Garner v. Teamsters, Chauffeurs and Helpers Local Union No 776

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation346 U.S. 485,74 S.Ct. 161,98 L.Ed. 228
Docket NumberNo. 56,56
Decision Date14 December 1953

Mr. James H. Booser, Harrisburg, Pa., for petitioners.

Mr. Sidney G. Handler, Harrisburg, Pa., for respondents.

Mr. Justice JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

A decision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has deprived petitioners of as injunction which a lower equity court of the State had granted to prohibit certain picketing by respondent labor union.1 The court below reviewed the national Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 141 et seq., and our applicable decisions, and concluded: 'In our opinion such provisions for a comprehensive remedy precluded any State action by way of a different or additional remedy for the correction of the identical grievance.' The correctness of this ruling is the sole issue here. We granted certiorari.2

Petitioners were engaged in the trucking business and had twenty-four employees, four of whom were members of respondent union. The trucking operations formed a link to an interstate railroad. No controversy, labor dispute or strike was in progress, and at no time had petitioners objected to their employees joining the union. Respondents, however, placed rotating pickets, two at a time, at petitioners' loading platform. None were employees of petitioners. They carried signs reading 'Local 776 Teamsters Union (A.F. of L.) wants Employees of Central Storage & Transfer Co. to join them to gain union wages, hours and working conditions.' Picketing was orderly and paceful, but drivers for other carriers refused to cross this picket line and, as most of petitioners' interchange of freight was with unionized concerns, their business fell of as much as 95%. The courts below found that respondents' purpose in picketing was to coerce petitioners into compelling or influencing their employees to join the union.

The equity court held that respondents' conduct violated the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act.3 The Supreme Court of the Commonwealth held, quite correctly, we think, that petitioners' grievance fell within the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board to prevent unfair labor practices. It therefore inferred that state remedies were precluded. The dissenting judge thought the federal remedy inadequate, as a practical matter, because the slow administrative processes of the National Labor Relations Board could not prevent imminent and irreparable damage to petitioners. Since our decisions have not specifically denied the power of state courts to enjoin such injury, he thought the injunction should be sustained.

The national Labor Management Relations Act, as we have before pointed out, 4 leaves much to the states, though Congress has refrained from telling us how much. We must spell out from conflicting indications of congressional will the area in which state action is still permissible.

This is not an instance of injurious conduct which the National Labor Relations Board is without express power to prevent and which therefore either is 'governable by the state or it is entirely ungoverned.' In such cases we have declined to find an implied exclusion of state powers. International Union, U.A.W., A.F. of L., Local 232 v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 336 U.S. 245, 254, 69 S.Ct. 516, 521, 93 L.Ed. 651. Nor is this a case of mass picketing, threatening of employees, obstructing streets and highways, or picketing homes. We have held that the state still may exercise 'its historic powers over such traditionally local matters as public safety and order and the use of streets and highways.' Allen-Bradley Local No. 1111, United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 315 U.S. 740, 749, 62 S.Ct. 820, 825, 86 L.Ed. 1154. Nothing suggests that the activity enjoined threatened a probable breach of the state's peace or would call for extraordinary police measures by state or city authority. Nor is there any suggestion that respondents' plea of federal jurisdiction and pre-emption was frivolous and dilatory, or that the federal Board would decline to exercise its powers once its jurisdiction was invoked.

Congress has taken in hand this particular type of controversy where it affects interstate commerce. In language almost identical to parts of the Pennsylvania statute, it has forbidden labor unions to exert certain types of coercion on employees through the medium of the employer.5 It is not necessary or appropriate for us to surmise how the National Labor Relations Board might have decided this controversy had petitioners presented it to that body. The power and duty of primary decision lies with the Board, not with us. But it is clear that the Board ws vested with power to entertain petitioners' grievance, to issue its own complaint against respondents and, pending final hearing, to seek from the United States District Court an injunction to prevent irreparable injury to petitioners while their case was being considered.6 The question then is whether the State, through its courts, may adjudge the same controversy and extend its own form of relief.

Congress did not merely lay down a substantive rule of law to be enforced by any tribunal competent to apply law generally to the parties. It went on to confide primary interpretation and application of its rules to a specific and specially constituted tribunal and prescribed a particular procedure for investigation, complaint and notice, and hearing and decision, including judicial relief pending a final administrative order. Congress evidently considered that centralized administration of specially designed procedures was necessary to obtain uniform application of its substantive rules and to avoid these diversities and conflicts likely to result from a variety of local procedures and attitudes toward labor controversies. Indeed, Pennsylvania passed a statute the same year as its labor relations Act reciting abuses of the injunction in labor litigations attributable more to procedure and usage than to substantive rules.7 Amulti- plicity of tribunals and a diversity of procedures are quite as apt to produce incompatible or conflicting adjudications as are different rules of substantive law. The same reasoning which prohibits federal courts from intervening in such cases, except by way of review or on application of the federal Board, precludes state courts from doing so. Cf. Myers v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 303 U.S. 41, 58 S.Ct. 459, 82 L.Ed. 638; Amalgamated Utility Workers v. Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, 309 U.S. 261, 60 S.Ct. 561, 84 L.Ed. 738. And the reasons for excluding state administrative bodies from assuming control of matters expressly placed within the competence of the federal Board also exclude state courts from like action. Cf. Bethlehem Steel Co. v. New York State Labor Relations Board, 330 U.S. 767, 67 S.Ct. 1026, 91 L.Ed. 1234.

This case would warrant little further discussion except for a persuasively presented argument that the National Labor Relations Board enforces only a public right on behalf of the public interest, while state equity powers are invoked by a private party to protect a private right. The public right, it is said, is so distinct and dissimilar from the private right that federal occupancy of one field does not debar a state from continuing to exercise its conventional equity powers over the other. Support for this view is accumulated from the Act itself, its legislative history, some judicial expression, and professional commentary.8

It is true that the Act's preamble emphasizes the predominance of a public interest over private rights of either party to industrial strife, and declares its purpose to prescribe practices on the part of labor and management which are inimical to the general welfare, and to protect the rights of the public in connection with labor disputes affecting commerce.9 And some language of the Act seems to contemplate a remedy to supplement, rather than to substitute for, existing ones.10

Also, the Senate Committee, reporting the bill, said:

'After a careful consideration of the evidence and proposals before us, the committee has concluded that five specific practices by labor organizations and their agents, affecting commerce, should be defined as unfair labor practices. Because of the nature of certain of these practices, especially jurisdictional disputes, and secondary boycotts and strikes for specifically defined objectives, the committee is convinced that additional procedures must be made available under the National Labor Relations Act in order adequately to protect the public welfare which is inextricably involved in labor disputes.

'* * * Hence we have provided that the Board, acting in the public interest and not in vindication of purely private rights, may seek injunctive relief in the case of all types of unfair labor practices and that it shall also seek such relief in the case of strikes and boycotts defined as unfair labor practices * * *'11

We are also reminded that this Court, in Amalgamated Utility Workers v. Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, supra, 309 U.S. at 265, 60 S.Ct. at page 563, recognized this distinction by saying, 'The Board as a public agency acting in the public interest, not any private person or group, not any employee or group of employees, is chosen as the instrument to assure protection from the described unfair conduct in order to remove obstructions to interstate commerce.'12 Various statements may also be cited in which the Board would appear to have recognized a distinction between public and private rights or interest in labor controversies.13

It often is convenient to describe particular claims as invoking public or private rights, and this handy classification is doubtless valid for some purposes. But usually the real significance and legal...

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