335 U.S. 525 (1949), 47, Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co.

Docket Nº:No. 47
Citation:335 U.S. 525, 69 S.Ct. 251, 93 L.Ed. 212
Party Name:Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co.
Case Date:January 03, 1949
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 525

335 U.S. 525 (1949)

69 S.Ct. 251, 93 L.Ed. 212

Lincoln Federal Labor Union

v.

Northwestern Iron & Metal Co.

No. 47

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 3, 1949

Argued November 8-10, 1948

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF NEBRASKA

Syllabus

A Nebraska constitutional amendment and a North Carolina statute provide, in effect, that no person in those States shall be denied an opportunity to obtain or retain employment because he is or is not a member of a labor organization. They also forbid employers to enter into contracts or agreements obligating themselves to exclude persons from employment because they are or are not members of labor unions.

Held: they do not violate rights guaranteed to employers, unions, or members of unions by the Constitution of the United States. Pp. 527-537.

1. These state laws do not abridge the freedom of speech and the right of unions and their members "peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," which are guaranteed by the First Amendment and made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 529-531.

2. Nor do they conflict with Article I, § 10, of the Constitution, insofar as they impair the obligation of contracts made prior to their enactment. Pp. 531-532.

3. Nor do they deny unions and their members equal protection of the laws contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 532-533.

4. Nor do they deprive employers, unions or members of unions of their liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 533-537.

149 Neb. 507, 31 N.W.2d 477, affirmed. 228 N.C. 352, 45 S.E.2d 860, affirmed.

No. 47. In a suit brought by certain labor organizations and the president of one of them for a declaratory judgment and equitable relief, a Nebraska trial court sustained the validity of the so-called "Right-to-Work Amendment" to the Nebraska Constitution, now designated as Art. XV, § 13, 14 and 15, and sustained a demurrer

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to the petition. The Supreme Court of Nebraska affirmed. 149 Neb. 507, 31 N.W.2d 477. On appeal to this Court, affirmed, p. 537.

No. 34. An employer and certain officers and agents of certain labor unions were convicted in a North Carolina state court of violations of N.C.Acts, 1947, ch. 328, N.C.Gen.Stat., ch. 95, Art. 10, for entering into a "closed shop agreement." The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed, and sustained the validity of the statute under the Constitution of the United States. 228 N.C. 352, 45 S.E.2d 860. On appeal to this Court, affirmed, p.537.

Page 527

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under employment practices in the United States, employers have sometimes limited work opportunities to members of unions, sometimes to nonunion members, and at other times have employed and kept their workers without regard to whether they were or were not members of a union. Employers are commanded to follow this latter employment practice in the states of North Carolina and Nebraska. A North Carolina statute and a Nebraska constitutional amendment1 provide that no

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person in those states shall be denied an opportunity to obtain or retain employment because he is or is not a member of a labor organization. To enforce this policy, North Carolina and Nebraska employers are also forbidden to enter into contracts or agreements obligating themselves to exclude persons from employment because they are or are not labor union members.2

These state laws were given timely challenge in North Carolina and Nebraska courts on the ground that, insofar as they attempt to protect nonunion members from discrimination, the laws are in violation of rights guaranteed employers, unions, and their members by the United States Constitution.3 The state laws were challenged as violations of the right of freedom of speech, of assembly

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and of petition guaranteed unions and their members by "the First Amendment and protected against invasion by the state under the Fourteenth Amendment." It was further contended that the state laws impaired the obligations of existing contracts in violation of Art. I, § 10, of the United States Constitution and deprived the appellant unions and employers of equal protection and due process of law guaranteed against state invasion by the Fourteenth Amendment. All of these contentions were rejected by the State Supreme Courts,4 and the cases are here on appeal under § 237 of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 344 (now § 1257). The substantial identity of the questions raised in the two cases prompted us to set them for argument together, and, for the same reason, we now consider the cases in a single opinion.

First. It is contended that these state laws abridge the freedom of speech and the opportunities of unions and their members "peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."5 Under the state policy adopted by these laws, employers must, other [69 S.Ct. 254] considerations being equal, give equal opportunities for

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remunerative work to union and nonunion members without discrimination against either. In order to achieve this objective of equal opportunity for the two groups, employers are forbidden to make contracts which would obligate them to hire to keep none but union members. Nothing in the language of the laws indicates a purpose to prohibit speech, assembly, or petition. Precisely what these state laws do is to forbid employers, acting alone or in concert with labor organizations, deliberately to restrict employment to none but union members.

It is difficult to see how enforcement of this state policy could infringe the freedom of speech of anyone, or deny to anyone the right to assemble or to petition for a redress of grievances. And appellants do not contend that the laws expressly forbid the full exercise of those rights by unions or union members. Their contention is that these state laws indirectly infringe their constitutional rights of speech, assembly, and petition. While the basis of this contention is not entirely clear, it seems to rest on this line of reasoning: the right of unions and union members to demand that no nonunion members work along with union members is "indispensable to the right of self-organization and the association of workers into unions;" without a right of union members to refuse to work with nonunion members, there are "no means of eliminating the competition of the nonunion worker;" since, the reasoning continues, a "closed shop" is indispensable to achievement of sufficient union membership to put unions and employers on a full equality for collective bargaining, a closed shop is consequently "an indispensable concomitant" of "the right of employees to assemble into and associate together through labor organizations. . . ." Justification for such an expansive construction of the right to speak, assemble and petition is

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then rested in part on appellants' assertion

that the right to work as a nonunionist is in no way equivalent to or the parallel of the right to work as a union member; that there exists no constitutional right to work as a nonunionist, on the one hand, while the right to maintain employment free from discrimination because of union membership is constitutionally protected.

Cf. Wallace Corporation v. Labor Board, 323 U.S. 248.

We deem it unnecessary to elaborate the numerous reasons for our rejection of this contention of appellants. Nor need we appraise or analyze with particularity the rather startling ideas suggested to support some of the premises on which appellants' conclusions rest. There cannot be wrung from a constitutional right of workers to assemble to discuss improvement of their own working standards a further constitutional right to drive from remunerative employment all other persons who will not or cannot participate in union assemblies. The constitutional right of workers to assemble to discuss and formulate plans for furthering their own self interest in jobs cannot be construed as a constitutional guarantee that none shall get and hold jobs except those who will join in the assembly or will agree to abide by the assembly's plans. For, where conduct affects the interests of other individuals and the general public, the legality of that conduct must be measured by whether the conduct conforms to valid law, even though the conduct is engaged in pursuant to plans of an assembly.

Second. There is a suggestion, though not elaborated in briefs, that these state laws conflict with Art. I, § 10, of the United States Constitution, insofar as they impair the obligation of contracts made prior to their enactment. That this contention is without merit is now too clearly [69 S.Ct. 255] established to require discussion. See Home Bldg. & Loan Assn. v. Blaisdell, 290 U.S. 398, 436-439, and cases

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there cited. And also Veix v. Sixth Ward Building & Loan Assn., 310 U.S. 32, 38; East New York Savings Bank v. Hahn, 326 U.S. 230, 232.

Third. It is contended that the North Carolina and Nebraska laws deny unions and their members equal protection of the laws, and thus offend the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because the outlawed contracts are a useful incentive to the growth of union membership, it is said that these laws weaken the bargaining power of...

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