325 U.S. 711 (1945), 160, Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co. v. Burley

Docket NºNo. 160
Citation325 U.S. 711, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 89 L.Ed. 1886
Party NameElgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co. v. Burley
Case DateJune 11, 1945
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 711

325 U.S. 711 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 1282, 89 L.Ed. 1886

Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co.



No. 160

United States Supreme Court

June 11, 1945

Argued November 15, 1945




1. The contention that an award of the National Railroad Adjustment Board under the Railway Labor Act amounts to nothing more than an advisory opinion is inconsistent with the terms, purposes, and legislative history of the Act, and with decisions of this Court construing it. P. 720.

2. A collective bargaining representative is without statutory authority under the Railway Labor Act to compromise and settle accrued monetary claims of individual employees (arising out of alleged violations of a collective agreement by the employer) or to represent them exclusively before the National Railroad Adjustment Board in proceedings before it for determination of such claims, and, in the absence of legally sufficient authorization, a settlement so effected and an adverse award based thereon do not bar a suit by the individual employees to enforce such claims. P. 738.

3. Upon the record in this case, it cannot be said as a matter of law that the collective bargaining representative was authorized in any legally sufficient manner to settle the claims in question or to represent the individual employees before the Adjustment Board. P. 748.

140 F.2d 488 affirmed.

Certiorari, 323 U.S. 690, to review the reversal of a summary judgment for the defendant railroad company in a suit by employees upon claims arising out of alleged violations of a collective bargaining agreement.

Page 712

RUTLEDGE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This cause, arising upon an amended complaint,1 brings for decision novel and important questions concerning the authority of a collective bargaining representative, affecting the operation of the Railway Labor Act of 1934, 48 Stat. 1185, 45 U.S.C. § 151 ff. The ultimate issues are whether such an agent has authority, by virtue of the Act or otherwise, either to compromise and settle accrued monetary claims of ten employees or to submit them for determination by the National Railroad Adjustment Board to the exclusion of their right, after the settlement and after the Board's adverse decision, to assert them in a suit brought for that purpose. The claims are for "penalty damages" for alleged violation of the starting time provisions of a collective agreement, varying from $3,500 to $14,000, and in the aggregate amounting to $65,274.00.2

The District Court rendered summary judgment for the carrier, holding that the Board's award was a final adjudication of [65 S.Ct. 1285] the claims, within the union's power to seek and the Board's to make, precluding judicial review.3 The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment, 140 F.2d 488, 490, holding that the record presented a question of fact

Page 713

whether the union had been authorized by respondents "to negotiate, compromise, and settle" the claims. We granted certiorari, 323 U.S. 690, in order to resolve the important questions affecting application and operation of the Act.

A statement of the more important facts will put the issues in sharper perspective. The controversy relates to operations in petitioner's so-called "Whiting Yard." Prior to July 24, 1934, respondents, or some of them, were employed by the Standard Oil Company to do private intra-plant switching in its Whiting, Indiana, plant. On that date, this work was taken over by petitioner. Until then, Standard Oil's switching crews began work each day at hours fixed in advance by the management, which varied as plant operations required.

Prior to 1934, petitioner's crews at all yards in Indiana and Illinois began work daily in accordance with starting time provisions contained in Article 6 of a collective agreement made in 1927 between petitioner and the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, governing rules, working conditions and rates of pay of yardmen.

Upon transfer of the Whiting yard switching to petitioner, respondents theretofore employed by Standard Oil became employees of petitioner and members of the Brotherhood. On July 24, 1934, company officials conferred with representatives of the engineers, the firemen, and the yardmen concerning terms of employment. The Brotherhood acted for the yardmen. Apparently agreement was reached on all matters except starting time, but, as to that, versions of what transpired differ. Respondents and the Brotherhood have maintained that the 1927 agreement, including Article 6, became applicable to them upon the transfer. They say, however, that they assented to a suspension of Article 6 for thirty days from July 27, 1934, to enable the company to work out adjustment to the plant's operations, and accordingly it governed their relation with petitioner from August 26, 1934.

