International Longshoremen Assn Local 1291 v. Philadelphia Marine Trade Association International Longshoremen Assn Local 1291 v. Philadelphia Marine Trade Association

Citation88 S.Ct. 201,389 U.S. 64,19 L.Ed.2d 236
Decision Date06 November 1967
Docket Number78,Nos. 34,s. 34
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Abraham E. Freedman, Philadelphia, Pa., for petitioners.

Francis A. Scanlan, Philadelphia, Pa., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases arise from a series of strikes along the Philadelphia waterfront. The petitioner union, representing the longshoremen involved in those strikes, had entered into a collective bargaining agreement in 1959 with the respondent, an association of employers in the Port of Philadelphia. The agreement included provisions for compensating longshoremen who are told after they report for duty that they will not be needed until the afternoon.1 The union construed those 'set-back' provi- sions to mean that, at least in some situations, longshoremen whose employment was postponed because of unfavorable weather conditions were entitled to four hours' pay; the association interpreted the provisions to guarantee no more than one hour's pay under such circumstances.

In April 1965, when this disagreement first became apparent, the parties followed the grievance procedure established by their collective bargaining contract and submitted the matter to an arbitrator for binding settlement. 2 On June 11 the arbitrator ruled that the association's reading of the set-back provisions was correct.3 In July, however, a group of union members refused to unload a ship unless their employer would promise four hours' pay for having set back their starting time from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The union sought to arbitrate the matter, but the association viewed the original arbitrator's decision as controlling and instituted proceedings in the District Court to enforce it. The complaint alleged that the union had refused 'to abide by the terms of the Arbitrator's Award * * * resulting in serious loss and damage to (the) Employer * * * and to the Port of Philadelphia.' This refusal, the complaint charged, constituted 'a breach of the applicable provisions of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the P.M.T.A. and the Union.' The complaint concluded with a prayer 'that the Court set an immediate hearing and enter an order enforcing the Arbitrator's Award, and that plaintiff may have such other and further relief as may be justified.'

Before the court could take any action, the employer had met the union's demands and the men had returned to work. The District Court heard evidence in order to 'put the facts on record' but concluded that the case was 'moot at the moment' and decided simply to 'keep the matter in hand as a judge (and) take jurisdiction . . . (i)f anything arises.' A similar situation did in fact arise—this time in September. Again, before the District Court could act, the work stoppage ended. The association nonetheless requested

'an order * * * to make it perfectly clear to the (union) that it is required to comply with the Arbitrator's award because we cannot operate in this port if we are going to be continually harassed by the Union in taking the position that they are not going to abide by an Arbitrator's award * * *.'

Counsel for the union rejected that characterization of its position. He submitted that the set-back disputes of July and September were distinguishable from the one which occurred in April, and that the arbitrator's deci- sion of June 11, 1965, resolving the April controversy, was not controlling.4 The District Court expressed no opinion on any of these contentions but simply entered a decree, dated September 15, 1965, requiring that the arbitrator's award 'issued on June 11, 1965, be specifically enforced.' The decree ordered the union 'to comply with and to abide by the said Award.' It contained no other command.5

When the District Court first indicated that it would issue such a decree, counsel for the union asked the court for clarification:

'Mr. Freedman: Well, what does it mean, Your Honor?

'The Court: That you will have to determine, what it means.

'Mr. Freedman: Well, I am asking. I have to give my client advice and I don't know what it means. I am asking Your Honor to tell me what it means. It doesn't—

'The Court: You handled the case. You know about it. * * *

'Mr. Freedman: I am telling you very frankly now I don't know what this order means, this proposed order. It says, 'Enforcement of the award.' Now, just what does it mean? * * * The arbitration * * * involved an interpretation of the contract under a specific set of facts * * *. Now, how do you enforce it? That case is over and done with. These are new cases. Your Honor is changing the contract of the parties when you foreclose them from going to arbitration on this point again.

'The Court: The Court has acted. This is the order.

