Marine Engineers Beneficial Association v. Interlake Steamship Company

Decision Date11 June 1962
Docket NumberNo. 166,166
Citation82 S.Ct. 1237,370 U.S. 173,8 L.Ed.2d 418
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Lee Pressman, New York City, for petitioners.

Raymond T. Jackson, Cleveland, Ohio, for respondents.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In San Diego Building Trades Council, etc. v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775, this Court held that the proper administration of the federal labor law requires state courts to relinquish jurisdiction not only over those controversies actually found to be within the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board, but also over litigation arising from activities which might arguably be subject to that agency's cognizance. Only such a rule, the Court held, will preserve for the Labor Board its congressionally delegated function of deciding what is and what is not within its domain.1 In the present case the Supreme Court of Minnesota held that the petitioners, Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA) and its Local 101, were not 'labor organizations' within the meaning of § 8(b) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 158(b), 29 U.S.C.A. § 158(b), and therefore not subject to the unfair labor practice provisions of that section of the statute. Accordingly, the court held that a state trial court had not erred in assuming jurisdiction over a labor dispute involving MEBA and Local 101, and in permanently enjoining them from picketing found to be in violation of state law. 260 Minn. 1, 108 N.W.2d 627. We granted certiorari, 368 U.S. 811, 82 S.Ct. 44, 7 L.Ed.2d 20, to consider an asserted conflict between the Minnesota court's decision and our holding in the Garmon case.

The essential facts which gave rise to this controversy are not in dispute. The respondents owned and operated a fleet of bulk cargo vessels on the Great Lakes. MEBA and Local 101 were unions which represented marine engineers employed on the Great Lakes and elsewhere.2 The marine engineers employed by the respondents were not represented by MEBA or any other union.

On November 11, 1959, the respondents' vessel, Samuel Mather, arrived at the dock of the Carnegie Dock and Fuel Company in Duluth, Minnesota. The following morning several members of Local 101 began to picket at the only entrance road to the Carnegie dock. They carried signs which read: 'Pickands Mather Unfair to Organized Labor. This Dispute Only Involves P—M. M.E.B.A. Loc. 101 AFL—CIO.' and 'M.E.B.A. Loc. 101. AFL—CIO. Request P—M Engineers to Join with Organized Labor to Better Working Conditions. This Dispute Only Involves P—M.' When the pickets appeared, employees of the Carnegie Dock and Fuel Company refused to continue unloading the Samuel Mather. As a result the ship was forced to remain at the dock, and another of the respondents' steamers, the Pickands, was compelled to ride at anchor outside the harbor for a number of days, because the Carnegie dock could accommodate but one vessel at a time.

Upon learning of the picket line, the respondents filed a complaint in the state court charging the union with several violations of state law. The complaint alleged, among other things, that the petitioners had induced Carnegie's employees to refuse to perform services, and that the petitioners had thus caused Carnegie to breach its contract with the respondents. The petitioners filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, claiming that the dispute was arguably subject to the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board and thus, under the Garmon doctrine, beyond the state court's cognizance.3 Evidence was taken concerning the nature and effect of the picketing, the employment status of respondents' marine engineers, and, to a limited extent, the characteristics of MEBA and Local 101. The trial court concluded that the dispute was within its jurisdiction, and, finding the picketing to be in violation of Minnesota law, it issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the petitioners from picketing at or near any site where the respondents' vessels were loading or unloading, from inducing other employees or other firms not to perform services for the respondents, and from interfering in other specified ways with the respondents' operations. The injunction was later made permanent on the basis of the same record, and the court's judgment was affirmed on review by the Supreme Court of Minnesota.

The Garmon case dealt with rules of conduct—whether certain activities were protected by § 7 or prohibited by § 8 of the Act. In the present case it has hardly been disputed, nor could it be, that the petitioners' conduct was of a kind arguably prohibited by § 8(b)(4)(A) of the Act and thus within the primary jurisdiction of the Board, if MEBA and Local 101 were 'labor organizations' within the contemplation of § 8(b) generally.4 The Minnesota courts determined, however, that those whom the petitioners represented and sought to enlist were 'supervisors,' that consequently neither of the petitioners was a 'labor organization,' and therefore that nothing in the Garmon doctrine precluded a state court from assuming jurisdiction.

It is the petitioners' contention that the issue to be determined in this case is not whether the state courts correctly decided their 'labor organization' status, but whether the state courts were free to finally decide that issue at all. The petitioners contend that the principles of the Garmon decision confined the state court to deciding only whether the evidence in this case was sufficient to show that either of them was arguably a 'labor organization' within the contemplation of § 8(b). We agree, and hold that the evidence was sufficient to deprive the Minnesota courts of jurisdiction over this controversy.

We see no reason to assume that the task of interpreting and applying the statutory definition of a 'labor organization' does not call for the same adjudicatory expertise that the Board must bring to bear when it determines the applicability of §§ 7 and 8 of the Act to substantive conduct. Indeed, analysis of the problem makes clear that the process of defining the term 'labor organization' is one which may often require the full range of Board competence.

The term 'labor organization' is defined by § 2(5) of the Act, which says:

'The term 'labor organization' means any organization of any kind, or any agency or employee representation committee or plan, in which employees participate and which exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work.' 29 U.S.C. § 152(5), 29 U.S.C.A. § 152(5).

The part of that definition at issue in the present case is the requirement that 'employees participate' in the organization. As defined by § 2(3) of the Act, '(t)he term 'employee' * * * shall not include * * * any individual employed as a supervisor * * *.' 29 U.S.C. § 152(3), 29 U.S.C.A. § 152(3). 5 'Supervisor' is defined in turn by § 2(11) of the Act to mean:

'* * * any individual having authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or responsibly to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend such action, if in connection with the foregoing the exercise of such authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment.' 29 U.S.C. § 152(11), 29 U.S.C.A. § 152(11).

The statutory definition of the term 'supervisor' has been the subject of considerable litigation before the NLRB and in the federal courts.6 It is immediately apparent, moreover, that the phrase 'organization * * * in which employees participate' is far from self-explanatory. Several recurring questions stem from the fact that na- tional or even local unions may represent both 'employees' and 'supervisors.'7 For example, is employee participation in any part of a defendant national or local union sufficient, or must 'employees' be involved in the immediate labor dispute?8 What percentage or degree of employee participation in the relevant unit is required?9 If an organization is open to 'employees' or solicits their membership, must there be a showing that there are actually employee members? And, if a local union is not itself a 'labor organization,' are there conditions under which it may become subject to § 8(b) as an agent of some other organization which is?10

The considerations involved in answering these questions are largely of a kind most wisely entrusted initially to the agency charged with the day-to-day administration of the Act as a whole. The term 'labor organization' appears in a number of sections of the Act. Section 8(a)(2), for example, forbids employers to 'dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it * * *.' 29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(2), 29 U.S.C.A. § 158(a)(2). Section 8(a)(3) makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer, by certain discriminatory conduct, 'to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization * * *.' 29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(3), 29 U.S.C.A. § 158(a)(3). Section 9(c), dealing with the largely unreviewable area of representation elections,11 refers repeatedly to both 'employees' and 'labor organizations.' The policy considerations underlying these and other sections of the Act, and the relationship of a particular definitional approach under § 8(b) to the meaning of the same term in the various sections, must obviously be taken into account if the statute is to operate as a coherent whole.12 A centralized adjudicatory process is also essential in working out a consistent approach to the status of the many separate unions which may represent interrelated occupations in a single industry.13...

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