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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, April 14 — The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) secured a major court victory over the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) on April 13 as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld a district court’s 2021 ruling granting the BLET a preliminary injunction stopping the railroads’ indefinite suspension of six members of BLET Division 192 in El Paso. The district court had found that the BLET was likely to prevail in showing that UP had illegally interfered in union business and wrongfully suspended the members in violation of the Railway Labor Act.

The court victory stems from a 2021 incident where UP unlawfully suspended the six members of the BLET — five of whom were elected officers of BLET Division 192 in El Paso, Texas. UP suspended these union members for a physical altercation at a private union meeting that was off-duty and completely off company premises.

Immediately after the 2021 suspensions, the BLET sued the railroad. In a June 2, 2021 ruling, which overturned the suspensions and put the members back to work, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division, condemned UP for its illegal interference in union business and further prohibited the railroad from spying on union activities.

BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce hailed the April 13 ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, calling it a victory for the BLET, its members, and all of organized labor.

“We are very happy that the court of appeals saw this case no differently than the district court did, and that the railroad’s attempt to take out hard-working Union officials and members who oppose unsafe work practices was stopped,” President Pierce said. “This case is of particular importance in that it stopped Union Pacific from forcing this issue to arbitrations by asking the court to relegate it to minor dispute status. We have seen in the decades since the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Conrail case just how high the bar is when rail unions seek court action to block outrageous carrier actions. The district court got it right with its decision, and Union Pacific’s attempt to overturn the district court decision by appealing to the 5th Circuit has been blocked in its tracks. The 5th Circuit’s decision also gives us another plain example of the challenges faced when appealing district court decisions.”

President Pierce added: “The case is also significant because it has been a long time since a federal court has found such discrimination in cases where a union is already representing members. In its ruling, the very conservative 5th Circuit reaffirmed its 1962 holding in the Central Georgia Railway case that antiunion discrimination like this is an exception to the minor dispute doctrine which normally forces discipline matters to arbitration.”

Facts of the case that show Union Pacific’s antiunion animus are as follows: “(1) Union Pacific indefinitely suspended all of Division 192’s active-duty leadership because of a dispute they had with an employee who favored the company’s position in a policy dispute; (2) Union Pacific premised the discipline on a fight that occurred off-duty and outside the workplace, even though four of the suspended union officials did not participate in the fight; (3) the pro-company employee who started the fight was not disciplined, despite the company’s policy of disciplining all participants in a physical altercation; and (4) Union Pacific took a statement from the pro-company employee but did not take a statement from the union officials before suspending them.”

President Pierce concluded by thanking BLET members and the legal team for a hard-fought victory.

“The court took the Union Pacific Railroad to task for its shameful and illegal attacks on hard-working union members and its underhanded efforts to undermine our union,” President Pierce said. “When the National Division was advised that Union Pacific was taking these actions, there was no hesitation on our part to take legal action to protect the officers and members of our great Union. I have personally discussed the case with several of Division 192’s Officers, and I thank them and General Chairman Brian Carr for standing up for what is right. I also thank our legal counsel for their hard work in securing this major victory for our union and our members.”

A copy of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision can be found here (PDF).