American Airlines had a different reading of Wednesday's ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals related to its lawsuit on the union representation vote for its passenger service agents.
Although the appeals court ruling explicitly vacated the lower court's ruling and remanded the case back to the district court, instructing the lower court to dismiss American's lawsuit, American says it still believes it has legal options in the case.
"The panel’s tentative ruling today suggests that the '50 percent law' may still apply to the CWA’s application and may ultimately preclude a valid election," said American vice president of employees relations Laura Einspanier in a letter sent to employees on Wednesday evening. "The panel implied that further legal review may be appropriate to ensure compliance with the law and protect the rights of both American and the majority of Agents and Representatives who did not support the union’s election application."
American has argued, and a lower court judge agreed, that the National Mediation Board needed to implement a new law passed in February that required unions to collect authorization cards from 50 percent of its workers. The NMB was using the previous standard, 35 percent, since the union filed the election application in December, prior to the law being passed.
The ruling did not discuss the '50 percent law' and did not say if American could refile its complaint.
Keep reading for the full text of the letter from Einspanier and for the full text of the ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
October 3, 2012
To American’s Agents and Representatives:
Today we received notice from the Court of Appeals that a three-judge panel has issued a tentative ruling that would reverse a lower court order that had stopped the National Mediation Board from holding a union representation election among American’s Agents and Representatives.
As you will recall, several months ago, the company pursued legal action in U.S. District Court regarding the NMB’s decision to authorize an election. We believe current law prohibits an election from being held unless the union’s application is supported by a “showing of interest” from at least 50 percent of affected employees, and the CWA publicly admitted that its application did not satisfy that minimum threshold. The NMB argued that the previous threshold of 35 percent should apply. The District Court ruled in our favor and said the election could not proceed. The NMB appealed, resulting in today’s tentative ruling by the appellate panel reversing the lower court’s previous decision.
However, the panel’s tentative ruling today suggests that the “50 percent law” may still apply to the CWA’s application and may ultimately preclude a valid election. The panel implied that further legal review may be appropriate to ensure compliance with the law and protect the rights of both American and the majority of Agents and Representatives who did not support the union’s election application.
Within a few minutes of this ruling, the CWA sent text messages to many of our people suggesting that an election has already been granted and is necessarily imminent. Please be aware that, while an election may indeed be called in the future, a number of potential legal, procedural, and voting eligibility issues remain that now will need to be addressed. If an election ultimately proceeds, we will of course promptly and fully cooperate with the NMB in its conducting of an election, and we would encourage all eligible employees to vote.
We will keep you informed as we learn more. In the meantime, I ask you to remain focused on providing great customer service. This is the most important thing we can all do to ensure a strong future for our airline and our people.
Vice President, Employee Relations
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas
USDC No. 4:12-CV-276
Before HIGGINBOTHAM, ELROD, and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.
Judicial review of National Mediation Board (“NMB”) decisions pursuant to the exception carved out by the Supreme Court in Leedom v. Kyne, 358 U.S. 184 (1958) is only appropriate where there is a “‘plain’ violation of an unambiguous and mandatory provision of the statute,” or in other words, where the NMB has committed “egregious error.” Am. Airlines, Inc. v. Herman, 176 F.3d 283, 293 (5th Cir. 1999) (quoting United States v. Feaster, 410 F.2d 1354, 1368 (5th Cir. 1969) (explaining that jurisdiction is proper only if the challenged NMB action is “an obvious or gross misapplication of statutory dictates”)). The Leedom v. Kyne exception is not applicable on the facts of this case and therefore the district court erred in exercising jurisdiction. As a result, we do not need to reach the other issues presented on this appeal. We VACATE the district court’s judgment in its entirety and REMAND with instructions to dismiss American Airlines, Inc.’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
*Pursuant to 5TH CIR. R. 47.5, the court has determined that this opinion should not be published and is not precedent except under the limited circumstances set forth in 5TH CIR. R. 47.5.4.