Amalgamated Association of Street, Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America v. Lockridge

Decision Date14 June 1971
Docket NumberNo. 76,76
Citation403 U.S. 274,91 S.Ct. 1909,29 L.Ed.2d 473
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 92 S.Ct. 24.


Respondent, who had been discharged from employment on the ground that he had forfeited his good standing membership in petitioner Union by dues arrearage and was therefore subject to termination under the union security clause in the applicable collective-bargaining agreement, brought suit in the state court against the Union and the employer (which was later dropped as a party). The two-count complaint charged (1) that the Union in suspending respondent from membership, which resulted in his loss of employment, acted wrongfully and deprived respondent of the employment with his employer that accrued to him and would accrue to him by reason of his employment, seniority, and experience, and (2) that by the suspension in violation of the Union's constitution and general laws (which constituted a contract between respondent as a union member and the Union) the the Union had breached its contract with respondent. The trial court, rejecting the Union's contention that the complaint charged the commission of an unfair labor practice within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), held that it had jurisdiction under International Ass'n of Machinists v. Gonzales, 356 U.S. 617, 78 S.Ct. 923, 2 L.Ed.2d 1018, concluded that there had been a breach of contract, for which it awarded money damages for lost wages, and ordered respondent restored to union membership. The Idaho Supreme Court, which also ordered respondent's seniority rights restored, affirmed by a divided vote, concluded that, although the Union's conduct 'did most certainly' violate §§ 8(b)(1)(A) and 8(b)(2) of the National Labor Relations Act and 'probably caused the employer to violate § 8(a)(3),' the state courts had jurisdiction because the complaint charged a breach of contract rather than an unfair labor practice; state courts in interpreting contract terms deal with different conduct than would the NLRB in deciding whether a union is discriminating against a member; and Gonzales, supra, constitutes an exception that permits state courts to exercise jurisdiction in a case like this. Held:

1. Respondent's complaint that the Union had wrongfully interfered with his employment relation involved a matter that was arguably protected by § 7 or prohibited by § 8 of the National Labor Relations Act and thus was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the NLRB. San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775. Pp. 285—291.

2. The reasons relied on for the assumption of state court jurisdiction in this case do not suffice to overcome the factors on which the pre-emption doctrine of Garmon was predicated, viz., the congressional purpose for effectuating a comprehensive national labor policy to be administered by an expert central agency rather than by a federalized judicial system; the necessity for carrying out that labor policy without specific congressional direction or judicial resolution on a case-by-case basis; and the avoidance of different treatment of the judicial power to deal with conduct that the Act protects from that which the Act prohibits. Pp. 285—297.

(a) Since pre-emption is designed to shield the system from conflicting regulation of conduct, the formal description of that conduct (here the characterization that a breach of contract was involved) is immaterial. Pp. 291-292.

(b) Since the conduct here was arguably protected by § 7 or prohibited by § 8 of the Act, the substantial interests sought to be protected by the pre-emption doctrine are directly involved, and the fact that the Union may have misconstrued its own rules in this case would not be treated by the NLRB as a defense to a claimed violation of § 8(b)(2). Pp. 292—293.

(c) The Gonzales case 'was focused on purely internal union matters' and the state courts only had to consider the union's constitution and bylaws, whereas respondent's case turned on the construction of the applicable union security clause, as to which federal concern is pervasive and its regulation complex. Pp. 293 297.

3. Respondent's contention that his action is excepted from the Garmon principle as being a suit for the enforcement of a collective-bargaining agreement is without merit since respondent specifically dropped the employer as a defendant, as is his alternative contention that his suit is essentially one to redress the Union's breach of its duty of fair representation, for to sustain such a claim respondent would have to prove 'arbitrary or bad faith conduct on the part of the union,' whereas the Idaho Supreme Court found only that the Union had misinterpreted the contract. Pp. 298—301.

93 Idaho 294, 460 P.2d 719, reversed.

Isaac N. Groner, Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

John L. Kilcullen, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775 (1959), established the general principle that the National Labor Relations Act pre-empts state and federal court jurisdiction to remedy conduct that is arguably protected or prohibited by the Act. That decision represents the watershed in this Court's continuing effort to mark the extent to which the maintenance of a general federal law of labor relations combined with a centralized administrative agency to implement its provisions necessarily supplants the operation of the more traditional legal processes in this field. We granted certiorari in this case, 397 U.S. 1006, 90 S.Ct. 1232, 25 L.Ed.2d 419 (1970), because the divided decision of the Idaho Supreme Court demonstrated the need for this Court to provide a fuller explication of the premises upon which Garmon rests and to consider the extent to which that decision must be taken to have modified or superseded this Court's earlier efforts to treat with the knotty pre-emption problem.


Respondent, Wilson P. Lockridge, has obtained in the Idaho courts a judgment for $32,678.56 against petitioners, Northwest Division 1055 of the Amalgamated Association of Street, Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America and its parent international association,1 on the grounds that, in procuring Lockridge's discharge from employment, pursuant to a valid union security clause in the applicable collective-bargaining agreement, the Union breached a contractual obligation embodied in the Union's constitution and bylaws.

From May 1943 until November 2, 1959, Lockridge was a member of petitioner Union and employed within the State of Idaho as a bus driver for Western Greyhound Lines, or its predecessor. At the time of Lockridge's dismissal from the Union, § 3(a) of the collective-bargaining agreement in effect between the Union and Greyhound provided:

'All present employees covered by this contract shall become members of the ASSOCIATION (Union) not later than thirty (30) days following its effective date and shall remain members as a condition precedent to continued employment. This section shall apply to newly hired employees thirty (30) days from the date of their employment with the COMPANY.' App. 88.

In addition, § 91 of the Union's Constitution and General Laws provided, in pertinent part, that:

'All dues * * * of the members of this Association are due and payable on the first day of each month for that month * * *. They must be paid by the fifteenth of the month in order to continue the member in good standing. * * * A member in arrears for his dues * * * after the fifteenth day of the month is not in good standing * * * and where a member allows his arrearage * * * to run into the second month before paying the same, he shall be debarred from benefits for one month after payment. Where a member allows his arrearage * * * to run over the last day of the second month without payment, he does thereby suspend himself from membership in this Association * * *. Where agreements with employing companies provide that members must be in continuous good financial standing, the member in arrears one month may be suspended from membership and removed from employment, in compliance with the terms of the agreement.' App. 91—92.

Prior to September 1959, Lockridge's dues had been deducted from his paycheck by Greyhound, pursuant to a checkoff arrangement. During that year, however, Lockridge and a few other employees were released at their request from the checkoff, and thereby became obligated to pay their dues directly to the Union's office in Portland, Oregon. On November 2, 1959, C. A. Bankhead, the treasurer and financial secretary of the union local, suspended Lockridge from membership on the sole ground that since respondent had not yet paid his October dues he was therefore in arrears contrary to § 91. Bankhead simultaneously notified Greyhound of this determination and requested that Lockridge be removed from employment. Greyhound promptly complied. Lockridge's wife received notice of the suspension from membership in early November, while her husband was on vacation, and on November 10, 1959, tendered Bankhead a check to cover respondent's dues for October and November, which Bankhead refused to accept.

This chain of events, combined with the disparity between the above-quoted terms of the collective-bargaining agreement and the union constitution and general laws generated this lawsuit. Lockridge has contended, and the Idaho courts have so held, that because he was less than two months behind in his payment of dues, respondent had not yet 'suspended himself from membership' within the meaning of the Union's rules, but instead had merely ceased to be a 'member in good standing.' And, because the...

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