With just hours to go before unionized airline support
workers take to the picket lines for a scheduled strike at O’Hare International
Airport, a Chicago federal judge has denied an attempt by one of the employers targeted by the work stoppage to bar its employees from participating in what it calls an illegal
On Nov. 28, Atlanta, Ga.-based Air Serv filed suit in
Chicago federal court, arguing the action called for by the Service Employees
International Union Local 1 would come in violation of the federal law under
which it and its employees are governed.
U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee, however, late Monday denied Air Serv's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
According to court documents, Air Serv employs about 500
workers at O’Hare, who serve in a variety of positions supporting the
operations of United Airlines and other airlines operating at Chicago’s largest
airport, including: assisting those in wheelchairs; driving electric carts;
providing curbside skycap support; servicing
drinking water systems on aircraft; assisting passengers with flight check-in
and handling checked luggage; managing airline operational equipment; assisting
international passengers with connecting flights; preparing and managing
documents for flight crews; and various other security and passenger assistance
Air Serv employees
have worked at O’Hare since 2006.
Last week, SEIU Local 1 announced hundreds of workers it
represents at O’Hare would take part in a one-day strike, as part of the union’s
“Fight for $15” campaign. The union pushed the strike action back to Tuesday to
avoid the busy Thanksgiving weekend travel period.
That action would also come as Air Serv said it and Local 1
are in the midst of contract talks.
As part of those talks, Local 1 has purportedly demanded Air
Serv agree to a process under which the union could represent and organize the
company’s hundreds of non-union employees working at O’Hare.
In its lawsuit, Air Serv said it is not necessarily opposed
to such a process, but it said the company and union have not reached a deal on
that question – the sole remaining sticking point in the collective bargaining
process, Air Serv said.
Now, Air Serv has accused the union of attempting to use the
strike to pressure Air Serv to capitulate on that question, which the company
said is illegal under the federal Railway Labor Act.
While Local 1 maintains its actions are governed by the
National Labor Relations Act, Air Serv said legal precedent and other
regulatory actions maintain it is considered a “derivative carrier,” subject to
the jurisdiction of the RLA, not the NLRA.
Thus, Air Serv said its workers and the unions that
represent them must abide by the RLA’s long list of proscribed processes,
including mediation and other strategies, to settle labor differences and avert
strikes intended to disrupt passenger travel in the U.S.
“The parties are clearly in the middle of an unexhausted
major dispute,” Air Serv wrote in a memorandum accompanying its complaint. “Local 1 and Air Serv’s employees cannot
strike over demands for changes in rates of pay, rules, and working conditions
until they have exhausted the RLA’s major dispute procedures.
“It is also beyond question that this is precisely what
Local 1 intends to do.”
Air Serv has asked the court to issue a temporary
restraining order and other injunctions barring its employees from
participating in the strike, and to declare Air Serv and its workers are
subject to the requirements of the RLA.
In response, attorneys for Local 1 filed a brief arguing Air
Serv’s employee collective bargaining processes are, in fact, governed by the
NLRA, not the RLA, as Air Serv’s employees aren’t employed by an airline and
thus “are not themselves engaged in the transportation of freight or passengers.”
The union argued recent decisions by both the National Labor
Relations Board and the National Mediation Board – which are established and
empowered by the NLRA and the RLA, respectively – support its contention that
Air Serv is essentially a subcontractor governed by the NLRA. Thus, the union
said its actions are proper, and can only be regulated by the NLRB.
“Here, there is no indication that the Union has unclean
hands,” Local 1 argued. “It has
bargained in good faith over a new labor contract and Air Serv has filed no
charges asserting otherwise. The Union does not intend to strike over any
matters that the law forbids. Air Serv is alleged to have committed unfair
labor practices in its treatment of its employees.
“Air Serv has made no attempt – other than threatening to
seek an injunction – to resolve the disputes over which the strike will occur,
either in face to face meetings or through the use of a mediator.”
Air Serv is represented in the action by attorneys Lawrence
C. DiNardo and Brandon L. Dixon, of the firm of Jones Day, in Chicago.
SEIU Local 1 is represented by attorneys Robert E. Bloch and
Josiah A. Groff, of the firm of Dowd, Bloch, Bennett, Cervone, Auerbach &
Yokich, of Chicago.