Skip to the main content.
Free Case Review




green lock security thumb

green lock security thumb



green lock security thumb

green lock security thumb



2 min read

Metra's Vaccine Mandate Deemed "Minor Dispute" Under Railway Labor Act

railway worker examining train tracks near an overpass

Metra, the commuter rail agency serving the Chicago metropolitan area, is currently embroiled in a legal battle with several labor unions over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. This contentious issue has led to a lawsuit filed by Metra, seeking a declaratory judgment that the dispute falls under the category of a "minor dispute" according to the Railway Labor Act (RLA).

Metra's Vaccine Mandate and Union Negotiations

The unions involved in the case have sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the vaccine mandate from taking effect. The dispute arose after Metra's CEO announced the implementation of a vaccine mandate for all employees, with no alternative option for testing in lieu of vaccination.

In response to the mandate, the unions requested meetings to engage in negotiations with Metra. However, instead of responding to the unions' request, Metra opted to file a lawsuit. The key point of contention revolves around whether this dispute is a "minor dispute" or a "major dispute" under the RLA.

Court Denies Unions' Motion for Preliminary Injunction

After hearing arguments from both sides, the court denied the unions' motion for a preliminary injunction. The court made several critical findings in its ruling. Firstly, it determined that the dispute over the vaccine mandate is indeed a "minor dispute" under the RLA, necessitating resolution through arbitration. Additionally, the court classified the issue concerning financial incentives for vaccination as another "minor dispute" under the RLA. Finally, the court concluded that the unions had failed to demonstrate irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction and that the balance of harms and public interest weighed against granting such an injunction.

Court's Assessment of Metra's Authority to Implement the Vaccine Mandate

Metra argues that it possesses the authority to unilaterally implement the vaccine mandate based on past practice and an executive order. On the other hand, the unions argue that the executive order does not apply to Metra and that the vaccine mandate constitutes a major dispute necessitating collective bargaining.

The court found that Metra's claim of authority to implement the vaccine mandate is not "obviously insubstantial or frivolous." It also noted that Metra's past practice of unilaterally implementing changes in response to federal law supports its argument of having the authority to institute the mandate. While the unions disputed this characterization, the court affirmed that Metra was not required to expressly articulate its authority for imposing the change. Furthermore, the court held that Metra had sufficiently demonstrated how an unvaccinated employee could be deemed medically unfit for duty.

Addressing the unions' argument that Metra must negotiate the effects of the mandate, including incentive payments, the court found that based on past practice, Metra does possess the authority to award such payments. Consequently, the court denied the unions' request for a preliminary injunction, reasoning that they had not met the requirement of proving irreparable harm. Ultimately, the court concluded that the balance of harms and public interest favored Metra in this dispute.

Read more about Workplace Safety.