300 U.S. 515 (1937), 324, Virginian Railway Co. v. System Federation No. 40, Railway

Docket Nº:No. 324
Citation:300 U.S. 515, 57 S.Ct. 592, 81 L.Ed. 789
Party Name:Virginian Railway Co. v. System Federation No. 40, Railway
Case Date:March 29, 1937
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 515

300 U.S. 515 (1937)

57 S.Ct. 592, 81 L.Ed. 789

Virginian Railway Co.


System Federation No. 40, Railway

No. 324

United States Supreme Court

March 29, 1937

Employees Department of the American Federation of Labor

Argued February 8, 8, 1937




1. Concurrent findings of fact by district court and circuit court of appeals are conclusive when not plainly erroneous.

2. The amended Railway Labor Act seeks to avoid interruptions of interstate commerce resulting from disputes concerning pay, rules, or working conditions on the railroads, by the promotion of collective bargaining between the carrier and the authorized representative of its employees, and by mediation and arbitration when such bargaining does not result in agreement. To facilitate agreement, it gives to employees the right to organize and bargain collectively through a representative of their own selection, doing away with company interference and "company unions." Section 2, Ninth, makes it the duty of the National Mediation Board, when any dispute arises among a carrier's employees "as to who are the representatives of such employees," to investigate the dispute and to certify the name of the organization authorized to represent the employees; and it commands that,

Upon receipt of such certification, the carrier shall treat with the representative so certified as the representative of the craft or class for the purposes of this Act.


(1) That the duty to "treat" with the representative so certified is mandatory. P. 547.

(2) The statute does not undertake to compel agreement, and does not preclude the employer from entering into individual contracts directly with individual employees, but it requires the employer to "treat with" the authorized representative of the employees, that is, to meet and confer with their representative, to listen to their complaints, and to make reasonable effort to compose differences. P. 548.

(3) The duty is to treat with the authorized representative exclusively. P. 548.

(4) The duty is enforceable by injunction. P. 549.

Page 516

3. A court of equity may refuse to act when it cannot give effective relief; but whether a decree should be refused as useless is a matter of judgment addressed to the special circumstances of each case. P. 550.

4. In determining whether the duty of a carrier to treat with the authorized representative of its employees is enforceable by mandatory injunction, weight is attached to the judgment of Congress that conference between carriers and employees is a powerful aid to industrial peace; and it will not be assumed that such negotiation will not result in agreement or lead to successful mediation or arbitration. P. 551.

5. The peaceable settlement of labor controversies that may seriously impair the ability of an interstate carrier to perform its service to the public is a matter of public concern. P. 552.

6. Courts of equity go much farther in furtherance of the public interest than when only private interests are involved. P. 552.

7. The fact that, by the Railway Labor Act, Congress has indicated its purpose to make negotiation between carrier and employees obligatory in case of industrial controversy is, in itself, a declaration of public interest and policy. P. 552.

8. The power of Congress over interstate commerce extends to such regulations of the relations of rail carriers to their employees as are reasonably calculated to prevent the interruption of interstate commerce by strikes and their attendant disorders. P. 553.

9. It was for Congress to choose the means by which its objective of securing the uninterrupted service of interstate railroads was to be secured, and its judgment, expressed in the Railway Labor Act and confirmed by the history of industrial disputes and of railroad labor relations, is not open to review here. P. 553.

10. The activities of "back shop" employees engaged on heavy repairs on locomotives and cars withdrawn from service for long periods are held to bear such relation to the interstate activities of the carrier as to be regarded as part of them -- (Employers' Liability Cases, 207 U.S. 463 distinguished) -- all subject to the power of Congress over interstate commerce. P. 554.

11. Although the carrier in this case might have turned over its back shop repair work to independent contractors, its determination to make its own repairs, and the nature of the work done, brought its relations with the back shop employees within the purview of the Railway Labor Act. P. 557.

12. The provisions of the Railway Labor Act prohibiting company unions and imposing on the railway the duty of "treating with"

Page 517

the authorized representative of its employees for the purpose of negotiating a labor dispute do not infringe the rights of the carrier under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. P. 557.

13. In this regard, the Railway could complain only of infringement of its own constitutional immunity, not that of the employees. P. 558.

14. Under § 2, Fourth, of the Railway Labor Act, at an election participated in by a majority of the employees entitled to vote, the vote of a majority of the participants determines the choice of representative. P. 559.

15. A certificate of the National Mediation Board, certifying, in conformity with the Railway Labor Act, that, as the result of an election, a specified union has been designated to represent a craft of employees, and showing on its face the total number of votes case in favor of each candidate, is not void because it fails to state the total number of eligible voters in the craft, but is prima facie sufficient, and the omitted fact is open to inquiry by the court asked to enforce the command of the statute, § 2, Ninth. P. 561.

16. Section 9 of the Act of March 23, 1932, c. 90, 47 Stat. 70, which provides that

every restraining order or injunction granted in a case involving or growing out of a labor dispute shall include only a prohibition of such specific act or acts as may be expressly complained of in the bill of complaint or petition filed in such case and as shall be expressly included in . . . findings of fact made and filed by the court

is not inconsistent with the mandatory injunction in this case. P. 562.

17. Specific provisions of a later Act cannot be rendered nugatory by more general provisions of an earlier Act. P. 563.

84 F.2d 641 affirmed. D.C., 11 F.Supp. 621.

Certiorari, 299 U.S. 529, to review the affirmance of a decree rendered by the District Court against the Railway Company in a suit by the Federation. The decree commanded the Company to treat with the Federation as the duly accredited representative of the Company's shop craft employees in respect of pay, working conditions, etc., and restrained the Company from interfering with, influencing, or coercing such employees in their free choice of their representatives, etc.

Page 538

STONE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents questions as to the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Railway Labor Act of May 20, 1926, c. 347, 44 Stat. 577, as amended by the Act of June 21, 1934, c. 691, 48 Stat. 1185, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-163, and as to the nature and extent of the relief which courts are authorized by the act to give.

Respondents are System Federation No. 40, which will be referred to as the Federation, a labor organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and representing shop craft employees of petitioner railway, and certain individuals who are officers and members of the System Federation. They brought the present suit in equity in the District Court for Eastern Virginia, to compel petitioner, an interstate rail carrier, to recognize and treat with respondent Federation as the duly accredited representative of the mechanical department employees of petitioner, and to restrain petitioner from in any way interfering with, influencing, or coercing its shop craft employees in their free choice of representatives, for the purpose of contracting with petitioner with respect to rules, rates of pay, and working conditions, and for the purpose of considering and settling disputes between petitioner and such employees.

Page 539

The history of this controversy goes back to 1922, when, following the failure of a strike by petitioner's shop employees affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, other employees organized a local union known as the "Mechanical Department Association of the Virginian Railway." The Association thereupon entered into an agreement with petitioner providing for rates of pay and working conditions, and for the settlement of disputes with respect to them, but no substantial grievances were ever presented to petitioner by the Association. It maintained its organization and held biennial elections of officers, but the notices of election were sent out by petitioner and all Association expenses were paid by petitioner.

In 1927, the American Federation of Labor formed a local organization which, in 1934, demanded recognition by petitioner of its authority to represent the shop craft employees, and invoked the aid of the National Mediation Board, constituted under the Railway Labor Act, as amended, to establish its authority. The Board, pursuant to agreement between the petitioner, the Federation, and the Association, and in conformity to the statute, held an election by petitioner's shop craft employees to choose representatives for the purpose of collective bargaining with petitioner. As the result of the election, the Board...

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