International Association of Machinists v. Street

Citation81 S.Ct. 1784,367 U.S. 740,6 L.Ed.2d 1141
Decision Date19 June 1961
Docket NumberNo. 4,4
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Messrs. Lester P. Schoene and Milton Kramer, Washington, D.C., for appellants.

Mr. Sol. Gen. J. Lee Rankin, Washington, D.C., for the United States as intervenor.

Mr. E. Smythe Gambrell, Atlanta, Ga., for appellees.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

A group of labor organizations, appellants here, and the carriers comprising the Southern Railway System, entered into a union-shop agreement pursuant to the authority of § 2, Eleventh of the Railway Labor Act.1 The agre ment requires each of the appellees, employees of the carriers, as a condition of continued employment, to pay the appellant union representing his particular class of craft the dues, initiation fees and assessments uni- formly required as a condition of acquiring or retaining union membership. The appellees, in behalf of themselves and of employees similarly situated, brought this action in the Superior Court of Bibb County, Georgia, alleging that the money each was thus compelled to pay to hold his job was in substantial part used to finance the campaigns of candidates for federal and state offices whom he opposed, and to promote the propagation of political and economic doctrines, concepts and ideologies with which he disagreed. The Superior Court found that the allegations were fully proved2 and entered a judg- ment and decree enjoining the enforcement of the union-shop agreement on the ground that § 2, Eleventh violates the Federal Constitution to the extent that it permits such use by the appellants of the funds exacted from employees.3 The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed, 215 Ga. 27, 108 S.E.2d 796.4 On appeal to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(1), 28 U.S.C.A. § 1257(1), we noted probable jurisdiction, 361 U.S. 807, 80 S.Ct. 84, 4 L.Ed.2d 54.


The Hanson Decision.

We held in Railway Employes' Dept. v. Hanson, 351 U.S. 225, 76 S.Ct. 714, 100 L.Ed. 1112, that enactment of the provision of § 2, Eleventh authorizing union-shop agreements between interstate railroads and unions of their employees was a valid exercise by Congress of its powers under the Commerce Clause and did not violate the First Amendment or the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. It is argued that our disposition of the First Amendment claims in Hanson disposes of appellees' constitutional claims in this case adversely to their contentions. We disagree. As appears from its history, that case decided only that § 2, Eleventh, in authorizing collective agreements conditioning em- ployees' continued employment on payment of union dues, initiation fees and assessments, did not on its face impinge upon protected rights of association. The Nebraska Supreme Court in Hanson, upholding the employees' contention that the union shop could not constitutionally be enforced against them, stated that the union shop 'improperly burdens their right to work and infringes upon their freedoms. This is particularly true as to the latter because it is apparent that some of these labor organizations advocate political ideas, support political candidates, and advance national economic concepts which may or may not be of an employee's choice.' Hanson v. Union Pac. R. Co., 160 Neb. 669, 697, 71 N.W.2d 526, 546. That statement was made in the context of the argument that compelling an individual to become a member of an organization with political aspects is an infringement of the constitutional freedom of association, whatever may be the constitutionality of compulsory financial support of group activities outside the political process. The Nebraska court's reference to the support of political ideas, candidates, and economic concepts 'which may or may not be of an employee's choice' indicates that it was considering at most the question of compelled membership in an organization with political facets. In their brief in this Court the appellees in Hanson argued that First Amendment rights would be infringed by the enforcement of an agreement which would enable compulsorily collected funds to be used for political purposes. But there was nothing concrete in the record to show the extent to which the unions were actually spending money for political purposes and what these purposes were, nothing to show the extent to which union funds collected from members were being used to meet the costs of political activity and the mechanism by which this was done, and nothing to show h at the employees there involved opposed the use of their money for any particular political objective.5 In contrast, the present record contains detailed information on all these points, and specific findings were made in the courts below as to all of them. When it is recalled that the action in Hanson was brought before the union-shop agreement became effective and that the appellees never thereafter showed that the unions were actually engaged in furthering political causes with which they disagreed and that their money would be used to support such activities, it becomes obvious that this Court passed merely on the constitutional validity of § 2, Eleventh of the Railway Labor Act on its face, and not as applied to infringe the particularized constitutional rights of any individual. On such a record, the Court could not have done more, consistently with the restraints that govern us in the adjudication of constitutional questions and warn against their premature decision. We therefore reserved decision of the constitutional questions which the appellees present in this case. We said: 'It is argued that complusory membership will be used to impair freedom of expression. But that problem is not presented by this record. * * * if the exaction of dues, initiation fees, or assessments is used as a cover for forcing ideological conformity or other action in contravention of the Fifth Amendment, this judgment will not prejudice the decision in that case. For we pass narrowly on § 2, Eleventh of the Railway Labor Act. We only hold that the requirement for financial support of the collective-bargaining agency by all who receive the benefits of its work is within the power of Congress under the Commerce Clause and does not violate either the First or the Fifth Amendments.' Id., 351 U.S. at page 238, 76 S.Ct. at page 721. See also 351 U.S. at page 242, 76 S.Ct. at page 723 (concurring opinion). Thus all that was held in Hanson was that § 2, Eleventh was constitutional in its bare authorization of union-shop contracts requiring workers to give 'financial support' to unions legally authorized to act as their collective bargaining agents. We sustained this requirement—and only this requirement—embodied in the statutory authorization of agreements under which 'all employees shall become members of the labor organization representing their craft or class.' Clearly we passed neither upon forced association in any other aspect nor upon the issue of the use of exacted money for political causes which were opposed by the employment.

