conditions of the Mechanics' employment. Article 21 of the CBA sets forth the process for resolving a grievance arising over the interpretation or application of the contract. First, the aggrieved employee must discuss a possible solution for the grievance with his or her supervisor or manager. J.A. 597. The supervisor or manager then issues a grievance decision. Id. During the discussion with his or her supervisor or manager, the aggrieved employee may be represented by his or her shop representative or local airline representative. Id. The decision reached in this first step of the grievance procedure “shall not constitute a precedent of any kind unless otherwise agreed to by the Union and [Southwest].” Id. The parties may also resolve a grievance dispute “by the union or carrier agreeing to a voluntary settlement of the grievance, or by the grievant withdrawing the grievance” Pl.'s Pet. 6-7. If the parties are unable to resolve the dispute through discussion, the aggrieved employee's next step is to submit an official Union grievance form to his or her supervisor or manager. J.A. 597. The Union may appeal the supervisor or manager's grievance decision to the Board. Id. The Board consists of one member designated by the union and one member designated by Southwest. Pl.'s Pet. 7. Pursuant to Articles 21 and 22 of the CBA, a Board's resolution of a grievance is “final and binding” unless the parties agree otherwise. Id. If the Board is deadlocked, Article 22 allows the Union to appeal the Board's decision to an arbitrator. Id. Under Article 22, a single impartial arbitrator resolves the grievance after a contested arbitration hearing. Id.

         Article 2, Section 12 of the CBA, provides an expedited process for resolving subcontracting grievances. Under Article 2, Section 12, the Union may invoke expedited arbitration before the Board sitting with a neutral arbitrator, after the matter is grieved and the parties have attempted “to resolve their dispute in conference.” J.A. 543. “Article 2.12 operates in conjunction with Article 22.” Def.'s Resp. to Ct. Order on Clarification 2.

         A dispute arose between the parties in 2014 as to whether Southwest was entitled to assign nonmaintenance brake riding work to a third-party vendor instead of using the Mechanics. Brake riding is a process of controlling an aircraft while it is being towed. The aircraft is typically “powered down and empty of passengers.” Afoa v. China Airlines Ltd, No. C11-0028-JCC, 2013 WL 12066088, at *1 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 12, 2013).

When a plane is being towed, one mechanic is in the cockpit riding the brakes of the aircraft. Another mechanic drives the tow truck, which pulls or pushes the aircraft, depending on which direction the tow truck is facing. One or two mechanics act as wing walkers. During towing, it is necessary for either the mechanic driving the tow truck or the mechanic in the cockpit to be in radio contact with the control tower in order to receive directions and instructions regarding when and where it is safe for the towing to proceed.

Sprague v. United Airlines, Inc., No. CIV.A.97-12102-GAO, 2002 WL 1803733, at *15 (D. Mass.

         Aug. 7, 2002). Performing the brake riding work requires “powering the aircraft[']s APU [auxiliary power unit] and hydraulics, [and] configuring radios and communicating with the tug operator and/or tower.” J.A. 1760-61. In late 2014, Southwest notified the Union that it would be assigning a portion of its nonmaintenance brake riding work to a third-party vendor. As a result, Plaintiff received hundreds of grievances against Southwest from its Mechanics. The Mechanics contended that the nonmaintenance brake riding, subject to some limitations, was within the Mechanics' classification under the CBA's Scope Clause, and, therefore, Southwest was prohibited from contracting the work to a third-party vendor. Southwest disagreed. The parties were unable to reach a grievance settlement; therefore, they agreed to resolve the issue through expedited arbitration pursuant to Article 2, Section 12 of the CBA. On January 30, 2015, the Union designated a lead grievance for the class action grievance to move to arbitration. Def.'s Resp. to Ct. Order on Clarification 2. The parties agreed to select Arbitrator Bloch as the neutral arbitrator to sit on the Board. As the parties also agreed that the matter would be expedited, the arbitrator was to issue a decision no later than thirty days after the parties' submissions.

         To address the parties' dispute, Arbitrator Bloch held hearings on May 6, 7, 18, and 19, 2015. In its argument before Arbitrator Bloch, the Union contended that the terms of a 2001 System Board of Adjustment Award[1] (“Sauter Award”) were decisive with respect to the parties' dispute. The Sauter Award resolved a dispute as to when non-Mechanic employees could perform brake riding. Mechanic Ken Sauter and another Mechanic grieved the issue, and, as the issue was not resolved through the grievance process, they appealed to the Board. On October 17, 2001, the Board disposed of the dispute with the following decision:

At locations and shifts where there are no SWA Mechanics, Ramp Supervision Personnel may ride the brakes for repositioning. However, when [and] if such stations are manned by SWA Mechanics, this work will be done by SWA Mechanics.
Per Article 2 para 3.
[Southwest] will continue to train Ground Operations Supervisor from stations without Southwest Mechanics to brake ride. It is mutually agreed that when and if Mechanics are stationed that SWA Mechanics will perform said duties. Only exception is if no Mechanic is available on a particular shift, then [Ground Operations Supervisors] will assist in the movement of the aircrafts.

J.A. 1772-3.

         Arbitrator Bloch considered the Sauter Award and determined that with respect to brake riding it “in no way settles the issue on exclusive jurisdiction throughout the Southwest system. It may, with equal force, be seen as the parties' agreed on rules as to the orderly management of a shared task. Whatever the underlying intent [of the Sauter Award], the Disposition is not one that survived subsequent labor agreements.” J.A. 1774. In deciding that the Sauter Award was inapplicable, Arbitrator Bloch stated that the Sauter Award is not a “global prohibition on the assignment of non-Mechanics” but instead “reflects these parties' practice of [] recognizing the Mechanics' ownership of the task in some circumstances, ” and identifies other circumstances when others may perform the nonmaintenance brake riding. J.A. 1773. Arbitrator Bloch reasoned that the Sauter Award reflects a ...


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