MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
Section 3 of the Railway Labor Act confers jurisdiction on the National Railroad Adjustment Board to hold hearings, make findings, and enter awards in all disputes between carriers and their employees "growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions . . . ."
The respondent railroad has separate collective-bargaining agreements with the Order of Railroad Telegraphers and the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks.
Instead of invoking the jurisdiction of the Adjustment Board, the railroad filed this action for declaratory judgment in a New York state court, naming both unions as defendants. It prayed for an interpretation of both agreements, and for a declaration that the Clerks' agreement, not the Telegraphers', covered the jobs in controversy. It also asked for a declaration that the Telegraphers must refrain from making similar claims under its bargaining agreement. Telegraphers moved to dismiss the case on the ground that the Railway Labor Act left the state court without jurisdiction to interpret the contracts and adjudicate the dispute. That motion was denied. After a trial, the court interpreted the contracts as the railroad had urged, and entered the requested declarations. This judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of New York, two judges dissenting. 299 N.Y. 496, 87 N.E.2d 532.
The first declared purpose of the Railway Labor Act is "To avoid any interruption to commerce or to the operation of any carrier engaged therein." 48 Stat. 1186 (§ 2), 45 U. S. C. § 151a. This purpose extends both to disputes concerning the making of collective agreements and to grievances arising under existing agreements. See Elgin, J. & E. R. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 722. The plan of the Act is to provide administrative methods for settling disputes before they reach acute stages that might be provocative of strikes. Carriers are therefore required to negotiate with bargaining representatives of the employees. Virginian R. Co. v. Federation, 300 U.S. 515, 547, 548. The Act also sets up machinery for conciliation, mediation, arbitration and adjustment of disputes, to be invoked if negotiations fail.
In this case the dispute concerned interpretation of an existing bargaining agreement. Its settlement would have prospective as well as retrospective importance to both the railroad and its employees, since the interpretation accepted would govern future relations of those parties. This type of grievance has long been considered a potent cause of friction leading to strikes. It was to prevent such friction that the 1926 Act provided for creation of various Adjustment Boards by voluntary agreements between carriers and workers. 44 Stat. 578. But this voluntary machinery proved unsatisfactory, and
The paramount importance of having these chosen representatives of railroads and unions adjust grievances and disputes was emphasized by our opinion in Order of Conductors v. Pitney, supra. There we held, in a case remarkably similar to the one before us now, that the Federal District Court in its equitable discretion should have refused "to adjudicate a jurisdictional dispute
Our holding here is not inconsistent with our holding in Moore v. Illinois Central R. Co., 312 U.S. 630. Moore was discharged by the railroad. He could have challenged the validity of his discharge before the Board, seeking reinstatement and back pay. Instead he chose to accept the railroad's action in discharging him as final, thereby ceasing to be an employee, and brought suit claiming damages for breach of contract. As we there held, the Railway Labor Act does not bar courts from adjudicating such cases. A common-law or statutory action for wrongful discharge differs from any remedy which the Board has power to provide, and does not involve questions of future relations between the railroad and its other employees. If a court in handling such a case must consider some provision of a collective-bargaining agreement, its interpretation would of course have no binding effect on future interpretations by the Board.
We hold that the jurisdiction of the Board to adjust grievances and disputes of the type here involved is exclusive.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE REED, dissenting.
The Court denies "power in any court—state as well as federal—to invade the jurisdiction conferred on the Adjustment Board by the Railway Labor Act." It says "that the jurisdiction of the Board to adjust grievances and disputes of the type here involved is exclusive." Read literally, this language would indicate that the Court holds that the Board in most cases not only has exclusive jurisdiction for the institution of proceedings to determine rights under railroad collective-bargaining agreements, but also for their final determination, i. e., that there is no judicial review of the Board's awards, except those for money. The Court, however, in note 7 states that it is not "called upon to decide any question concerning judicial proceedings to review board action or inaction." From this I take it that the Court means only to hold that the Board has what might be called exclusive primary jurisdiction and that the decision is to have no implications for later cases which might pose the issue of judicial review of Board "action or inaction."