'Mr. Freedman: Well, won't Your Honor tell me what it means?

'The Court: You read the English language and I do.'

Although the association had expressly told the District Court that it was 'not seeking to enjoin work sto- ppages,' counsel for the union asked whether the decree might nonetheless have that effect:

'Mr. Freedman: * * * Does this mean that the union cannot engage in a strike or refuse to work or picket?

'The Court: You know what the arbitration was about. You know the result of the arbitration.

'I have signed the order. Anything else to come before us?

'Mr. Freedman: I know, but Your Honor is leaving me in the sky. I don't know what to say to my client.

'Mr. Scanlan: No, I have nothing further, Your Honor.

'The Court: The hearing is closed.'

Thus, despite counsel's repeated requests, the District Judge steadfastly refused to explain the meaning of the order.

When further set-back disputes disrupted work throughout the Port of Philadelphia in late February 1966, the District Court issued a rule to show cause why the union and its officers should not be held in contempt for violating the order of September 15. Throughout the contempt hearing held on March 1, 1966, counsel for the union sought without success to determine precisely what acts by the union, its officers, or its members were alleged to have violated the court's order. 'We have a right to know,' he said, 'what it is that we are being accused of * * *.' The District Judge refused to comment. 6 At some points in the proceedings, it appeared that the alleged violation consisted of the work stoppage during the last few days of February; but at other times the inquiry focused upon the union's request for a grievance meeting on February 28 to discuss the latest set-back problem. 'Why,' counsel for the association asked, did the union seek 'to rearbitrate the award * * *?' As the contempt hearing drew to a close, counsel for the association suggested yet another possibility—that union officials violated the District Court's decree when they 'castigated' the arbitrator's award and failed to 'tell (the men) that their work stoppage was unauthorized' under the ward entered some eight months earlier. '(I)n failing to do that,' counsel said, 'they have shown that they do not intend to abide by the arbitrator's award which was the essence of the order which Your Honor issued * * *.'

Invited to make a closing argument, counsel for the union said:

'I really don't know what to address myself to because I don't know what it is we are being charged with. Are we being charged because we want to arbitrate or because we asked to invoke the provisions or are we being charged for something else? * * *

'I may say to Your Honor that we have been shooting in the dark here now, trying to guess at what may be an issue * * *.'

But the District Judge evidently felt no need for explanation. After a short recess, the court announced that the dock strike was 'illegal * * * under the circumstances,' and that the union had 'violated the order of this Court and therefore shall be adjudged in civil contempt.' After extending the contempt holding to 'the officers and the men who participated,' the court fined the union $100,000 per day, retroactive to 2 p.m., March 1, 1966, when the contempt hearing began, and every day thereafter 'as long as the order of this Court is violated.' The Court of Appeals affirmed both the original decree of the District Court and its subsequent contempt order,7 and we granted certiorari to consider the questions presented by these two judgments.8

Much of the argument in the Court of Appeals and in this Court has centered upon the District Court's power to issue the order of September 15, 1965.9 The union maintains that the order was an injunction against work stoppages and points out that in Sinclair Refining Co. v. Atkinson, 370 U.S. 195, 82 S.Ct. 1328, 8 L.Ed.2d 440, we held that, because of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, a federal court cannot enjoin a work stoppage even when the applicable collective bargaining agreement contains a no-strike clause. The association, on the other hand, argues that the order no more than enforced an arbitrator's award, and points out that in Textile Workers Union of America v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 77 S.Ct. 912, 1 L.Ed.2d 972, we held that, under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, a federal court may grant equitable relief to enforce an agreement to arbitrate. The parties have strenuously argued the applicability of Sinclair and Lincoln Mills to the facts before us. We do not, however, reach the underlying questions of federal labor law these arguments present. For whatever power the District Court might have possessed under the circumstances disclosed by this record, the conclusion is inescapable that the decree which the court in fact entered was too vague to be sustained as a valid exercise of federal judicial authority.

On its face, the decree appears merely to...

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