Carbon Fuel Company v. United Mine Workers of America

Decision Date10 December 1979
Docket NumberNo. 78-1183,78-1183
Citation62 L.Ed.2d 394,444 U.S. 212,100 S.Ct. 410
PartiesCARBON FUEL COMPANY, Petitioner, v. UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondent local labor unions engaged in a number of unauthorized or "wildcat" strikes at petitioner employer's coal mines in violation of collective-bargaining agreements between petitioner and respondent international union (UMWA). The efforts of respondent regional subdivision (District 17) of UMWA to persuade the miners not to strike and to return to work were uniformly unsuccessful. Petitioner subsequently brought suit against respondents in Federal District Court pursuant to § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, seeking injunctive relief and damages, and judgments were rendered against all respondents. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part the judgments against the local unions but vacated the judgments against UMWA and District 17, holding that the question was not whether UMWA or District 17 did everything they might have done to prevent the strikes or bring about their termination, but whether they instigated, supported, ratified, or encouraged the strikes, and that there was no evidence of the latter conduct.

Held: Neither UMWA nor District 17 can be held liable in damages under the circumstances of this case. No obligation on their part to use all reasonable means to prevent and end unauthorized strikes can be implied in law either because the collective-bargaining agreements contained a provision for arbitration of disputes or because the agreements provided that the parties "agree and affirm that they will maintain the integrity of this contract." Pp. 216-222.

(a) The legislative history of § 301 is clear that Congress limited a union's responsibility for strikes in breach of contract to cases where the union may be found responsible according to the common-law rule of agency, and here petitioner failed to prove agency as required by §§ 301(b) and (e). Pp. 216-218.

(b) The bargaining history of the collective-bargaining agreements clearly shows that, whatever the integrity clause of the agreements may mean, the parties purposely decided not to impose on the union an obligation to take disciplinary or other actions to get unauthorized strikers back to work. Pp. 218-222.

582 F.2d 1346, affirmed.

David D. Johnson, Charleston, W. Va., for petitioner.

Harrison Combs, Washington, D. C., for respondents.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question for decision in this case is whether an international union, which neither instigates, supports, ratifies, nor encourages "wildcat" strikes engaged in by local unions in violation of a collective-bargaining agreement, may be held liable in damages to an affected employer if the union did not use all reasonable means available to it to prevent the strikes or bring about their termination.

Petitioner, Carbon Fuel Co., and respondent United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), were parties to the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreements of 1968 and 1971, collective-bargaining agreements covering, inter alia, workers at petitioner's several coal mines in southern West Virginia. Forty-eight unauthorized or "wildcat" strikes were engaged in by three local unions at petitioner's mines from 1969 to 1973. Efforts of District 17, a regional subdivision of UMWA, to persuade the miners not to strike and to return to work were uniformly unsuccessful.1

Petitioner brought this suit pursuant to § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (Taft-Hartley Act), 61 Stat. 156, 29 U.S.C. § 185, in the District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. UMWA, District 17, and the three local unions were named defendants. The complaint sought injunctive relief 2 and damages, alleging that the strikes were in violation of the two collective-bargaining agreements. The case was tried before a jury. The trial judge found as a matter of law that the strikes violated the agreements. The trial judge also instructed the jury, over objection of UMWA and District 17, that those defendants might be found liable in damages to petitioner "[i]f you find from a preponderance of the evidence that the International and District Unions did not use all of the reasonable means available to them to prevent work stoppages or strikes from occurring in violation of the contract, or to terminate any such work stoppages or strikes after they began. . . ." App.197a. Verdicts in different amounts were returned against UMWA, District 17, and the three local unions.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated in part the judgments against the three local unions but otherwise affirmed those judgments.3 However, the Court of Appeals vacated the judgments against UMWA and District 17, and remanded to the District Court with directions to dismiss the case against those defendants. 582 F.2d 1346 (1978). The court held that this result was required by its earlier decision in United Construction Workers v. Haislip Baking Co., 223 F.2d 872 (1955). 582 F.2d, at 1351. Haislip held as follows, 223 F.2d, at 877-878:

