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Supreme Court Justice Temporarily Lifts Order Blocking Rail Workers’ Strike

September 22, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Supreme Court justice Wednesday temporarily lifted a court order blocking a strike by rail workers against the Chicago & North Western railroad, but a union official said he knew of no immediate strike plans.

Justice John Paul Stevens granted an emergency request by the employees and their union to suspend a federal judge’s March 16 order temporarily enjoining the strike.

Stevens’ stay will remain in effect until the high court acts on a pending appeal in the case.

But James Brunkenhoefer, national legislative director of the United Transportation Union, said late Wednesday that he knew of no union plans to go on strike over the proposed sale of 208 miles of the rail line in Wisconsin. Workers fear the loss of more than 200 jobs if the sale takes place.

Officials of C&NW, a leading Midwestern freight hauler that also runs commuter trains serving 40,000 people a day in Chicago’s suburbs, also predicted there would be no strike as a result of Wednesday’s ruling.

″The effect of the ruling is difficult to determine at this time,″ C&NW spokesman James M. Foote said in a telephone interview late Wednesday. ″We will hav to discuss the change in the situation with the buyer in the near future.″

C&NW plans to sell the rail line - from Milwaukee to Green Bay, Wis., - to a newly formed railroad, FRVR Corp., a subsidiary of Chicago-based Itel Corp.

The Railway Labor Executives Association had filed a motion to stop the sale, arguing that the railroad was obligated to negotiate over the effects of the sale on employees.

But the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that C&NW Corp. could sell the track without giving labor unions a voice in the decision.

The sale of the line is not related to another controversy over train crew sizes that caused a brief strike against the C&NW in August.

An estimated 2,600 rail employees went on strike for a few hours Sept. 9 against the C&NW over another issue involving possible layoffs of brakemen.

″We’re dealing with two unrelated issues,″ said Robert Reppe Jr., president of UTU Local 577, which represents about 420 union members in the Chicago area.

Both Reppe and Brunkenhoefer said they did not expect any strike to result from Stevens’ ruling. Brunkenhoefer said he expected the main effect of the ruling would be that the C&NW would not rush to complete the Wisconsin track sale until labor and legal issues were further resolved.

The railroad and the United Transportation Union have been battling for more than a year over the size of crews on C&NW freight trains. But that dispute is not directly at issue in the emergency request acted upon Wednesday by Stevens.

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