Lincoln Federal Labor Union No 19129, American Federation of Labor v. Northwestern Iron Metal Co Whitaker v. State of North Carolina

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation6 A.L.R.2d 473,335 U.S. 525,93 L.Ed. 212,69 S.Ct. 251
Docket NumberNos. 47 and 34,s. 47 and 34
Decision Date03 January 1949

Appeals from the Supreme Courts of the States of Nebraska and North carolina.

Mr. Herbert S. Thatcher, of Washington, D.C., for appellants Lincoln Federal Labor Union No. 19129 et al.

Mr. George Pennell, of Asheville, N.C., for appellants Whitaker and others.

Mr. Irving Hill, of Beverly Hills, Cal., for appellee Northwestern Iron & Metal Co.

Mr. Edson Smith, of Omaha, Neb., for appellee Nebraska Small Business Men's Assn.

Mr. Robert A. Nelson, of Lincoln, Neb., for appellee, State of Nebraska.

Mr. Ralph Moody, of Raleigh, N.C., for appellee State of North Carolina.

[Argument of Counsel from page 526 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under employment practices in the United States, employers have sometimes limited work opportunities to members of unions, sometimes to non-union members, and at other times have employed and kept their workers without regard to whether they were or were not members of a union. Employers are commanded to follow this latter employment practice in the states of North Carolina and Nebraska. A North Carolina statute and a Nebraska constitutional amendment1 provide that no person in those states shall be denied an opportunity to obtain or retain employment because he is or is not a member of a labor organization. To enforce this policy North Carolina and Nebraska employers are also forbidden to enter into contracts or agreements obligating themselves to exclude persons from employment because they are or are not labor union members.2

These state laws were given timely challenge in North Carolina and Nebraska courts on the ground that insofar as they attempt to protect non-union members from discrimination, the laws are in violation of rights guaranteed employers, unions, and their members by the United States Constitution.3 The state laws were challenged as violations of the right of freedom of speech, of assembly and of petition guaranteed unions and their members by 'the First Amendment and protected against invasion by the state under the Fourteenth Amendment.' It was further contended that the state laws impaired the obligations of existing contracts in violation of Art. I, § 10, of the United States Constitution and deprived the appellant unions and employers of equal protection and due process of law guaranteed against state invasion by the Fourteenth Amendment. All of these contentions were rejected by the Stat Supreme Courts4 and the cases are here on appeal under § 237 of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 344, 28 U.S.C.A. § 344 (now § 1257). The substantial identity of the questions raised in the two cases prompted us to set them for argument together and for the same reason we now consider the cases in a single opinion.

First. It is contended that these state laws abridge the freedom of speech and the opportunities of unions and their members 'peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a refress of grievances.'5 Under the state policy adopted by these laws, employers must, other considerations being equal, give equal opportunities for remunerative work to union and non-union members without discrimination against either. In order to achieve this objective of equal opportunity for the two groups, employers are forbidden to make contracts which would obligate them to hire to keep none but union members. Nothing in the language of the laws indicates a purpose to prohibit speech, assembly, or petition. Precisely what these state laws do is to forbid employers acting alone or in concert with labor organizations deliberately to restrict employment to none but union members.

It is difficult to see how enforcement of this state policy could infringe the freedom of speech of anyone, or deny to anyone the right to assemble or to petition for a redress of grievances. And appellants do not contend that the laws expressly forbid the full exercise of those rights by unions or union members. Their contention is that these state laws indirectly infringe their constitutional rights of speech, assembly, and petition. While the basis of this contention is not entirely clear, it seems to rest on this line of reasoning: The right of unions and union members to demand that no non-union members work along with union members is 'indispensable to the right of self organization and the association of workers into unions'; without a right of union members to refuse to work with non-union members, there are 'no means of eliminating the competition of the non-union worker'; since, the reasoning continues, a 'closed shop' is indispensable to achievement of sufficient union membership to put unions and employers on a full equality for collective bargaining, a closed shop is consequently 'an indispensable concomitant' of 'the right o employees to assemble into and associate together through labor organizations. * * *' Justification for such an expansive construction of the right to speak, assemble and petition is then rested in part on appellants' assertion 'that the right to work as a non-unionist is in no way equivalent to or the parallel of the right to work as a union member; that there exists no constitutional right to work as a non-unionist on the one hand while the right to maintain employment free from discrimination because of union membership is constitutionally protected.' Cf. Wallace Corporation v. National Labor Relations Board, 323 U.S. 248, 65 S.Ct. 238, 89 L.Ed. 216.

We deem it unnecessary to elaborate the numerous reasons for our rejection of this contention of appellants. Nor need we appraise or analyze with particularity the rather startling ideas suggested to support some of the premises on which appellants' conclusions rest. There cannot be wrung from a constitutional right of workers to assemble to discuss improvement of their own working standards, a further constitutional right to drive from remunerative employment all other persons who will not or can not, participate in union assemblies. The constitutional right of workers to assemble, to discuss and formulate plans for furthering their own self interest in jobs cannot be construed as a constitutional guarantee that none shall get and hold jobs except those who will join in the assembly or will agree to abide by the assembly's plans. For where conduct affects the interests of other individuals and the general public, the legality of that conduct must be measured by whether the conduct donforms to valid law, even though the conduct is engaged in pursuant to plans of an assembly.