"We have never held . . . that there is any responsibility on the part of a union for a strike with which it has had nothing to do; and there manifestly is no such liability. If [UMWA or District 17] had done nothing when [petitioner] called on them to help get the men back to work, there would have been no liability on the part of [UMWA or District 17]. This being true, defendants were not rendered liable by the efforts which [District 17] made to bring about an adjustment of the difficulty, even if they did not do everything that they might have done to that end. The question is not whether they did everything they might have done, but whether they adopted, encouraged or prolonged the continuance of the strike. There is no evidence of any sort that they did."

The Court of Appeals recognized that its conclusion was in conflict with the holding of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Eazor Express, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 520 F.2d 951 (1975) (union liable under no-strike clause for failure to use best efforts to end unauthorized strikes).4 We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict. 440 U.S. 957, 99 S.Ct. 1495, 59 L.Ed.2d 769 (1979). We affirm.

Petitioner argues that the obligation of UMWA and District 17 to use all reasonable means to prevent and end unauthorized strikes in violation of the collective-bargaining agreement is either (a) implied in law because the agreement contains an arbitration provision or (b) in any event is to be implied from the provision of the agreement that the parties "agree and affirm that they will maintain the integrity of this contract. . . ." We find no merit in either argument.

A.

Insofar as petitioner's argument relies on the history of § 301 and the congressional plan to prevent and remedy strikes in breach of contract by encouraging arbitration, the legislative history is clear that Congress limited the responsibility of unions for strikes in breach of contract to cases when the union may be found responsible according to the common-law rule of agency.5

Section 301(a) makes collective-bargaining agreements judicially enforceable. Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 77 S.Ct. 912, 1 L.Ed.2d 972 (1957). At the same time, Congress gave careful attention to the problem of strikes during the term of a collective-bargaining agreement, but stopped short of imposing liability upon a union for strikes not authorized, participated in, or ratified by it. Rather, to effectuate § 301(a), the Taft-Hartley Act provided in § 301(b) that a union "shall be bound by the acts of its agents," and in § 301(e) provided that the common law of agency shall govern "in determining whether any person is acting as an 'agent' of another person." In explaining § 301(e) Senator Taft stated, 93 Cong.Rec. 4022 (1947):

"If the wife of a man who is working at a plant receives a lot of telephone messages, very likely it cannot be proved that they came from the union. There is no case then. There must be legal proof of agency in the case of unions as in the case of corporations. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

Congress' reason for adopting the common-law agency test, and applying to unions the common-law doctrine of respondeat superior, follows the lead of Mr. Chief Justice Taft in Coronado Coal Co. v. Mine Workers, 268 U.S. 295, 304, 45 S.Ct. 551, 554, 69 L.Ed. 963 (1925), that to find the union liable "it must be clearly shown . . . that what was done was done by their agents in accordance with their fundamental agreement of association." The common-law agency test replaced the very loose test of responsibility incorporated in § 2(2) of the original 1935 National Labor Relations Act under which the term "employer" included "any person acting in the interest of an employer . . . ." 49 Stat. 450.6

Petitioner makes the distinct argument that we should hold the International liable for its own failure to respond to the locals' strike. In the face of Congress' clear statement of the limits of an international union's legal responsibility for the acts of one of its local unions, it would be anomalous to hold that an international is nonetheless liable for its failure to take certain steps in response to actions of the local. Such a rule would pierce the shield that Congress took such care to construct. Accordingly, we reject petitioner's suggestion that Congress' policy in favor of arbitration extends to imposing an obligation on the respondents, which agreed to arbitrate grievances, to use reasonable means to try to control the locals' actions in contravention of that agreement.

The Court of Appeals stated: "There was no evidence presented in the district court that either the District or International Union instigated, supported, ratified, or encouraged any of the work stoppages . . . ." 582 F.2d, at 1351....

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