325 U.S. 538 (1945), 11, Hill v. Florida

Docket Nº:No. 11
Citation:325 U.S. 538, 65 S.Ct. 1373, 89 L.Ed. 1782
Party Name:Hill v. Florida
Case Date:June 11, 1945
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 538

325 U.S. 538 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 1373, 89 L.Ed. 1782




No. 11

United States Supreme Court

June 11, 1945

Argued April 4, 5, 1945



1. Section 4 of a statute of Florida (Laws of 1943, c. 21968) provides that no person shall be licensed as a "business agent" of a labor union who has not been a citizen of the United States for more than 10 years, who has been convicted of a felony, or who is not a person of good moral character. Section 6 requires every labor union operating in the State to file an annual report disclosing its name, the location of its principal offices, and the names and addresses of its officers, and to pay an annual fee of $1.00 therefor. Violation of the statute by any person or labor organization is made a misdemeanor punishable by fine and imprisonment. A state court enjoined the petitioner labor union from further functioning and operating, and enjoined its business agent from further acting in that capacity until they shall have complied with the statute.

Held: that §§ 4 and 6 of the Florida statute, as so applied, are invalid as in conflict with the National Labor Relations Act. P. 541.

2. As here applied, § 4 of the Florida statute circumscribes the "full freedom" of choice of collective bargaining agents which is secured to employees by the National Labor Relations Act. P. 541.

3. The requirement of reports and the exaction of a $1.00 annual fee in § 6 does not, in and of itself, conflict with the National Labor Relations Act; it is the sanction here imposed -- injunction against the labor union functioning as such -- which is inconsistent with the federally protected process of collective bargaining. P. 543.

155 Fla. 254, 19 So.2d 857, reversed.

Certiorari, 324 U.S. 832, to review the affirmance of a decree granting injunctions against a labor union and its business agent until they shall have complied with the requirements of a state statute the validity of which they challenged.

Page 539

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The only question we find it necessary to decide in this case is whether a Florida statute1 regulating labor union activities has been applied to these petitioners in a manner which brings it into irreconcilable conflict with the collective bargaining regulations of the National Labor Relations Act, 49 Stat. 449. That Federal Act, we decided in Allen-Bradley Local v. Wisconsin Board, 315 U.S. 740, did not wholly foreclose state power to regulate [65 S.Ct. 1374] labor union activities. Certain conduct, such as mass picketing, threats, violence, and related actions, we held were not governed by the Wagner Act, and, hence, Wisconsin was free to regulate them. We carefully pointed out, however, that, had the state order under consideration, "affected the status of the employees, or . . . caused a forfeiture of collective bargaining rights, a distinctly different question would arise." That question, which we so distinctly reserved in the Wisconsin case, has now arisen in this case.

The Attorney General of Florida filed a bill for injunction against the petitioner union and its business agent, Hill, in a state court. He sought to restrain both of them

Page 540

from functioning as such until they had complied with the Florida statute. The basis for the relief sought against Hill was that he had, for a pecuniary reward, acted as a business agent in violation of § 4; the basis for the relief sought against the union was that it had operated without obtaining a state license, as required by § 6. § 4, which was invoked against Hill, provides that no on shall be licensed as a "business agent" of a labor union who has not been a citizen of the United States for more than 10 years, who has been convicted of a felony, or who is not a person of good moral character. Application for a license as a "business agent" must be accompanied by a $1.00 fee and a statement signed by officers of the union setting forth the agent's authority. The statute then provides that the application be held for 30 days to permit the filing of objections to the issuance of a license. A Board composed of the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Superintendent of Education then passes on the application, and, if it finds the applicant measures up to the standards of the act, as it sees them, it authorizes the license to be issued, to "expire on December 31 of the year for which issued, unless sooner surrendered, suspended, or revoked." Section 2(2) defines "business agent" as "any person . . . who shall, for a pecuniary or financial consideration, act or attempt to act" for a union "in soliciting or receiving from any employer any right or privilege for employees . . . " or "in the issuance of membership, or authorization cards, work permits, or any other evidence of rights granted or claimed in, or by, a labor organization. . . ." Section 6, which the Attorney General invoked against the union, requires every labor union "operating" in the state to file a written report with the Secretary of State, disclosing its name, the location of its offices, and the names and addresses of its officers. Section 14 makes it a misdemeanor for "any person or labor organization" to violate the statute.