The record in this case is adequate squarely to present the constitutional questions reserved in Hanson. These are questions of the utmost gravity. However, the restraints against unnecessary constitutional decisions counsel against their determination unless we must conclude that Congress, in authorizing a union shop under § 2, Eleventh, also meant that the labor organization receiving an employee's money should be free, despite that employee's objection, to spend his money for political causes which he opposes. Federal statutes are to be so construed as to avoid serious doubt of their constitutionality. 'When the validit of an act of the Congress is drawn in question, and even if a serious doubt of constitutionality is raised, it is a cardinal principle that this Court will first ascertain whether a construction of the statute is fairly possible by which the question may be avoided.' Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22, 62, 52 S.Ct. 285, 296, 76 L.Ed. 598. Each named appellee in this action has made known to the union representing his craft of class his dissent from the use of his money for political causes which he opposes. We have therefore examined the legislative history of § 2, Eleventh in the context of the development of unionism in the railroad industry under the regulatory scheme created by the Railway Labor Act to determine whether a construction is 'fairly possible' which denies the authority to a union, over the employee's objection, to spend his money for political causes which he opposes. We conclude that such a construction is not only 'fairly possible' but entirely reasonable, and we therefore find it unnecessary to decide the correctness of the constitutional determinations made by the Georgia courts.


The Rail Unions and Union Security.

The history of union security in the railway industry is marked first, by a strong and long-standing tradition of voluntary unionism on the part of the standard rail unions;6 second, by the declaration in 1934 of a congressional policy of complete freedom of choice of employees to join or not to join a union; third, by the modification of the firm legislative policy against compulsion, but only as a specific response to the recognition of the expenses and burdens incurred by the unions in the administration of the complex scheme of the Railway Labor Act.

When the question of union security in the rail industry was first given detailed consideration by Congress in 19347 only one of the standard unions had security provisions in any of its contracts. The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen maintained a number of so-called 'percentage' contracts, requiring that in certain classes of employees represented by the Brotherhood, a specified percentage of employees had to belong to the union. These...

