Labor wins first round in FMLA court battle

Carriers '99% likely' to appeal ruling on Family and Medical Leave Act

Rail Labor secured a major court victory for its members in a decision released by the U.S. District Court in Chicago on January 3 regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The unions challenged a decision made by the major rail carriers to force their employees to exhaust their vacation and personal leave days for FMLA purposes before taking the unpaid leave they are entitled to under federal law. U.S. District Judge Wayne R. Andersen sided with the unions, ruling that the FMLA does not allow carriers to force employees to substitute paid vacation and personal leave for unpaid leave when existing collective bargaining agreements give the employees - not the carriers - the right to decide when to use their paid leave. The court held that "if a CBA gives employees the right to determine when, or in what manner, they take accrued vacation and/or personal leave, an employer cannot force employees covered by that CBA to use such vacation and/or personal leave at a time of the employer's choosing."

Judge Andersen further noted that, pursuant to the Railway Labor Act (RLA), (a) the parties must "maintain" collective bargaining agreements, (b) carriers are not permitted to change CBA provisions other than through the Section 6 process, and (c) any disputes regarding the interpretation of an existing CBA must be submitted to binding arbitration. The court held, against the carriers, that the FMLA did not in any way override these basic RLA requirements.

"Sometimes, an employee who resorts to the Family and Medical Leave Act has a family member who is very sick," said Don Hahs, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). "For the carriers to bully employees in that situation is just wrong. I am proud we were able to work with other Rail Labor unions who felt the same way in order to rectify this situation."

Shortly after announcing the decision, however, the BLET National Division learned that it is 99 percent likely that the carriers will appeal the District Court's order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Therefore, the carriers will not be changing their policies until the Court of Appeals upholds the lower court's ruling, at the very least.

Per agreements made during the litigation, claims should continue to be filed, and stating that they are without prejudice to the position that this is a major dispute; the carriers previously agreed to hold such claims in abeyance after on-property handling pending the court rulings.

The BLET joined with five other unions in obtaining this result: the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the American Train Dispatchers Association, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, National Conference of Firemen and Oilers (SEIU), and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association. Michael Wolly and Marge Pave of Zwerdling, Paul, Kahn, & Wolly, P.C., represented the organizations. The other rail unions also participated in the litigation and were separately represented.



© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen