19 Cal.2d 676, 17777, Steiner v. Long Beach Local No. 128

Docket Nº:17777
Citation:19 Cal.2d 676, 123 P.2d 20
Opinion Judge:[9] Edmonds
Party Name:Steiner v. Long Beach Local No. 128
Attorney:[7] D. A. Boone and James T. Satchell for Appellants. [8] Pierson & Block, Samuel P. Block and Ralph Pierson for Respondents.
Case Date:March 03, 1942
Court:Supreme Court of California

Page 676

19 Cal.2d 676

123 P.2d 20

FRED STEINER et al., Respondents,


LONG BEACH LOCAL NO. 128 OF THE OIL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION (an Unincorporated Association) et al., Appellants.

L. A. No. 17777.

Supreme Court of California

March 3, 1942

In Bank.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[123 P.2d 21] D. A. Boone and James T. Satchell for Appellants. Pierson &amp Block, Samuel P. Block and Ralph Pierson for Respondents


[123 P.2d 22] EDMONDS, J.

Upon a complaint charging that officers and members of a labor union had entered into a conspiracy to picket the refinery of the Elm Oil Company and that they were conducting both picketing and boycotting by means of false representations and with acts of violence, a preliminary injunction issued. By that order, the superior court

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enjoined the union and its agents from picketing or boycotting by means of force, violence or intimidation. Upon a trial the injunction was made permanent and its terms were broadened to prohibit all picketing and boycotting. Damages in the sum of $2,500 were also awarded. The appeal is from that judgment.

The controversy between the parties arose over the demand made upon the owners of the refinery to sign a closed shop contract with a labor union, and the question for decision concerns the right of an employer to injunctive relief when picketing goes beyond the bounds of peaceful persuasion. More specifically, the court is called upon to determine whether or not all picketing and boycotting may be enjoined when an employer shows that those acting in behalf of the union have used violence, physical intimidation and other means of illegal coercion in the endeavor to attain their purpose.

The respondents, as partners, own and operate a business in the city of Long Beach. Under the firm name of Elm Oil Company they refine crude petroleum oil and sell the products obtained therefrom. The appellants are Long Beach Local No. 128 of the Oil Workers International Union, its officers and some of its members. [123 P.2d 23] The union is an affiliate of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.

By their complaint, the respondents alleged that the appellants entered into a conspiracy to injure and damage their business by picketing the premises; that no labor dispute existed between them and their employees, but on the contrary, the latter were entirely satisfied with respect to hours of labor, working conditions, wages, and all other matters connected with their employment; that their employees were not members of the C.I.O. union, were not desirous of becoming members thereof, and had expressed their desire to continue work under terms of their own choosing without the assistance of or interference from any labor organization; that the appellants, for the purpose of unionizing the respondents' business and to force their employees to join the union, caused pickets to be stationed about the premises; and that such picketing was conducted by means of violence, threats, intimidation, coercion, menacing conduct, and false representations. These asserted acts of unlawful conduct were set forth with particularity.

Further allegations of the complaint were that the respondents

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had valuable contracts with others for the purchase of crude oil; that by means of violence and threats, the appellants intimidated such persons from continuing to do business with them; and that by reason of the appellants' conspiracy and acts in pursuance thereof, they have suffered injury and damage to their business. The prayer was for a decree enjoining the appellants from in any manner picketing their place of business, or from in any manner interfering with their business, the business of persons dealing with them, or with their employees. In addition, damages in the sum of $25,000 were sought. Upon this complaint, a preliminary injunction issued limiting the number of pickets to be stationed about the plant during the pendency of the suit and enjoining the appellants from picketing or boycotting by means of force, violence, or intimidation.

By way of answer to the complaint, the appellants admitted the picketing of the respondents' place of business but denied the allegations of violence, threats and intimidation, asserting that the picketing was at all times carried on in a peaceful manner. As an affirmative defense they alleged that the partners had refused to negotiate with them and by means of threats and promises of favor, had forced their employees into stating that they were satisfied with their working conditions; that the working conditions in the respondents' plant with respect to wages and hours were less favorable to the employees than those which obtained in plants employing union labor, and had a tendency to break down and destroy advantages which had been established by the union; and that by reason of the respondents' acts, the appellants caused a picket line to be placed around their premises for the purpose of informing the public generally, and the persons connected with the industry, that Elm Oil Company was unfair to organized labor.

