ALPA V. O'NEILL, 499 U. S. 65 (1991)

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U.S. Supreme Court

ALPA v. O'Neill, 499 U.S. 65 (1991)

Air Line Pilots Association, International v. O'Neill

No. 89-1493

Argued Jan. 14, 1991

Decided March 19, 1991

499 U.S. 65


After Continental Airlines, Inc., filed a petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, it repudiated its collective bargaining agreement with petitioner Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA). An acrimonious strike ensued, during which Continental hired replacement pilots and reemployed several hundred crossover strikers. Two years into the strike, Continental announced in its "Supplementary Base Vacancy Bid 1985-5" (85-5 bid) that it would fill a large number of anticipated vacancies using a system that allows pilots to bid for positions and that, in the past, had assigned positions by seniority. Although ALPA authorized strikers to submit bids, Continental announced that all of the positions had been awarded to working pilots. ALPA and Continental then agreed to end the strike, dispose of some related litigation, and reallocate the positions covered by the 85-5 bid. Striking pilots were offered the option of settling all outstanding claims with Continental and participating in the 85-5 bid positions' allocations, electing not to return to work and receiving severance pay, or retaining their individual claims against Continental and becoming eligible to return to work only after all the settling pilots had been reinstated. Thus, striking pilots received some of the positions previously awarded to the working pilots. After the settlement, respondents, former striking pilots, filed suit in the District Court against ALPA, charging, inter alia, that the union had breached its duty of fair representation. The court granted ALPA's motion for summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed. It rejected ALPA's argument that a union cannot breach the fair representation duty without intentional misconduct, applying, instead, the rule announced in Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U. S. 171, that a union violates the duty if its actions are either "arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith," id. at 190. With respect to the test's first component, the court found that a nonarbitrary decision must be (1) based upon relevant permissible union factors, (2) a rational result of the consideration of those factors, and (3) inclusive of a fair and impartial consideration of all employees' interests. Applying that test, the court concluded that a jury could find that ALPA acted arbitrarily by negotiating a settlement less favorable than the consequences of a complete surrender chanrobles.com-redchanrobles.com-red

Page 499 U. S. 66

to Continental, which the court believed would have left intact the striking pilots' seniority rights with regard to the 85-5 bid positions. It also found the existence of a material issue of fact whether the favored treatment of working pilots in the allocation of the 85-5 bid positions constituted discrimination against the strikers.


1. The tripartite standard announced in Vaca v. Sipes, supra, applies to a union in its negotiating capacity. See, e.g., Communications Workers v. Beck, 487 U. S. 735, 487 U. S. 743. Thus, when acting in that capacity, the union is not, as ALPA contends, required only to act in good faith and treat its members equally and in a nondiscriminatory fashion. Rather, it also has a duty to act in a rational, nonarbitrary fashion to provide its members fair and adequate representation. See, e.g., Vaca v. Sipes, supra, 386 U.S. at 386 U. S. 177; Steele v. Louisiana & Nashville R. Co., 323 U. S. 192, 323 U. S. 202. Pp. 499 U. S. 73-77.

2. The final product of the bargaining process may constitute evidence of a breach of the fair representation duty only if, in light of the factual and legal landscape, it can be fairly characterized as so far outside of a "wide range of reasonableness," Ford Motor Co. v. Huffman, 345 U. S. 330, 345 U. S. 338, that it is wholly "irrational" or "arbitrary." The Court of Appeals' refinement of the arbitrariness component authorizes more judicial review of the substance of negotiated agreements than is consistent with national labor policy. Congress did not intend judicial review of a union's performance to permit the court to substitute its own view of the proper bargain for that reached by the union. See, e.g., NLRB v. Insurance Agents, 361 U. S. 477, 361 U. S. 488. Rather, Congress envisioned the relationship between the courts and labor unions as similar to that between the courts and the legislature. See Steele, supra, 323 U.S. at 323 U. S. 198. Any substantive examination of a union's performance, therefore, must be highly deferential, recognizing the wide latitude that negotiators need for the effective performance of their bargaining responsibilities. Cf., e.g., Day-Brite Lighting, Inc. v. Missouri, 342 U. S. 421, 342 U. S. 423. P. 499 U. S. 78.

3. The resolution of the dispute as to the 85-5 bid positions was well within the "wide range of reasonableness" that a union is allowed in its bargaining. Assuming that the union made a bad settlement, it was by no means irrational when viewed in light of the legal landscape at the time of the settlement. Given Continental's resistance during the strike, it would have been rational for ALPA to recognize that a voluntary return to work might have precipitated litigation over the strikers' right to the positions, and that Continental might not have abandoned its bargaining position without a settlement disposing of the pilots' individual claims. Thus, it would have been rational to negotiate a settlement chanrobles.com-redchanrobles.com-red

Page 499 U. S. 67

that produced certain and prompt access to a share of the new jobs, avoided the costs and risks associated with major litigation, and was more favorable than a return to work for the significant number of pilots who chose severance. Any discrimination between striking and working pilots in the allocation of the 85-5 bid positions does not represent a breach of the duty, because, if it is correct that ALPA's decision to accept a compromise was rational, some form of allocation was inevitable. Cf. Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Flight Attendants, 489 U. S. 426; NLRB v. Erie Resistor Corp., 373 U. S. 221, distinguished. Pp. 499 U. S. 78-81.

886 F.2d 1438 (CA5 1985), reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.


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