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Consolidated Rail Corporation v. Railway Labor Executives' Association

(Redirected from 491 U.S. 299)
Court Documents
Concurring Opinion
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

491 U.S. 299

Consolidated Rail Corporation  v.  Railway Labor Executives' Association

No. 88-1  Argued: Feb. 28, 1989. --- Decided: June 19, 1989


Since its formation in 1976, petitioner Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) has required its employees to undergo physical examinations periodically and upon return from leave. Those examinations routinely included a urinalysis for blood sugar and albumin and, in some circumstances, for drugs. In 1987, Conrail announced unilaterally that urinalysis drug screening would be included as part of all periodic and return-from-leave physical examinations. Respondent Railway Labor Executives' Association opposed this unilateral additional drug testing. The question presented by this case is whether Conrail's drug-testing program gives rise to a "major" or a "minor" dispute under the Railway Labor Act.


1. Where an employer asserts a contractual right to take a contested action, the ensuing dispute is minor if the action is arguably justified by the terms of the parties' collective-bargaining agreement. Where, in contrast, the employer's claims are frivolous or obviously insubstantial, the dispute is major. Pp. 302-307.

2. If an employer asserts a claim that the parties' agreement gives the employer the discretion to make a particular change in working conditions without prior negotiation, and if that claim is arguably justified by the terms of the parties' agreement, the employer may make the change and the courts must defer to the arbitral jurisdiction of the Adjustment Board. Pp. 307-311.

3. Conrail's contractual claim is not obviously insubstantial, and therefore the controversy constitutes a minor dispute that is within the Adjustment Board's exclusive jurisdiction. Pp. 311-320.

845 F.2d 1187, (CA3 1988) reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 320. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 321.

Dennis J. Morikawa, Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioner.

John O'B. Clarke, Jr., Washington, D.C., for respondents.

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).