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Association of Flight Attendants, CWA, AFL-CIO v. Mesa Air Group

June 1, 2009

ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS, CWA, AFL-CIO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MESA AIR GROUP, INC.; MESA AIRLINES, INC.; FREEDOM AIRLINES INC.; GO AIRLINES, INC., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona Roslyn O. Silver, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. CV-07-00921-PHX-ROS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: W. Fletcher, Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

Argued and Submitted February 11, 2009 -- Stanford, California.

Before: Dorothy W. Nelson, William A. Fletcher and Richard C. Tallman, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Defendant Mesa Airlines ("Mesa") appeals the grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of Plaintiff Association of Flight Attendants ("AFA"). AFA and Mesa are parties to collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs") that have expired. They are now in the process of bargaining for new agreements. AFA brought this suit after Mesa changed the applicable Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") regulations ("FARs") for its scheduling of flight attendants. Previously, Mesa had used those designed for flight crews; after the change, it used those designed for flight attendants.

AFA contends that the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., prevents Mesa's unilateral change to the union's status quo working conditions. It contends that its disagreement with Mesa over the change is a "major dispute" within the meaning of the RLA, and that it may therefore seek an injunction in federal district court against the change. Mesa contends that the terms of the parties' CBAs permit it to make the change, and that its disagreement with AFA is a "minor dispute" within the meaning of the RLA for which the exclusive remedy is binding arbitration.

The district court held that the disagreement is a major dispute and granted a preliminary injunction against Mesa. Mesa has brought an interlocutory appeal over which we have appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1). We hold that the dispute is a minor dispute within the meaning of the RLA. We therefore vacate the preliminary injunction and remand to the district court with directions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. Background

AFA and Mesa are parties to two CBAs that ran through June 13, 2006. The CBAs set forth the parties' rights and obligations with respect to the employment of AFA members by Mesa. Under an RLA-mandated process, the parties have been in negotiations and mediation to replace these CBAs. Until new CBAs can be agreed upon, the old CBAs have continued in effect, as mandated by Section 6 of the RLA. 45 U.S.C. § 156.

This case arises out of a dispute over the application of FAA regulations to the scheduling of flight attendants. The FAA has promulgated regulations limiting the allowable work schedules for various airline employees, titled "Flight Time Limitations and Rest Requirements," or FARs. The regulations include FARs for flight crewmembers, 14 C.F.R. § 121.471 ("Pilot FARs"), and flight attendants, id. § 121.467 ("Flight Attendant FARs"). The Flight Attendant FARs permit an airline to schedule its flight attendants according to either the guidelines established in the Flight Attendant FARs or those in the Pilot FARs. Id. § 121.467(c).

During the duration of the CBAs, from 1995 through 2006, Mesa scheduled its flight attendants in accordance with the Pilot FARs. On September 19, 2006, AFA presented a proposal to Mesa seeking to amend the CBAs by incorporating specific duty time and rest provisions in the contracts. Mesa rejected this proposal. In 2007, Mesa unilaterally adjusted scheduling for flight attendants to accord with the Flight Attendant FARs rather than the Pilot FARs.

AFA filed suit under the RLA to enjoin Mesa from implementing this change until bargaining had been exhausted. Mesa filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the district court denied on October 1, 2007. Mesa filed a motion to reconsider on October 16, 2007, presenting new evidence on the question of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court granted AFA's motion for a preliminary injunction on October 17, 2007, and denied AFA's motion for reconsideration on December 13, 2007. The district court held that ...


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