Court to hear rail carriers' appeal of Family Leave decision

The Rail Carriers' appeal of a U.S. District Court ruling made last year regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act has been set for oral argument on January 3, 2007, at 9:30 a.m., or as soon thereafter as the case may be heard, at the U.S. Courthouse in Chicago. The District Court decision was filed last December 28.

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, in ruling the FMLA did not in any way override these basic RLA requirements.

The carriers' FMLA policies were drafted in a way that requires their workers to exhaust all paid leave time (e.g., vacation, personal days, etc.) prior to going on FMLA, which is permitted under Section 102(d)(1)(A) of the Act. The lawsuit was filed on the basis that the policies violated Section 402(a) of the Act, which says that nothing therein diminishes benefits or rights under a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA").

The District Court found that "FMLA does not allow an employer to take away any contractual rights," and if "CBA provisions grant employees the right to determine when, or in what manner, they utilize certain types of paid vacation and personal leave, those CBA provisions prevent employers from substituting such leave for FMLA leave." This ruling will be heard on appeal.

The FMLA was enacted in 1993, in order to grant family and temporary medical leave under certain circumstances. The Act requires that covered employers must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:

It is the purpose of the Family and Medical Leave Act-

(1) to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families, to promote the stability and economic security of families, and to promote national interests in preserving family integrity;

(2) to entitle employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons, for the birth or adoption of a child, and for the care of a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition;

(3) to accomplish the purposes described in paragraphs (1) and (2) in a manner that accommodates the legitimate interests of employers;

(4) to accomplish the purposes described in paragraphs (1) and (2) in a manner that, consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, minimizes the potential for employment discrimination on the basis of sex by ensuring generally that leave is available for eligible medical reasons (including maternity-related disability) and for compelling family reasons, on a gender-neutral basis; and

(5) to promote the goal of equal employment opportunity for women and men, pursuant to such clause.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) joined with five other unions in obtaining this result: the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED), the American Train Dispatchers Association (ATDA), the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen (BRS), National Conference of Firemen and Oilers (SEIU), and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA).




© 2006 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen