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Supreme Court rules in railway labor arbitration case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] in Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the requirement that parties submit proof that they have conferred on issues before seeking arbitration under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) [text] is not jurisdictional. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the Court's unanimous opinion, affirming the decision [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to set aside the panel's orders:

We consider in this case five nearly identical decisions of a panel of the NRAB dismissing employee claims "for lack of jurisdiction." In each case, the panel declared that a procedural rule raised by a panel member, unprompted by the parties, was "jurisdictional" in character and therefore commanded threshold dismissal.

The panel's characterization, we hold, was misconceived. Congress authorized the Board to prescribe rules for the presentation and processing of claims, but Congress alone controls the Board's jurisdiction. By presuming authority to declare procedural rules "jurisdictional," the panel failed "to conform, or confine itself, to matters [Congress placed] within the scope of [NRAB] jurisdiction." Because the panel was not "without authority to assume jurisdiction over the [employees'] claim[s]," its dismissals lacked tenable grounding.
The Court declined to rule on the constitutional question of whether the RLA authorizes courts to set aside final arbitration awards for alleged violations of due process by the National Railroad Adjustment Board (NRAB).

Congress enacted the RLA in 1926 out of concern that labor disputes would lead to strikes and shut down railroads. The RLA requires labor and industry "to exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, and working conditions, and to settle all disputes ... in order to avoid any interruption to commerce..."

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