Tennessee Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123

Decision Date27 July 1943
Docket NumberNo. 10278.,10278.
PartiesTENNESSEE COAL, IRON & RAILROAD CO. v. MUSCODA LOCAL NO. 123 et al. SLOSS-SHEFFIELD STEEL & IRON CO. v. SLOSS RED ORE LOCAL NO. 109 et al. REPUBLIC STEEL CORPORATION v. RAIMUND LOCAL NO. 121 et al.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Borden Burr, E. L. All, S. M. Bronaugh, and Bernard A. Monaghan, all of Birmingham, Ala., for appellants.

Crampton Harris and Ralph W. Quinn, both of Birmingham, Ala., and J. A. Lipscomb, of Bessemer, Ala., for appellees.

Irving J. Levy, Associate Sol., Bessie Margolin, and Mortimer B. Wolf, Asst. Sol., U. S. Department of Labor, all of Washington, D. C., and William A. Lowe and Jerome A. Cooper, Regional Attys., U. S. Department of Labor, both of Birmingham, Ala., for administrator of Wage & Hour Division, U. S. Department of Labor, appellee.

Before SIBLEY, HOLMES, and McCORD, Circuit Judges.

HOLMES, Circuit Judge.

These appeals are from a judgment declaring that the working time of underground iron-ore mining employees, comprising the work-week of such employees under Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938,1 includes time spent by them on the surface in checking in and out, obtaining and returning tools, lamps, and carbide, and time spent underground from the time they are required to report at the portal of the mine until they emerge therefrom at the end of their shift, less the fixed lunch period during which the employees are relieved of all duties; and declaring further that, since such aggregate working time exceeded the maximum work-week provided by said Act, appellants violated the Act in not compensating the employees as therein provided.

Appellants, corporations principally engaged in mining iron ore, filed separate civil actions under the Declaratory Judgments Act,2 which were consolidated for trial, and as to which a single judgment was entered without objection. The actual controversy underlying federal jurisdiction related only to the hours of employment during the time intervening between the effective date of the Act, October 24, 1938, and the dates the respective petitions were filed in April, 1941. Upon a pre-trial conference it was agreed that the primary issue was what constituted the working time that made up the work-week of the underground ore-mining employees within the meaning of Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Section 7 of the Act requires every employer to pay overtime wages to any employee that is engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce for a work-week longer than 44 hours between October 24, 1938, and October 23, 1939, longer than 42 hours between October 24, 1939, and October 23, 1940, and longer than 40 hours thereafter. The Act defines the word "employ" to include "to suffer or permit to work." § 3. It is without dispute that, during the period involved in this suit, each employee represented by appellees was engaged in the production of goods for commerce, and that each appellant required its underground employees to work 40 hours each week at their regular working places in the depths of the mine. Whether, in addition thereto, such employees were entitled under the Act to have included in the computation of their work-week the time consumed each week in travelling from the portal of the mine to their regular working places, and in returning therefrom to the portal at the end of the shift, plus the aggregate of the time consumed each week by such employees in checking in and out and obtaining and returning lamps, carbide, and tools on the surface, or whether they were entitled to have any part of such time included in the working time comprising the work-week, is the precise question for decision.

The Act was drafted for application on a national scale, and it does not undertake to define what is working time in any particular industry or class of industries. What constitutes working time is a question of fact depending upon the particular circumstances, and is a matter for the determination of the courts in controverted cases. In the great majority of instances no question of this nature will arise, but in doubtful cases such as this the issue must be determined in accordance with common sense and the general concept of work or employment; and, as in other cases, the appellate court is controlled by the rule that the finding of the trial court upon decisive questions of fact must be upheld unless it is clearly erroneous.

There is no real dispute as to the facts upon which the travel-time question turns, but different inferences as to the working time may fairly and reasonably be drawn from these facts. The parties on both sides of this controversy petitioned the court below to decide the controverted issues between them, i. e., to find the facts, declare the law, and enter a declaratory judgment accordingly. The jurisdiction of the court below and of this court having been rightfully invoked, we are compelled to decide the issue as to work-time without regard to what may be the result of an accounting between the parties. Courts should not consider the consequences of their legal decisions, except in trying to ascertain the legislative intent in enacting a statute of doubtful meaning; and, whatever may be said as to inferences from the facts, the law of this case is not doubtful. Moreover, no one can say at this time what will be the result of an accounting to be had in the future. We must limit our decision to the issues presented.

At the beginning of the shift the underground employees were required to report at the portal of the mine at a specified time, there to deposit their identification check at the tally office and to board the conveyance provided by the company for transportation to a man-unloading station inside the mine. The men rode in skips or ore cars, which were usually coated with grime of the mine, and assumed a crouched position to minimize the hazard of hitting their skulls against the low tunnel ceiling. Upon reaching the underground station the men left the skip and walked the remaining distance to their respective working places. They were obliged to exercise caution at all times to avoid contact with uninsulated electric wires and other hazards, and carried several pounds of equipment to be used in their work during the day. The men frequently were given instructions as to when and how they should perform their respective duties before the skips left the portal of the mine, and at all times during the descent they were subject to company rules and under company control. The return to the portal at the end of the shift was accomplished in the same manner and under the same conditions.

After considering these and other facts of a similar nature, the court below found as a fact that all of the time thus consumed was work-time and should have been included in the computation of the employees' work-week.3 Since this travel-time was spent on the employer's premises and subject to its directions, since it exacted mental and physical exertion from the employees under conditions both hazardous and unhealthful, and since it was a course of action pursued solely as a necessary incident to the prosecution of the employer's business, we are unable to say that this finding of the court below was clearly erroneous.

Appellants contend that the industrial history and contractual course of dealing between the parties showed conclusively that travel-time in these iron-ore mines was not working time. It may be conceded, arguendo, that for twenty-five years prior to 1938 iron-ore miners had not been compensated for travel-time, and that even after 1938 the parties to this suit had entered into contracts whereby it was agreed that no wages should be paid for travel-time; but the very purpose of the Fair Labor Standards Act was to eliminate labor conditions detrimental to the general welfare of workers, and the remedial machinery set up to accomplish that purpose regulated hours of work and rates of pay. Industrial custom does not warrant the continuation of abuses that the Act was created to rectify; and no contractual agreement that compensation should not be paid for travel-time is valid if in conflict with the Act. The record discloses that this agreement was not a simple statement of admitted fact, but was a compromise adjustment of real differences reached by way of negotiation and concession, and that the workers, though vainly, insisted upon their right to be paid for travel-time.

With respect to time spent by employees checking in and out and procuring and returning tools, lamps, and carbide, the case stands differently. It appears that the workers were obliged to furnish their own tools, lamps, and carbide, and were free to exercise their own judgment as to when, where, and how they should procure their equipment. The company merely instructed them as to the...

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