Since the Court's decision will be referred to as a precedent for solving administrative jurisdiction problems, it seems worth while to set out my reasons for disagreeing with the Court's opinion. We can foresee only a part of the complications that this ruling of exclusive primary jurisdiction may bring into the administration of the Railway Labor Act. The determination of what adjudicatory body has power to judge a controversy is basic to all litigation. Jurisdiction that has always been recognized to exist in state courts should not be taken from them by inference drawn with difficulty from the statute by this Court after contrary conclusions by two state courts.
The Court calls attention to nothing to supply these requisites. There is not a line in the statute, and so far as I can ascertain, not a suggestion in the hearings that the creation of the Adjustment Board was intended by Congress to close the doors of the courts to litigants with otherwise justiciable controversies. The only expression in the statute which might conceivably support the Court is the general declaration of the Act's purpose "to provide for the prompt and orderly settlement of all disputes
Neither the Act nor our precedents support the Court's ruling. In the section which conferred jurisdiction on the Board, § 3 First (i), Congress provided that disputes "shall" be first handled by negotiations between the parties and on their failure "may be referred by petition of the parties or by either party to the appropriate division of the Adjustment Board . . . ."
The ruling in Texas & Pac. R. Co. v. Abilene Cotton Oil Co., 204 U.S. 426, does not support today's decision. In that case this Court held repugnant to the Interstate Commerce Act a suit in a state court to recover unreasonable carrier charges. The Act had given the Commission power to determine the reasonableness of rates filed and published under its provisions. It also prohibited explicitly preferences and discriminations in favor of shippers. The Court held that, if a shipper could recover in the courts part of a tariff charge, he would receive a discriminatory preference. Since this would be wholly inconsistent with the Interstate Commerce Act, state courts were without jurisdiction to entertain suits for the recovery of unreasonable charges.
The case before us is quite different from Switchmen's Union v. Mediation Board, 320 U.S. 297, and General Committee v. M.-K.-T. R. Co., 320 U.S. 323. Those concerned controversies of a kind unfamiliar to courts, and they involved the Mediation Board, which could impose sanctions only when the parties agreed to accept its awards.
Nor did Order of Railway Conductors v. Pitney, 326 U.S. 561, determine the present jurisdictional issue. In a federal bankruptcy court handling a railroad reorganization, an interpretation of a collective-bargaining agreement was sought. We declared that the federal equity court should "exercise equitable discretion to give [the National Railroad Adjustment Board] the first opportunity to pass on the issue."
Congress surely would not have granted this exclusive primary power to adjudicate contracts to a body like the Board. It consists of people chosen and paid, not by the Government, but by groups of carriers and the
Throughout this opinion I have assumed that the Court means only to impose a requirement of primary recourse to the Board. But that inevitably means many litigants would be deprived of access to the courts. The extent of judicial review of awards other than money awards is doubtful, and it is highly questionable whether even a money award can be reviewed in the courts if only the carrier wishes review.
Nevertheless the Court says that Congress has forced the parties into a forum that has few of the attributes
When an administrative body varies so markedly from the kind which experience has shown may safely be given final power over people's rights, it should not be assumed that Congress intended the primary jurisdiction of the Board to be exclusive. A more definite expression is required. The decision of the Court places it in a dilemma
"(i) The disputes between an employee or group of employees and a carrier or carriers growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions, including cases pending and unadjusted on the date of approval of this Act, shall be handled in the usual manner up to and including the chief operating officer of the carrier designated to handle such disputes; but, failing to reach an adjustment in this manner, the disputes may be referred by petition of the parties or by either party to the appropriate division of the Adjustment Board with a full statement of the facts and all supporting data bearing upon the disputes."
"The considerations making for harmonious adjustment of railroad industrial relations through the machinery designed by Congress in the Railway Labor Act are disregarded by allowing that machinery to be by-passed and by introducing dislocating differentiations through individual resort to the courts in the application of a collective agreement."