371 U.S. 195 (1962), 13, Smith v. Evening News Association

Docket Nº:No. 13
Citation:371 U.S. 195, 83 S.Ct. 267, 9 L.Ed.2d 246
Party Name:Smith v. Evening News Association
Case Date:December 10, 1962
Court:United States Supreme Court

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371 U.S. 195 (1962)

83 S.Ct. 267, 9 L.Ed.2d 246



Evening News Association

No. 13

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 10, 1962

Argued October 19, 1962



An employee brought suit in a state court against his employer, seeking damages for breach of a collective bargaining contract between his union and the employer. He alleged that the employer had violated a clause in the contract prohibiting discrimination against any employee because of his membership or activity in the union. It was conceded that such conduct would constitute an unfair labor practice prohibited by § 8 of the National Labor Relations Act.

Held: the suit could be maintained by an individual employee, and the state court's jurisdiction was not preempted under the rule of San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236. Pp. 195-201.

362 Mich. 350, 106 N.W.2d 785, reversed.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

[83 S.Ct. 268] Petitioner is a building maintenance employee of respondent Evening News Association, a newspaper publisher engaged in interstate commerce, and is a member of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit, a labor organization having a collective bargaining contract with respondent. Petitioner, individually and as assignee of 49 other similar employees who were also Guild members, sued respondent for breach of contract in the Circuit Court of

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Wayne County, Michigan.1 The complaint stated that, in December, 1955, and January, 1956, other employees of respondent, belonging to another union, were on strike, and respondent did not permit petitioner and his assignors to report to their regular shifts, although they were ready, able and available for work.2 During the same period, however, employees of the editorial, advertising and business departments, not covered by collective bargaining agreements, were permitted to report for work and were paid full wages even though there was no work available. Respondent's refusal to pay full wages to petitioner and his assignors while paying the nonunion employees, the complaint asserted, violated a clause in the contract providing that "there shall be no discrimination against any employee because of his membership or activity in the Guild."

The trial court sustained respondent's motion to dismiss for want of jurisdiction on the ground that the allegations, if true, would make out an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act, and hence the subject matter was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed, 362 Mich. 350, 106 N.W.2d 785, relying upon San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, and like preemption cases.3 Certiorari was granted, 369 U.S. 827, after the decisions of this Court in Local 174, Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, and Charles Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney, 368 U.S. 502.

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Lucas Flour and Dowd Box, as well as the later Atkinson v. Sinclair Refining Co., 370 U.S. 238, were suits upon collective bargaining contracts brought or held to arise under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act,4 and, in these cases, the jurisdiction of the courts was sustained although it was seriously urged that the conduct involved was arguably protected or prohibited by the National Labor Relations Act and therefore within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. In Lucas Flour as well as in Atkinson, the Court expressly refused to apply the preemption doctrine of the Garmon case, and we likewise reject that doctrine here, where the alleged conduct of the employer, not only arguably, but concededly, is an unfair labor practice within [83 S.Ct. 269] the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board.5 The authority of the Board to deal with an unfair labor practice which also violates a collective bargaining contract is not displaced by § 301, but it is not exclusive, and does not destroy the jurisdiction of the courts in suits under § 301. If, as respondent strongly urges, there are situations in which serious problems will arise from both the courts and the Board having jurisdiction over acts

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which amount to an unfair labor practice, we shall face those cases when they arise. This is not one of them, in our view, and the National Labor Relations Board is in accord.6

We are left with respondent's claim that the predicate for escaping the Garmon rule is not present here, because this action by an employee to collect wages in the form of damages is not among those "suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization . . . ," as provided in § 301. There is support for respondent's position in decisions of the Courts of Appeals,7 and, in Association of Westinghouse Salaried Employees v. Westinghouse Corp., 348 U.S. 437, a majority of the Court, in three separate opinions, concluded that § 301 did not give the federal courts jurisdiction over a suit brought by a union to enforce employee rights which were variously characterized as "peculiar in the individual benefit which is their subject matter", "uniquely personal" and arising "from separate hiring contracts between the employer and each employee." Id. at 460-461, 464.

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However, subsequent decisions here have removed the underpinnings of Westinghouse, and its holding is no longer authoritative as a precedent. Three of the Justices in that case were driven to their conclusion because, in their view, § 301 was procedural only, not substantive, and therefore grave constitutional questions would be raised if § 301 was held to extend to the controversy there involved.8 However, the same three Justices observed that if, contrary to their belief,

Congress has itself defined the law or authorized the federal courts to fashion the judicial rules governing this question, it would be self-defeating to limit the scope of the power of the federal courts to less than is necessary to accomplish this congressional aim.

Id. at 442. Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, of course, has long since settled that § [83 S.Ct. 270] 301 has substantive content, and that Congress has directed the courts to formulate and apply federal law to suits for violation of collective bargaining contracts. There is no constitutional difficulty, and § 301 is not to be given a narrow reading. Id. at 456, 457. Section 301 has been applied to suits to compel arbitration of such individual grievances as rates of pay, hours of work and wrongful discharge, Textile Workers Union of America v. Lincoln Mills, supra; General Electric Co. v. Local 205, 353 U.S. 547; to obtain specific enforcement of an arbitrator's award ordering reinstatement and back pay to individual employees, United Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593; to recover wage increases in a contest over the validity of the collective bargaining contract, Charles Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney, supra; and to suits against individual union members for violation of a

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no-strike clause contained in a collective bargaining agreement. Atkinson v. Sinclair Refining Co., supra.

The concept that all suits to vindicate individual employee rights arising from a collective bargaining contract should be excluded from the coverage of § 301 has thus not survived. The rights of individual employees concerning rates of pay and conditions of employment are a major focus of the negotiation and administration of collective bargaining contracts. Individual claims lie at the heart of the grievance and arbitration machinery, are to a large degree inevitably intertwined with union interests, and many times precipitate grave questions concerning the interpretation and enforceability of the collective bargaining contract on which they are based. To exclude these claims from the ambit of § 301 would stultify the congressional policy of having the administration of collective bargaining contracts accomplished under a uniform body of federal substantive law. This we are unwilling to do.

The same considerations foreclose respondent's reading of § 301 to exclude all suits brought by employees instead of unions. The word "between," it suggests, refers to "suits," not "contracts," and therefore only suits between unions and employers are within the purview of § 301. According to this view, suits by employees for breach of a collective bargaining contract would not arise under § 301, and would be governed by state law, if not preempted by Garmon, as this one would be,...

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