Ninth Circuit Finds Allegiant Air's Changes To Pilot Work Rules Legal, Voids Injunction

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By Larry Swisher

June 9 — A federal district court erred in issuing an injunction sought by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters against Allegiant Air for changing pilots' work rules during contract negotiations, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled June 8.

Vacating the injunction, the appeals court found that a former employee organization that negotiated the pilots' work rules was not their certified or recognized representative and that the rules were not a collective bargaining agreement under the meaning of the Railway Labor Act.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada incorrectly found that Allegiant violated the RLA's requirement that the parties to a collective bargaining agreement maintain status quo labor conditions during contract negotiations, the appeals court held, because the requirement does not apply to parties negotiating a contract for the first time.

“Thus, when the Teamsters and Allegiant met to draft a collective bargaining agreement, there was no agreement in place,” Judge Stephen J. Murphy wrote for the Ninth Circuit. “The RLA therefore did not prevent Allegiant from changing the work rules, and the district court erred in entering an injunction.”

Judges Richard C. Tallman and Johnnie B. Rawlinson joined the opinion.

The appeals panel vacated the injunction and remanded the case to the district court to permit the Teamsters and Allegiant to continue bargaining under the guidance of the National Mediation Board in accordance with the RLA.

“We are pleased with the Court’s ruling and look forward to directing our time and energy to the negotiating table to continue working toward a contract that will be beneficial to both our pilots and the company,” Steve Harfst, Allegiant’s chief operating officer, said in a statement June 8.

The Teamsters did not immediately respond to a request for comment June 9.

Union Claims Contract Existed

The district court issued a preliminary injunction in July 2014, ordering Allegiant Air to restore two of four pilot work rules and to modify two others that the company altered after the Teamsters became their bargaining representative in 2012.

Allegiant in the district court won a preliminary injunction May 1 against a threatened strike by the Teamsters, which claimed the carrier had failed to comply with the district court's order to restore or modify the work rules.

On appeal, the Las Vegas-based low-cost carrier argued that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the determination of the status of the former employee group, the Allegiant Air Pilots Advocacy Group (AAPAG), which had negotiated the work rules, because the NMB holds exclusive jurisdiction under the RLA.

Even if the court had jurisdiction, Allegiant said, the AAPAG was not a representative under the meaning of the RLA because it did not seek NMB certification or voluntary recognition from the company.

The Teamsters contended that the AAPAG was its predecessor representative of the Allegiant pilots and that the work rules were a collective bargaining agreement.

Court Typically Lacks Jurisdiction

The Ninth Circuit held that although the NMB has the sole authority to determine the pilots' current representative, the federal courts may review a previous employee group's status under the RLA and that the case did not raise a representation dispute.

“The forum, the law, and the remedy all turn on the status of the labor advocate, a status courts typically do not have jurisdiction to determine,” the appeals court said.

Both the Teamsters and Allegiant agreed that the AAPAG was never certified by the NMB, and during the representation election it won in 2012, the Teamsters took the position that the AAPAG was not an RLA representative, according to the court.

“It is important that employees act purposefully when choosing an RLA representative,” the court said. “Because AAPAG sought neither Board certification nor voluntary recognition, we find it was not an RLA representative.”

Employees can designate a bargaining representative under the RLA by demanding voluntary recognition from the carrier or by seeking certification from the NMB, the court said. “It is important that employees act purposefully when choosing an RLA representative,” it said. “Because AAPAG sought neither Board certification nor voluntary recognition, we find it was not an RLA representative.”

Because the AAPAG was not the pilots' representative, the work rules were not a collective bargaining agreement under the RLA, and the Teamsters and Allegiant are negotiating a contract for the first time, the court held.

The Ninth Circuit previously ruled in International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. North American Airlines, 518 F.3d 1052, 183 LRRM 2929 (9th Cir. 2008), that the RLA does not require a carrier to maintain the status quo during negotiations of an initial labor agreement.

The Urban Law Firm represented the union, and Ford Harrison LLP represented Allegiant.

To contact the reporter on this story: Larry Swisher in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

Text of the opinion is available at