353 U.S. 448 (1957), 211, Textile Workers Union of America v. Lincoln Mills of Alabama

Docket Nº:No. 211
Citation:353 U.S. 448, 77 S.Ct. 912, 1 L.Ed.2d 972
Party Name:Textile Workers Union of America v. Lincoln Mills of Alabama
Case Date:June 03, 1957
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 448

353 U.S. 448 (1957)

77 S.Ct. 912, 1 L.Ed.2d 972

Textile Workers Union of America


Lincoln Mills of Alabama

No. 211

United States Supreme Court

June 3, 1957

Argued March 25, 1957




A union entered into a collective bargaining agreement with an employer providing that there would be no strikes or work stoppages and that grievances would be handled pursuant to a specified procedure, the last step of which was arbitration. Grievances arose and were processed through various steps in the grievance procedure until the union's demands were finally denied by the employer. The union requested arbitration, and the employer refused. Thereupon, the union sued in a Federal District Court to compel arbitration.


1. Under § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, the District Court properly decreed specific performance of the agreement to arbitrate the grievance dispute. Pp. 449-456.

2. The substantive law to be applied in suits under § 301(a) is federal law, which the courts must fashion from the policy of our national labor laws. Pp. 456-457.

3. As here construed, § 301(a) is constitutional. P. 457.

4. Jurisdiction to compel arbitration of grievance disputes is not withdrawn by the Norris-LaGuardia Act. Pp. 457-459.

5. The employer in this case having ceased operations and contracted to sell its mill properties, the case is moot insofar as the union sought restoration of workloads and job assignments; but it is not moot to the extent that it sought a monetary award. P. 459.

230 F.2d 81, reversed.

Page 449

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner union entered into a collective bargaining agreement in 1953 with respondent employer, the agreement to run one year and from year to year thereafter, unless terminated on specified notices. The agreement provided that there would be no strikes or work stoppages, and that grievances would be handled pursuant to a specified procedure. The last step in the grievance procedure -- a step that could be taken by either party was arbitration.

This controversy involves several grievances that concern work loads and work assignments. The grievances were processed through the various steps in the grievance procedure, and were finally denied by the employer. The union requested arbitration, and the employer refused. Thereupon the union brought this suit in the District Court to compel arbitration.

The District Court concluded that it had jurisdiction, and ordered the employer to comply with the grievance arbitration provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. The Court of Appeals reversed by a divided vote. 230 F.2d 81. It held that, although the District Court had jurisdiction to entertain the suit, the court had no authority founded either in federal or state law to grant the relief. The case is here on a petition for a writ of certiorari which we granted because of the importance of the problem and the contrariety of views in the courts. 352 U.S. 821.

The starting point of our inquiry is § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 61 Stat. 156, 29 U.S.C. § 185, which provides:

(a) Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce, as

Page 450

defined in this chapter, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.

(b) Any labor organization which represents employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter and any employer whose activities affect commerce as defined in this chapter shall be bound by the acts of its agents. Any such labor organization may sue or be sued as an entity and in behalf of the employees whom it represents in the courts of the United States. Any money judgment against a labor organization in a district court of the United States shall be enforceable only against the organization as an entity and against its assets, and shall not be enforceable against any individual member or his assets.

There has been considerable litigation involving § 301, and courts have construed it differently. There is one view that § 301(a) merely gives federal district courts jurisdiction in controversies that involve labor organizations in industries affecting commerce, without regard to diversity of citizenship or the amount in controversy.1 Under that view, § 301(a) would not be the source of substantive law; it would neither supply federal law to resolve these controversies nor turn the federal judges to state law for answers to the questions. Other courts -- the overwhelming number of them -- hold that § 301(a) is

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more than jurisdictional2 -- that it authorizes federal courts to fashion a body of federal law for the enforcement of these collective bargaining agreements, and includes within that federal law specific performance of promises to arbitrate grievances under collective bargaining agreements. Perhaps the leading decision representing that point of view is the one rendered by Judge Wyzanski in Textile Workers Union v. American Thread Co., 113 F.Supp. 137. That is our construction of § 301(a), which means that the agreement to arbitrate grievance disputes, contained in this collective bargaining agreement, should be specifically enforced.

From the face of the Act, it is apparent that § 301(a) and § 301(b) supplement one another. Section 301(b) makes it possible for a labor organization, representing employees in an industry affecting commerce, to sue and be sued as an entity in the federal courts. Section 301(b), in other words, provides the procedural remedy lacking at common law. Section 301(a) certainly does something more than that. Plainly, it supplies the basis

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upon which the federal district courts may take jurisdiction and apply the procedural rule of § 301(b). The question is whether § 301(a) is more than jurisdictional.

The legislative history of § 301 is somewhat cloudy and confusing. But there are a few shafts of light that illuminate our problem.

The bills, as they passed the House and the Senate, contained provisions which would have made the failure to abide by an agreement to arbitrate an unfair labor practice. S.Rep. No. 105, 80th Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 20 21, 23; H.R.Rep. No. 245, 80th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 21.3 This feature of the law was dropped in Conference. As the Conference Report stated,

Once parties have made a collective bargaining contract, the enforcement of that contract should be left to the usual processes of the law, and not to the National Labor Relations Board.

H.R.Conf.Rep. No. 510, 80th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 42.

Page 453

Both the Senate and the House took pains to provide for "the usual processes of the law" by provisions which were the substantial equivalent of § 301(a) in its present form. Both the Senate Report and the House Report indicate a primary concern that unions, as well as employees, should be bound to collective bargaining contracts. But there was also a broader concern a concern with a procedure for making such agreements enforceable in the courts by either party. At one point, the Senate Report, supra, p. 15, states,

We feel that the aggrieved party should also have a right of action in the Federal courts. Such a policy is completely in accord with the purpose of the Wagner Act, which the Supreme Court declared was

to compel employers to bargain collectively with their employees to the end that an employment contract, binding on both parties, should be made. . . .

Congress was also interested in promoting collective bargaining that ended with agreements not to strike.4

Page 454

The Senate Report, supra, p. 16 states:

If unions can break agreements with relative impunity, then such agreements do not tend to stabilize industrial relations. The execution of an agreement does not, by itself, promote industrial peace. The chief advantage which an employer can reasonably expect from a collective labor agreement is assurance of uninterrupted operation during the term of the agreement. Without some effective method of assuring freedom from economic warfare for the term of the agreement, there is little reason why an employer would desire to sign such a contract.

Consequently, to encourage the making of agreements and to promote industrial peace through faithful performance by the parties, collective agreements affecting interstate commerce should be enforceable in the Federal courts. Our amendment would provide for suits by unions as legal entities and against unions as legal entities in the Federal courts in disputes affecting commerce.

Thus, collective bargaining contracts were made "equally binding and enforceable on both parties." Id., p. 15. As stated in the House Report, supra, p. 6, the new provision

makes labor organizations equally responsible with employers for contract violations and provides for suit by either against the other in the United States district courts.

To repeat, the Senate Report, supra, p. 17, summed up the philosophy of § 301 as follows:

Statutory recognition of the collective agreement as a valid, binding, and enforceable contract is a logical and necessary step. It will promote a higher degree of responsibility upon the parties to such agreements, and will thereby promote industrial peace.

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Plainly, the agreement to arbitrate grievance disputes is the quid pro quo for an agreement not to strike. Viewed in this light, the legislation does more than confer jurisdiction in the federal courts over labor organizations. It expresses a federal policy that federal courts should enforce these agreements on behalf of or...

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