Burlington Northern R. Co. v. Maintenance of Way Employes

481 U. S. 429

April 28, 1987

When a small railroad in Maine tried to let some employees go after a collective bargaining agreement expired, the employee union began picketing and striking. Original, they only picketed Maine Central, but gradually the picketing and striking extended to associated railroads, and finally to railroads nationwide without any association to Maine Central. Burlington Northern – one of those railroads with no true connection – was able to obtain an injunction to end the strike. The union argued that such an injunction was not allowed under the Norris-LaGuardia Act.

Brennan wrote for a unanimous Court, which backed the union. It rejected a “substantial alignment” test that lower courts had put forward, which said that striking activity had to have such an alignment with the underlying business dispute. Brennan showed from legislative history that the Norris-LaGuardia Act was intended to be interpreted broadly, and to prevent secondary strikes from being enjoined. In response to an argument that the Railway Labor Act implicitly made secondary striking illegal, Brennan said that the Court had previously rejected such an argument, that the lack of a clear textual command meant that the Norris-LaGuardia general standard should control, and that secondary striking did not frustrate the RLA’s purposes.

I can understand why this was unanimous. As a matter of precedent and Congressional intent, Brennan was probably correct. But as a matter of abstract justice, the decision is quite bad. Striking is wildly unbiblical – a bitter and lawless rebellion against authority. “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust” – 1 Peter 2:18. There is no inalienable right to employment, and favorable pay and conditions. Even Jesus implied as much (Matthew 20:1-15). Striking against your own employer is bad enough, but striking against an entire industry out of self-righteousness and unloving paranoia is unchristian to the extreme.


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