District court denies Hours of Service case

Ruling could have negative impact on rail workers

On May 12, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion on the Hours of Service Act, which may have far-reaching effects on railroad crew members.

The court ruling in this California case dealt with the application of "respite" or releasing a crew from duty for an "interim" period. When a crew is put on "respite," the crewmembers must be off duty for a period of at least four hours, not exceeding eight hours. The time before "respite" and the time after "respite" count toward the total time on duty.

The ruling opens a door where, in the future, railroads may not allow crews to receive a minimum of four hours uninterrupted rest when placed on "respite" or "interim" rest, contrary to past practices.

The California Legislative Board of the United Transportation Union argued that if this interim period is interrupted by a duty call when the crew has not received an uninterrupted four hours off duty, then the entire time must count toward the hours of service, including the time before, during and after "respite" time.

The Federal Railroad Administration argued that a duty call does not interrupt an interim rest period of a minimum of four hours. The court agreed with the FRA in denying UTU's arguments. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) intervened in support of the FRA.

The controversy arose when the Union Pacific Railroad deadheaded a train crew from the East Los Angeles yard to Yuma, Ariz. The crew left East Los Angeles at 6 p.m. and arrived in Yuma at 11:15 p.m. The crew was released at 11:15 p.m. Yuma is the designated terminal, so a rest period there of four hours or more would count as "off-duty" time. Three hours later, at 2:15 a.m., one of the crew members received a call from the railroad telling him to report for duty at 3:45 a.m. He reported at 3:45 a.m. and operated a train to West Colton, Calif., which arrived at 9:45 a.m.

The Union complained to the FRA, contending that the 2:15 a.m. duty call interrupted after three hours what otherwise would have been a four-and-one-half hour rest period. The FRA ruled that the single duty call at 2:15 a.m. did not interrupt the rest period in such a manner as to cause it to fall below the four hours required for it to constitute time off duty. As a result, the crew member's on-duty time on either of the two days involved did not exceed 12 consecutive hours, and, therefore, did not violate the Hours of Service Act.

The case is No. 01-71941 (California State Legislative Board, UTU, v. Norman Y. Mineta, Secretary of Transportation, FRA, with the AAR as intervenor-respondent). It is available on the BLE website at: <http://www.ble.org/pr/pdf/01-71941.pdf>.



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