A state appeals court has upheld a ruling forbidding the Chicago Transit Authority from unilaterally imposing new work rules without first negotiating with its workers’ union, even if the new rules are intended to protect public safety – such as rules the CTA implemented to prevent another train derailment similar to the one that resulted in an L train climbing an escalator at O’Hare International Airport.
The CTA sought to vacate arbitration awards awarded to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 after the union complained the transit agency imposed new work rules without going through contract negotiations. The CTA argued the awards were contrary to Illinois public policy requiring the CTA to provide safe mass transportation, and that the arbitrators usurped the CTA’s right and duty to fulfill those obligations.
The new work rules were implemented after a 2014 train derailment at the end of the Blue Line at O’Hare. In that incident, the CTA found the overtired operator overran the bumper at a speed sufficient to allow the train to partially ascend an escalator at the end of the platform, injuring 30 people.
In response, the CTA began requiring a minimum of 10 hours of rest between shifts rather than eight; required full-time temporary flaggers qualified to operate trains to pick 32 hours of motor runs per week; and limited train operators in their first year of employment to a maximum 32 hours of train operation per week. It also limited employees to 12 hours of work in any 14-hour period, and said no employee could work more than six days within a consecutive seven-day period. The stated objective of the new rules was to prevent future accidents caused by operator fatigue.
The union argued the changes violated the collective bargaining agreement and filed an unfair labor practice charge against the CTA. The grievances were split between two arbitrators, both of whom sustained the union’s claims that the new rules violated specific terms of the contract.
The CTA asked for the awards to be vacated under the public policy exception, in which an arbitrator’s award can be shown to violate an explicit, well-defined public policy – in this case, the expectation that the CTA will provide safe mass transportation to the public.
To support its case, the CTA cited passages of the Illinois state constitution and the Metropolitan Transit Authority Act. The passages provided that public transportation is an essential public purpose, establishes the CTA and grants it authority to own and operate a public transportation system, and empowers it to protect facilities, employees and riders from crime and unsafe conditions.
The appellate justices, however, found the passages too vague to qualify under the exception.
“These provisions show merely a broad and general interest in safe public transit,” the justices wrote. “There is no law or legal precedent specifically directing that a transit authority must control the schedules and work hours of transit employees to provide safe public transit, and the CTA cannot show a well-defined and dominant public policy that prevents collective bargaining of the type of scheduling and work hour matters at issue here.”
Even if the CTA could show an explicit public policy in its favor, it would still fail on the second prong of the exception, justices said – showing that the policy is violated by the arbitration awards themselves, which require the CTA to engage in collective bargaining and refrain from unilaterally imposing rules affecting scheduling.
The case was decided by First District Appellate Justices Bertina E. Lampkin, Jesse Reyes and Mary K. Rochford.
The CTA is represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Jackson Lewis PC, of Chicago.
The union is represented by the firm of Despres Schwartz & Geoghegan Ltd., of Chicago.