To continue reading

Request your trial
488 cases
  • Pasillas v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 24, 1984
    ...of the statute that forbids use of dues for political purposes which an employee opposes. (Machinists v. Street (1961) 367 U.S. 740, 768-769, 81 S.Ct. 1784, 1799-1800, 6 L.Ed.2d 1141; Railway Clerks v. Allen (1963) 373 U.S. 113, 118, 83 S.Ct. 1158, 1161, 10 L.Ed.2d 235.) Constitutional issu......
  • Delano Farms Co. v. Cal. Table Grape Comm'n, S226538
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 24, 2018
    ...‘promote[d] the cause which justified bringing the group together’ " ( id ., at p. 223, 97 S.Ct. 1782, quoting Machinists v. Street (1961) 367 U.S. 740, 778, 81 S.Ct. 1784, 6 L.Ed.2d 1141 (conc. opn. of Douglas, J.) ), i.e., collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance-adju......
  • Keller v. State Bar
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • February 23, 1989
    ...Relying on cases upholding the constitutionality of legislation authorizing the union shop (International Association of Machinists v. Street (1961) 367 U.S. 740, 81 S.Ct. 1784, 6 L.Ed.2d 1141; Railway Employees' Dept. v. Hanson (1956) 351 U.S. 225, 76 S.Ct. 714, 100 L.Ed. 1112), all justic......
  • Gay Law Students Assn. v. Pacific Tel. & Tel. Co.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 31, 1979
    ...Court cases from Railway Employees Dept. v. Hanson (1956) 351 U.S. 225, 76 S.Ct. 714, 100 L.Ed. 1112 to Machinists v. Street (1961), 367 U.S. 740, 749-750, 81 S.Ct. 1784, 6 L.Ed.2d 1141 to Lathrop v. Donohue (1961) 367 U.S. 820, 81 S.Ct. 1826, 6 L.Ed.2d 1191, demonstrating that these cases,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 books & journal articles
  • Table of Cases
    • United States
    • The Path of Constitutional Law Suplemmentary Materials
    • January 1, 2007
    ...2003), 1437 International Action Center v. United States, 365 F.3d 20 (D.C. Cir. 2004), 1624 International Ass'n of Machinists v. Street, 367 U.S. 740, 81 S.Ct. 1784, 6 L.Ed.2d 1141 (1961), 1409 International Shoe Co. v. State of Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945), 5......
  • Passive Avoidance.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 71 No. 3, March 2019
    • March 1, 2019
    ...v. Clark, 445 U.S. 23,27 (1980); see also, e.g., Schneider v. Smith, 390 U.S. 17, 26-27 (1968); Int'l Ass'n of Machinists v. Street, 367 U.S. 740, 749-50 (1961) (quoting Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22,62 (226.) See 134 S. Ct. 1710, 1718-22 (2014). (227.) Id. at 1725-26; see also U.S. CONST,......
  • Freedom of Speech and of The Press
    • United States
    • The Path of Constitutional Law Part IV: The Final Cause Of Constitutional Law Sub-Part Four: The First Amendment
    • January 1, 2007 part by Blackmun & Rehnquist, JJ., dissenting in part). [268] 431 U.S. 209, 222-37 (1977). [269] 351 U.S. 225, 233-38 (1956). [270] 367 U.S. 740, 746-50 (1961). [271] 496 U.S. 1, 9-17 (1990), citing, inter alia, Lathrop v. Donohue, 367 U.S. 820, 843 (1961) (plurality opinion of Brenn......
  • Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association - government speech: it's what's for dinner!
    • United States
    • South Dakota Law Review Vol. 53 No. 2, June 2008
    • June 22, 2008
    ...(160.) Abood, 431 U.S. at 218. (161.) Id. at 219 (citing Railway Employes' [sic], 351 U.S. at 233-35). (162.) Id. (163.) Id. (164.) 367 U.S. 740 (165.) Abood, 431 U.S. at 219 (citing Machinists, 367 U.S. at 744). The Court noted that there are several substantial reasons for having a single......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT