309 U.S. 261 (1940), 342, Amalgamated Utility Workers v. Consolidated Edison Co.

Docket NºNo. 342
Citation309 U.S. 261, 60 S.Ct. 561, 84 L.Ed. 738
Party NameAmalgamated Utility Workers v. Consolidated Edison Co.
Case DateFebruary 26, 1940
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 261

309 U.S. 261 (1940)

60 S.Ct. 561, 84 L.Ed. 738

Amalgamated Utility Workers


Consolidated Edison Co.

No. 342

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 26, 1940

Argued January 31, 1940




Under the National Labor Relations Act, the authority to apply to the Circuit Court of Appeals to have an employer adjudged in contempt for failure to obey a decree enforcing an order of the National Labor Relations Board lies exclusively in the Board itself, acting as a public agency. A labor organization has no standing to make such an application in virtue of having filed the charges upon which the Board's proceedings were initiated. P. 269.

106 F.2d 991 affirmed.

Certiorari, 308 U.S. 541, to review the denial of an application for a contempt order.

HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The National Labor Relations Board ordered the Consolidated Edison Company of New York and its affiliated companies to desist from certain labor practices

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found to be unfair and to take certain affirmative action. The Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Board's petition for enforcement of the order, and its decree, as modified, was affirmed by this Court. Consolidated Edison Co. v. Labor Board, 305 U.S. 197. Petitioner, Amalgamated Utility Workers, brought the present proceeding before the Circuit Court of Appeals to have the Consolidated Edison Company and its affiliated companies adjudged in contempt for failure to comply with certain requirements of the decree.

The Board, in response to the motion, asserted its willingness to participate in an investigation to ascertain whether acts in violation of the decree had been committed, and suggested that the court direct such investigation as might be deemed appropriate.

The Court of Appeals denied the application upon the ground that petitioner had "no standing to press a charge of civil contempt, if contempt has been committed." The court held that, under the National Labor Relations Act,

the Board is the proper party to apply to the court for an order of enforcement and to present to the court charges that the court's order has not been obeyed.

106 F.2d 991. In view of the importance of the question in relation to the proper administration of the National Labor Relations Act, we granted certiorari. 308 U.S. 541.

Petitioner contends that the National Labor Relations Act1 "creates private rights;" that the Act recognizes the rights of labor organizations, and that it gives the parties upon whom these rights are conferred status in the courts for their vindication. In support of its alleged standing, petitioner urges that, under its former name (United Electrical and Radio Workers of America), it filed with the National Labor Relations Board charges against the respondent companies, and that it was upon

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these charges that the Board issued its complaint and held the hearing which resulted in the order in question. Also, that petitioner was permitted to intervene in the proceedings before the Circuit Court of Appeals where the companies had moved to set aside the Board's order, and the Board had moved to enforce it, and that the petitioner had also been heard in this Court in the certiorari proceedings for review of the decree of enforcement.

Petitioner invokes the statement in Section 1 of the Act of "findings and policy," with respect to the effect of the denial by employers of the right of employees to organize and to bargain collectively, and in particular the provision of § 72 that

Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities, for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.

Neither this provision nor any other provision of the Act can properly be said to have "created" the right of self-organization or of collective bargaining through representatives of the employees' own choosing. In Labor Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 33-34, we observed that this right is a fundamental [60 S.Ct. 563] one; that employees "have as clear a right to organize and select their representatives for lawful purposes" as the employer has "to organize its business and select its own officers and agents;" that discrimination and coercion "to prevent the free exercise of the right of employees to self-organization and representation" was a proper subject for condemnation by competent legislative authority. We noted that "long ago"

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we had stated the reason for labor organizations -- that, through united action, employees might have "opportunity to deal on an equality with their employer," referring to what we had said in American Steel Foundries v. Tri-City Central Trades Council, 257 U.S. 184, 209. And, in recognition of this right, we concluded that Congress could safeguard it in the interest of interstate commerce and seek to make appropriate collective action "an instrument of peace, rather than of strife." To that end, Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act.

To attain its object, Congress created a particular agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and established a special procedure. The aim, character, and scope of that special procedure are determinative of the question now before us. Within the range of its constitutional power, Congress was entitled to determine what remedy it would provide, the way that remedy should be sought, the extent to which it should be afforded, and the means by which it should be made effective.

Congress declared that certain labor practices should be unfair, but it prescribed a particular method by which such practices should be ascertained and prevented. By the express terms of the Act, the Board was made the exclusive agency for that purpose. Section 10(a) provides:3

The Board is empowered, as hereinafter provided, to prevent any person from engaging in any unfair labor practice (listed in section 8) affecting commerce. This power shall be exclusive, and shall not be affected by any other means of adjustment or prevention that has been or may be established by agreement, code, law, or otherwise.

The Act then sets forth a definite and restricted course of procedure. A charge of an unfair labor practice may

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be presented to the Board, but the person or group making the charge does not become the actor in the proceeding. It is the Board, and the Board alone or its designated agent, which has power to issue its complaint against the person charged with the unfair labor practice. If complaint is issued, there must be a hearing before the Board or a member thereof or its agent. The person against whom the complaint is issued may answer and produce testimony. Other persons may be allowed to intervene and present testimony, but only in the discretion of the Board, or its member or agent conducting the hearing. § 10(b).4 The hearing is under the control of the Board. The determination whether or not the person named in the complaint has engaged or is engaging in the unfair labor practice rests with the Board. If the Board is of the opinion that the unfair labor practice has been shown, the Board must state its findings of fact and issue its "cease and desist" order with such affirmative requirements as will effectuate the policy of the Act. § 10(c).5

So far, it is apparent that Congress has entrusted to the Board exclusively the prosecution of the proceeding by its own complaint, the conduct of the hearing, the adjudication, and the granting of appropriate relief. The Board as a public...

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