Second. There is a suggestion though not elaborated in briefs that these state laws conflict with Art. I, § 10, of the United States Constitution, insofar as they impair the obligation of contracts made prior to their enactment. That this contention is without merit is now too clearly established to require discussion. See Home Bldg. & Loan Ass'n v. Blaisdell, 290 U.S. 398, 436—439, 54 S.Ct. 231, 239, 240, 78 L.Ed. 413, 88 A.L.R. 1481, and cases there cited. And also Veix v. Sixth Ward Building & Loan Ass'n, 310 U.S. 32, 38, 60 S.Ct. 792, 794, 84 L.Ed. 1061; East New York Savings Bank v. Hahn, 326 U.S. 230, 232, 66 S.Ct. 69, 70, 90 L.Ed. 34, 160 A.L.R. 1279.

Third. It is contended that the North Carolina and Nebraska laws deny unions and their members equal protection of the laws and thus offend the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because the outlawed contracts are a useful incentive to the growth of union membership, it is said that these laws weaken the bargaining power of unions and correspondingly strengthen the power of employers. This may be true. But there are other matters to be considered. The state laws also make it impossible for an employer to make contracts with company unions which obligate the employer to refuse jobs to union members. In this respect, these state laws protect the employment opportunities of members of independent unions. See Wallace Corporation v. National Labor Relations Board, supra. This circumstance alone, without regard to others that need not be mentioned, is sufficient to support the state laws against a charge that they deny equal protection to unions as against employers and non-union workers.

It is also argued that the state laws do not provide protection for union members equal to that provided for non-union members. But in identical language these state laws forbid employers to discriminate against union and non-union members. Nebraska and North Carolina thus command equal employment opportunities for both groups of workers. It is precisely because these state laws command equal opportunities for both groups that appellants argue that the constitutionally protected rights of assembly and due process have been violated. For the constitutional protect ons surrounding these rights are relied on by appellants to support a contention that the Federal Constitution guarantees greater employment rights to union members than to non-union members. This claim of appellants is itself a refutation of the contention that the Nebraska and North Carolina laws fail to afford protection to union members equal to the protection afforded non-union workers.

Fourth. It is contended that these state laws deprive appellants of their liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Appellants argue that the laws are specifically designed to deprive all persons within the two states of 'liberty' (1) to refuse to hire or retain any person in employment because he is or is not a union member, and (2) to make a contract or agreement to engage in such employment discrimination against union or non-union members.

Much of appellants' argument here seeks to...

To continue reading

Request your trial
211 cases
  • Sei Fujii v. State
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 17, 1952
    ...and industrial conditions which they regard as offensive to the public welfare.' (Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern I. & M. Co., 335 U.S. 525, 536-537 (69 S.Ct. 251, 93 L.Ed. 212, 6 A.L.R.2d "Despite evidence to the contrary, respondents see no evil to be corrected by this legisla......
  • Messner v. Journeymen Barbers, Hairdressers and Cosmetologists, Intern. Union of America, Local 256
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 7, 1960
    ...Union No. 19129 v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co. (1948), 149 Neb. 507 (31 N.W.2d 477), affirmed, Lincoln Union v. Northwestern Co. (1949), 335 U.S. 525, 69 S.Ct. 251, 93 L.Ed. Nevada: Stats.1953, ch. 1; Building Trades Council etc. v. Bonito (1955), 71 Nev. 84 (280 P.2d 295, 297(3)). North ......
  • Norfolk Bus. Dist. v. HUD, Civil Action No. 2:96cv308.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • June 12, 1996
    ...113 S.Ct. 2637, 2642, 125 L.Ed.2d 257 (1993) (citations omitted); Lincoln Federal Labor Union No. 19129 v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525, 536, 69 S.Ct. 251, 257, 93 L.Ed. 212 (1949). These decisions are not subject to courtroom fact finding, and in fact, may even be supported ......
  • State Bd. of Dry Cleaners v. Thrift-D-Lux Cleaners, THRIFT-D-LUX
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • March 10, 1953 and industrial conditions which they regard as offensive to the public welfare.' Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Co., 335 U.S. 525, 536-537, 69 S.Ct. 251, 257, 93 L.Ed. 212. In view of the Nebbia, West Coast Hotel, and Olsen cases, and the decisions of this court in the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • Indiana Right-To-Work Law Under Fire; Unions Take Fight To Court In New Lawsuit
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • March 1, 2012
    ...preemption issue has never been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. See Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525 (1949). Because of this, it is not clear whether the suit will ultimately have any impact in preventing right-to-work from continuing in In a......
1 books & journal articles
  • The Fiction of the First Freedom
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly No. 6-2, June 1953
    • June 1, 1953
    ...v. Congress of Industrial Organizations, 335 U.S. 106 (1948); Lincoln Federal Labor Union, A. F. L. v. Northwestern Iron and Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525 (1948); International Union U. A. W. v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 336 U.S. 245 (1949). 10 American Communications Association v. D......

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