Page 541

Motions by Hill and the union to dismiss the bill on the ground that the state statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment and conflicted with the Wagner Act were denied. Answers were then filed admitting violations of §§ 4 and 6. The court held the licensing and reporting provisions valid. Hill was enjoined from further acting as the union's business agent until he obtained a state license. The union was enjoined from further functioning and operating until it made the report and paid the fee to the Secretary of State. The State Supreme Court affirmed. 19 So.2d 857.

It is apparent that the Florida statute has been so construed and applied that the union and its selected representative are prohibited from functioning as collective bargaining agents, or in any other capacity, except upon conditions fixed by Florida. The declared purpose of the Wagner Act, as shown in its first section, is to encourage collective bargaining, and to protect the "full freedom" of workers in the selection of bargaining representatives of their own choice. To this end, Congress made it illegal for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in selecting their representatives. Congress attached no conditions whatsoever to their freedom of choice in this respect. Their own best judgment, not that of someone else, was to be their guide. "Full freedom" to choose an agent means freedom to pass upon that agent's qualifications.

Section 4 of the Florida act circumscribes the "full freedom" of choice which Congress said employees should possess. It does this by requiring a "business agent" to prove to the satisfaction of a Florida Board that he measures up to standards set by the Florida as one who, among other things, performs the exact function [65 S.Ct. 1375] of a collective bargaining representative. To the extent that § 4 limits a union's choice of such an "agent" or bargaining representative, it substitutes Florida's judgment for the workers' judgment.

Page 542

Thus, the "full freedom" of employees in collective bargaining which Congress envisioned as essential to protect the free flow of commerce among the states would be, by the Florida statute, shrunk to a greatly limited freedom. No elaboration seems required to demonstrate that Section 4, as applied here, "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67; Cloverleaf Butter Co. v. Patterson, 315 U.S. 148; Napier v. Atlantic, Coast Line R. Co., 272 U.S. 605. It is not amiss, however, to call attention to the fact that operation of this very section has already interfered with the collective bargaining process. An employer before the Labor Board defended its refusal to bargain with a duly selected representative of workers on the ground that the representative had not secured a Florida license as a business agent. In the Matter of Eppinger & Russell Co., 56 N.L.R.B. 1259. The Board properly rejected the employer's contention, holding that Congress did not intend to subject the "full freedom" of employees to the eroding process of "varied and perhaps conflicting provisions of state enactments." Cf. Labor Board v. Hearst Publications, Inc., 322 U.S. 111.

Since the Labor Board has held that an employer must bargain with a properly selected union agent despite his failure to secure a Florida license, it is argued that the state law does not interfere with the collective bargaining process. But here, this agent has been enjoined, and, if the Florida law is valid, he could be found guilty of a contempt for doing that which the act of Congress permits him to do. Furthermore, he could, under § 14 of the state law, be convicted of a misdemeanor and subjected to fine and imprisonment. The collective bargaining which Congress has authorized contemplates two parties free to bargain, and cannot thus be frustrated by state legislation. We hold that § 4 of the Florida Act is repugnant to the National Labor Relations Act.

Page 543

Section 6, as here applied, stands no better. The requirement as to the filing of information and the payment of a $1.00 annual fee does not, in and of itself, conflict with the Federal Act. But, for failure to comply, this union has been enjoined from functioning as a labor union. It could not, without violating the injunction and also subjecting itself to the possibility of criminal punishment, even attempt to bargain to settle a controversy...

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