Upon the issues so framed, the case went to trial and the court made findings in substantial accordance with the allegations of the complaint. These findings, in the main, are based upon uncontradicted evidence which shows the following facts: Following the refusal of the respondents and their employees to negotiate with the union concerning a closed shop contract, a picket line was placed in front of the oil plant. At the outset, there were forty to fifty pickets. The number was then reduced, but until the date of the termination of the trial there were pickets on duty about the premises for twenty-four hours a day. At all times, the

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picketing was conducted under the supervision of the appellants Forrester and Coulter, both of whom were officers and representatives of the union.

Upon innumerable occasions, trucks of companies hauling oil for the respondents were followed by pickets in automobiles for long distances. Both Coulter and Forrester participated in this shadowing. Because of these actions, one truck company refused to haul any more oil for the respondents unless they protected the drivers against physical harm. To meet this demand, armed guards were provided.

The respondents' employees and their wives were followed by pickets, including Forrester. There is testimony that both the men and the wives were greatly frightened and harassed by these actions. At one time, the wife of an employee who had brought her husband's lunch to him was followed by two pickets in an automobile. The wife of another employee was also followed. This time two men employed by the oil company gave chase. Thereupon, the car containing the pickets stopped, and the appellant Booth, upon being questioned [123 P.2d 24] by one of these employees concerning the motive in following the woman, challenged him to a fight. Upon one occasion, Forrester followed an employee to his home after dark and drove back and forth in front of the house, causing the man and his wife great fright and annoyance. Forrester also followed the respondent Kindseth after dark.

During the picketing, those representing the union directed vile, abusive and insulting language at the respondents' business callers and employees. Threats of physical violence were embodied in some of this language, much of which is too vile to be here stated. At another time, the appellant Coulter approached an employee, who was engaged in gauging trucks at the oil plant, and told him that "in labor trouble people had been hurt, that there had been no violence in the Elm Oil Company case to date, but from that day on, he, J. C. Coulter, was not giving Brown any further protection."

Several trespasses were committed by pickets upon the property of the respondents. When a customer of the oil plant drove his car on to the premises, two of the pickets rushed at him and "grabbed at" him, and the appellant Benton threatened him with bodily harm. Upon another occasion, pickets blocked the driveways of the premises so

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as to prevent a truck belonging to one of the respondents' business visitors from leaving the plant. Another picket paraded in front of the premises carrying a pole on the end of which was a piece of cheese. Pickets threw rocks at the premises, hitting cars, tanks and trucks. At times, the pickets falsely represented to business callers that a strike was in progress at the plant. Moreover, the following of employees and customers, and the use of threatening and intimidating language toward them, continued after the issuance of the preliminary injunction prohibiting such conduct.

It is now settled law that workmen may lawfully combine to exert various forms of economic pressure upon an employer, provided the object sought to be accomplished thereby has a reasonable relation to the betterment of labor conditions, and they act peaceably and honestly. (Lisse v. Local Union, 2 Cal.2d 312 [41 P.2d 314]; McKay v. Retail Auto. S. L. Union No. 1067, 16 Cal.2d 311 [106 P.2d 373].) This right is guaranteed by the federal Constitution as an incident of freedom of speech, press and assemblage (Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88 [60 S.Ct. 736, 84 L.Ed. 1093]; Carlson v. California, 310 U.S. 106 [60 S.Ct. 746, 84 L.Ed. 1104]), an d it is not dependent upon the existence of a labor controversy between the employer and his employee. (McKay v. Retail Auto. S. L. Union No. 1067, supra; C. S. Smith Met. Market Co. v. Lyons, 16 Cal.2d 389 [106 P.2d 414]; American Federation of Labor v. Swing, 312 U.S. 321 [61 S.Ct. 568, 85 L.Ed. 855].)

But the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech extends no further than to confer...

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