Railway Employes Department v. Hanson

Decision Date21 May 1956
Docket NumberNo. 451,451
Citation351 U.S. 225,76 S.Ct. 714,100 L.Ed. 1112
PartiesRAILWAY EMPLOYES' DEPARTMENT, American Federation of Labor, International Association of Machinists, et al., Appellants, v. Robert L. HANSON, Horace A. Cameron, Harold J. Grau, et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 351 U.S. 979, 76 S.Ct. 1044.

[Syllabus from pages 225-226 intentionally omitted] Mr.Lester P. Schoene, Washington, D.C., for appellants.

Mr. Edson Smith, Omaha, Neb., for appellees.

Mr. Robert A. Nelson, for State of Nebraska, amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit brought in the Nebraska courts by employees of the Union Pacific Railroad Co. against that company and labor organizations representing various groups of employees of the railroad to enjoin the application and enforcement of a union shop agreement entered into between the railroad company and the labor organizations. Plaintiffs are not members of any of the defendant labor organizations and desire not to join. Under the terms of the union shop agreement all employees of the railroad, as a condition of their continued employment, must become members of the specified union within 60 days and thereafter maintain that membership. It is alleged that failure on their part to join the union will mean the loss of their employment together with seniority, retirement, pension, and other rights.

The employees claim that the union shop agreement violates the 'right to work' provision of the Nebraska Constitution, Art. XV, § 13, which provides:1

'No person shall be denied employment because of membership in or affiliation with, or resignation or expulsion from a labor organization or because of refusal to join or affiliate with a labor organization; nor shall any individual or corporation or association of any kind enter into any contract, written or oral, to exclude persons from employment because of membership in or nonmembership in a labor organization.'

They ask for an injunction restraining the railroad company from enforcing and applying the union shop agreement.

The answers deny that the Nebraska Constitution and laws control and allege that the union shop agreement is authorized by § 2, Eleventh of the Railway Labor Act, as amended, 64 Stat. 1238, 45 U.S.C. § 152, Eleventh, 45 U.S.C.A. § 152, subd. 11, which provides that, notwithstanding the law of 'any State,' a carrier and a labor organization may make an agreement requiring all employees within a stated time to become a member of the labor organization, provided there is no discrimination against any employee and pro- vided that membership is not denied nor terminated 'for any reason other than the failure of the employee to tender the periodic dues, initiation fees, and assessments (not including fines and penalties) uniformly required as a condition of acquiring or retaining membership.'2

The Nebraska trial court issued an injunction. The Supreme Court of Nebraska affirmed. It held that the union shop agreement violates the First Amendment in that it deprives the employees of their freedom of association and violates the Fifth Amendment in that it requires the members to pay for many things besides the cost of collective bargaining. The Nebraska Supreme Court, therefore, held that there is no valid federal law to supersede the 'right to work' provision of the Nebraska Constitution. 160 Neb. 669, 71 N.W.2d 526. The case is here by appeal. 28 U.S.C. § 1257(1) and (2), 28 U.S.C.A. § 1257(1, 2). We noted probable jurisdiction. 350 U.S. 910, 76 S.Ct. 195.

The union shop3 provision of the Railway Labor Act was written into the law in 1951. Prior to that date the Railway Labor Act prohibited union shop agreements. 48 Stat. 1186, 45 U.S.C. § 152, Fourth and Fifth, 45 U.S.C.A. § 152, subds. 4, 5; 40 Op.Atty.Gen. 254. Those provisions were enacted in 1934 when the union shop was being used by employers to establish and maintain company unions, 'thus effectively depriving a substantial number of employees of their right to bargain collectively.' S.Rep.No. 2262, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., p. 3. By 1950, company unions in this field had practically disappeared. Id. Between 75 and 80% of railroad employees were members of labor organizations. H.R.Rep.No.2811, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., p. 4. While nonunion members got the benefits of the collective bargaining of the unions, they bore 'no share of the cost of obtaining such benefits.' Id., at p. 4. As Senator Hill, who managed the bill on the floor of the Senate, said, 'The question in this instance is whether those who enjoy the fruits and the benefits of the unions should make a fair contribution to the support of the unions.' 96 Cong.Rec., Pt. 12, p. 16279.