Page 714

The company has insisted that Article 6 did not become applicable to respondents upon the transfer, and that it made no agreement to apply Article 6, other than to follow it as closely as possible, prior to October 31, 1938, when it and the Brotherhood eventually agreed to place Whiting yard crews on fixed starting time under circumstances to be noted.

Whichever version is true, a long controversy resulted. The carrier continued to follow the former practice, although departures from the schedule were reduced, as it claims, in conformity with the oral undertaking to observe it as far as possible. The work went on without interruption. But numerous complaints on account of departures were made through local officers of the Brotherhood. Time slips were filed by the employees. Frequent negotiations took place. None, however, resulted in a settlement prior to October 31, 1938.

In this state of affairs, respondents authorized the Brotherhood to file complaint with the National Railroad Adjustment Board for violation of Article 6. This was done on November 23, 1936. The "statement of claim" was signed and filed by Williams, chairman of the general grievance committee. It asserted that the carrier, having "placed the employees under the agreement of the yardmen," had "failed to put into effect the starting time provisions" of Article 6, and denied that violation was justified either because the carrier had agreed with the Engineers to follow the formerly prevailing practice or by the carrier's claim that the work could be done in no other way. The submission was intended to secure compliance. There was no prayer for money damages. Petitioner maintained that Article 6 was not applicable.

The Board, following its customary procedure,4 docketed the claim as No. 3537, [65 S.Ct. 1286] notified the carrier and the

Page 715

union that the case, with many others docketed at the same time, was "assumed to be complete," and forwarded to each copies of the other's submissions. The record does not disclose what followed until nearly two years later.

On October 31, 1938, Williams and Johnson, secretary of the Brotherhood, two of the grievance committee's three members, accepted an offer made by petitioner's president, Rogers, to settle the claim. The settlement took the form of a proposal, made in a letter by Rogers to Williams, to settle some 61 different claims, including "Labor Board Docket No. 3537 -- Starting time of switch engines in Whiting S. O. Yard." Williams and Johnson endorsed acceptance for the Brotherhood and the yardmen on the letter. Because of its importance, pertinent portions are set forth in the margin.5 On the day the settlement was concluded,

Page 716

Rogers and Williams advised the Board of it by letter, and jointly requested that the case be withdrawn from the docket, which accordingly was done.

Notwithstanding the settlement, a further dispute arose. In March, 1939, the Brotherhood, through Williams, requested the carrier to furnish a complete list of crews in the Whiting yard started at times other than those fixed by Article 6 from August 27, 1934, to November 15, 1938, when the settlement became effective. The company declined to furnish the list, stating it was at a loss to understand the reason for the request in view of the settlement.

The upshot of the dispute was the filing of another claim with the Board, Docket No. 7324, [65 S.Ct. 1287] on May 18, 1939, by Williams, acting for the Brotherhood. This submission

Page 717


for one day's pay at time and one-half for each foreman and each helper for each day they were required to work in yard service in the Whiting (Standard Oil Company) Yard, in violation of the fixed starting time provided for in Article No. 6 of the Yardmen's Agreement . . . effective January 1, 1927, and applicable to Whiting (Standard Oil Company) Yardmen, July 27, 1934, from dates of August 27, 1934, until November 14, 1938, inclusive.

The submission not only maintained the applicability of Article 6 and accrual of the individual claims asserted. It also maintained that the settlement of October 31, 1938, was effective only to fix the starting time for the future, and had no effect to waive or determine individual claims for penalty damages accrued prior to the settlement.6

The carrier's submission reiterated its position in Case No. 3537. It also relied upon the settlement as precluding later assertion of any claim, individual or collective, based upon occurrences prior to the date of the settlement.

The matter went to decision by the Board. Under the procedure prescribed in case of deadlock, cf. § 3, First(l),

Page 718

a referee was called in. The award was made by the First Division on September 6, 1940. It sustained the Board's jurisdiction,7 found that "the parties to said dispute were given due notice of hearing thereon," and held that

the evidence shows that the parties to the agreement disposed of the claim here made by the letter of carrier dated October 28,...

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