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2454. The Railway Labor Act (RLA) -- 45 U.S.C. 151, Et Seq.

The Railway Labor Act (RLA) provides for criminal prosecution with respect to the willful failure or refusal of a railway or airline carrier, or its officers or agents, to comply with the terms of the third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth paragraphs of 45 U.S.C. §  152, Tenth, which deal with labor-management relations in the railway and airline industries. The statute provides that each offense may result in imprisonment up to six (6) months and/or $20,000 fine for each day during which such carrier, officer, or agent willfully fails or refuses to comply with obligations under Section 152, Tenth. Section 152, Tenth, also provides that:

  1. It shall be the duty of any United States Attorney to whom any duly designated representative of a carrier's employees may apply to institute in the proper court and to prosecute under the direction of the Attorney General of the United States, all necessary proceedings for the enforcement of the provisions of this section, and for the punishment of all violations thereof. . . .

The reference to "all necessary proceedings for the enforcement of this section" has been interpreted to give the United States standing to bring civil proceedings to enjoin violations of the Act. Florida East Coast Ry. Co. v. United States, 348 F.2d 682, 685 (5th Cir. 1965), aff'd sub nom. Railway Clerks v. Florida East Coast Ry. Co., 384 U.S. 238, 242 n. 4 (1966). However, as one court noted: "This provision cannot be construed as burdening the Department of Justice with the duty of representing every employee, or group of employees, who may assert rights under the Act." Cepero v. Pan American Airways, 195 F.2d 453, 459 (1st Cir. 1952), cert. denied, 359 U.S. 1005 (1959).

If it is determined that a particular matter merits civil enforcement under 45 U.S.C. § 152, Tenth, the Civil Division should be contacted before any action is taken. Alleged violations of the RLA also have been litigated by labor organizations on behalf of their members. See Air Line Pilots Ass'n v. United Air Lines, Inc., 802 F.2d 886 (7th Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 480 U.S. 946 (1987); Virginia Ry. Co. v. System Federation No. 40, 84 F.2d 641 (4th Cir. 1936), aff'd 300 U.S. 515 (1937); Texas and N.O.R.R. Co. v. Railway Clerks, 33 F.2d 13 (5th Cir. 1929), aff'd 281 U.S. 548 (1929); but see Adams v. Federal Express Corp., 547 F.2d 319 (6th Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 915 (1977) (labor organization not certified as the bargaining representative of employees lacked standing to maintain action). Moreover, violations of the RLA may be litigated by employees themselves as private individuals. See Arcamuzi v. Continental Air Lines, Inc., 819 F.2d 935, 936-37 (9th Cir. 1987); Stepanischen v. Merchants Despatch Transp. Corp., 722 F.2d 922, 924-27 (1st Cir. 1983) and cases cited in those decisions.

[cited in JM 9-139.020; JM 9-139.100; JM 9-139.103]

Updated January 17, 2020