The union shop provision of the Railway Labor Act is only permissive. Congress has not compelled nor required carriers and employees to enter into union shop agreements. The Supreme Court of Nebraska nevertheless took the view that justiciable questions under the First and Fifth Amendments were presented since Congress, by the union shop provision of the Railway Labor Act, sought to strike down inconsistent laws in 17 States. Cf. Hudson v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 242 N.C. 650, 89 S.E.2d 441; Otten v. Baltimore & O.R. Co., 2 Cir., 205 F.2d 58. The Supreme Court of Nebraska said, 'Such action on the part of Congress is a necessary part of every union shop contract entered into on the railroads as far as these 17 states are concerned for without it such contracts could not be enforced therein.' 160 Neb. at page 698, 71 N.W.2d at page 547. We agree with that view. If private rights are being invaded, it is by force of an agreement made pursuant to federal law which expressly declares that state law is superseded. Cf. Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 663, 64 S.Ct. 757, 764, 88 L.Ed. 987. In other words, the federal statute is the source of the power and authority by which any private rights are lost or sacrificed.4 Cf. Steele v. Louisville & N.R. Co., 323 U.S. 192, 198—199, 204, 65 S.Ct. 226, 230, 232, 89 L.Ed. 173; Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Howard, 343 U.S. 768, 72 S.Ct. 1022, 96 L.Ed. 1283; Public Utilities Commission of District of Columbia v. Pollak, 343 U.S. 451, 462, 72 S.Ct. 813, 820, 96 L.Ed. 1068. The enactment of the federal statute authorizing union shop agreements is the governmental action on which the Constitution operates, though it takes a private agreement to invoke the federal sanction.

As already noted, the 1951 amendment, permitting the negotiation of union shop agreements, expressly allows those agreements notwithstanding any law 'of any State.' § 2, Eleventh.5 A union agreement made pursuant to the Railway Labor Act has, therefore, the imprimatur of the federal law upon it and, by force of the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the Constitution, could not be made illegal nor vitiated by any provision of the laws of a State.

We come then to the merits.

In the absence of conflicting federal legislation, there can be no doubt that it is within the police power of a State to prohibit the union or the closed shop. We so held in Lincoln Federal Labor Union No. 19129, A.F. of L. v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525, 69 S.Ct. 251, 93 L.Ed. 212, and in American Federation of Labor v. American Sash & Door Co., 335 U.S. 538, 69 S.Ct. 258, 93 L.Ed. 222, against the challenge that local 'right to work' laws, including Nebraska's, violated the requirements of due process. But the power of Congress to regulate labor relations in interstate industries is likewise well-established. Congress has authority to adopt all appropriate measures to 'facilitate the amicable settlement of disputes which threaten the service of the necessary agencies of interstate transportation.' Texas & N.O.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Railway & S.S. Clerks, 281 U.S. 548, 570, 50 S.Ct. 427, 433, 74 L.Ed. 1034. These measures include provisions that will encourage the settlement of disputes 'by inducing collective bargaining with the true representative of the employees and by preventing such bargaining with any who do not represent them', Virginian Ry. Co. v. System Federation No. 40, 300 U.S. 515, 548, 57 S.Ct. 592, 600, 81 L.Ed. 789, and that will protect the employees against discrimination or coercion which would interfere with the free exercise of their right to self-organization and representation. National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 33, 57 S.Ct. 615, 622, 81 L.Ed. 893. Industrial peace along the arteries of commerce is a legitimate objective; and Congress has great latitude in choosing the methods by which it is to be obtained.

The choice by the Congress of the union shop as a stabilizing force seems to us to be an allowable one. Much might be said pro and con if the policy issue were before us. Powerful arguments have been made here that the longrun interests of labor would be better served by the development of democratic traditions in trade unionism without the coercive element of the union or the closed shop. Mr. Justice Brandeis, who had wide experience in labor-management relations prior to his appointment to the Court, wrote forcefully against the closed shop. He feared that the closed shop would swing the pendulum in the opposite extreme and substitute 'tyranny of the employee' for 'tyranny of the employer.'6 But the question is one of policy with which the judiciary has no concern, as Mr. Justice Brandeis would have been the first to concede. Congress, acting within its constitutional powers, has the final say on policy issues. If it acts unwisely, the electorate can make a change. The task of the judiciary ends once it appears that the legislative measure adopted is relevant or appropriate to the constitutional power which Congress exercises. The ingredients of industrial peace and stabilized labor-management relations are numerous and complex. They may well vary...

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