Texas Co v. Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks

Decision Date26 May 1930
Docket NumberNo. 469,469
Citation50 S.Ct. 427,74 L.Ed. 1034,281 U.S. 548
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 548-550 intentionally omitted] Messrs. J. H. Tallichet and H. M. Garwood, both of Houston, Tex., for petitioners.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 551-553 intentionally omitted] Messrs. John H. Crooker, of Houston, Tex., and Donald R. Richberg, of Chicago, Ill., for respondents.

Mr. Chief Justice HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This suit was brought in the District Court by the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employees, Southern Pacific Lines in Texas and Louisiana, a voluntary association, and H. W. Harper, general chairman of its System Board of Adjustment, against the Texas & New Orleans Railroad Company and certain officers and agents of that company, to obtain an injunction restraining the defend- ants from interfering with, influencing, or coercing the clerical employees of the railroad company in the matter of their organization and designation of representatives for the purposes set forth in the Railway Labor Act of May 20, 1926, c. 347, 44 Stat. 577, U. S. C., Tit. 45, §§ 151-163 (45 USCA §§ 151-163).

The substance of the allegations of the bill of complaint was that the brotherhood, since its organization in September, 1918, had been authorized by a majority of the railway clerks in the employ of the railroad company (apart from general office employees) to represent them in all matters relating to their employment; that this representation was recognized by the railroad company before and after the application by the brotherhood in November, 1925, for an increase of the wages of the railway clerks and after the denial of that application by the railroad company and the reference of the controversy by the brotherhood to the United States Board of Mediation; that, while the controversy was pending before that board, the railroad company instigated the formation of a union of its railway clerks (other than general office employees) known as the 'Association of Clerical Employees-Southern Pacific Lines'; and that the railroad company had endeavored to intimidate members of the brotherhood and to coerce them to withdraw from it and to make the association their representative in dealings with the railroad company, and thus to prevent the railway clerks from freely designating their representatives by collective action.

The District Court granted a temporary injunction.1 Thereafter the railroad company recognized the Asso- ciation of Clerical Employees-Southern Pacific Lines, as the representative of the clerical employees of the company. The railroad company stated that this course was taken after a committee of the association had shown authorizations signed by those who were regarded as constituting a majority of the employees of the described class. The subsequent action of the railroad company and its officers and agents was in accord with this recognition of the association and the consequent nonrecogni- tion of the brotherhood. In proceedings to punish for contempt, the District Court decided that the railroad company and certain of its officers who were defendants had violated the order of injunction and completely nullified it. The court directed that, in order to purge themselves of this contempt, the railroad company and these officers should completely 'disestablish the Association of Clerical Employees,' as it was then constituted as the recognized representative of the clerical employees of the railroad company, and should reinstate the brotherhood as such representative, until such time as these employees by a secret ballot taken in accordance with the further direction of the court, and without the dictation or interference of the railroad company and its officers, should choose other representatives. The order also required the restoration to service and to stated privileges of certain employees who had been discharged by the railroad company. 24 F.(2d) 426. Punishment was prescribed in case the defendants did not purge themselves of contempt as directed.

On final hearing, the temporary injunction was made permanent. 25 F.(2d) 873. At the same time, a motion to vacate the order in the contempt proceedings was denied. 25 F.(2d) 876. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decree, holding that the injunction was properly granted and that, in imposing conditions for the purging of the defendants of contempt, the District Court had not gone beyond the appropriate exercise of its authority in providing for the restoration of the status quo. 33 F.(2d) 13. This court granted a writ of certiorari, 280 U. S. 550, 50 S. Ct. 88, 74 L. Ed. —.

The bill of complaint invoked subdivision third of section 2 of the Railway Labor Act of 1926 (c. 347, 44 Stat. 577 (45 USCA § 152 subd. Third)), which provides as follows:

'Third. Representatives, for the purposes of this Act, shall be designated by the respective parties in such man- ner as may be provided in their corporate organization or unincorporated association, or by other means of collective action, without interference, infiuence, or coercion exercised by either party over the self-organization or designation of representatives by the other.'

The controversy is with respect to the construction, validity, and application of this statutory provision. The petitioners, the railroad company and its officers, contend that the provision confers merely an abstract right which was not intended to be enforced by legal proceedings; that, in so far as the statute undertakes to prevent either party from influencing the other in the selection of representatives, it is unconstitutional because it seeks to take away an inherent and inalienable right in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments of the Federal Constitution; that the granting of the injunction was prohibited by section 20 of the Clayton Act (U. S. C., Tit. 29, § 52 (29 USCA § 52)); that in any event the action taken by the railroad company and its officers in the recognition of the Association of Clerical Employees, and in other proceedings following upon that recognition, was not contrary to law and that there was no warrant for the interposition of the court either in granting the injunction order or in the proceedings for punishment for the alleged contempt.

On the questions of fact, both courts below decided against the petitioners. Under the well-established rule, this court accepts the findings in which two courts concur, unless clear error is shown, Stuart v. Hayden, 169 U. S. 1, 14, 18 S. Ct. 274, 42 L. Ed. 639; Texas & Pacific Railway Company v. Railroad Commission, 232 U. S. 338, 34 S. Ct. 438, 58 L. Ed. 631; Washington Securities Company v. United States, 234 U. S. 76, 78, 34 S. Ct. 725, 58 L. Ed. 1220; Bodkin v. Edwards, 255 U. S. 221, 223, 41 S. Ct. 268, 65 L. Ed. 595. We cannot say that there was such error in this case. Both the District Court and the Circuit Court of Appeals approached the consideration of the evidence as to intimidation and coercion, and re- solved such conflicts as the evidence presented, in the light of the demonstration that a strong motive existed on the part of the railroad company to oppose the demands of the brotherhood and to promote another organization of the clerical employees which would be more favorable to the interests and contentions of the company. Both courts found the explanation of the company's attitude in the leter addressed by H. M. Lull, executive vice president of the railroad company, to A. D. McDonald, its president, under date of May 24, 1927, shortly before the activities of which complaint was made in this suit. In this letter Mr. Lull referred to the pendency before the United States Board of Mediation of the demand of the brotherhood for an increase of wages for the clerical employees, and it was stated that if the matter went to arbitration, and the award was made on the same basis as one which had recently been made with respect to the lines west of El Paso, it would mean an increased pay-roll cost of approximately $340,000 per annum. Mr. Lull said that from the best information obtainable the majority of the clerical and station service employees of the railroad company did not belong to the national organization (the brotherhood), and that 'it is our intention, when handling the matter in mediation proceedings, to raise the question of the right of this organization to represent these employees and if arbitration is proposed we shall decline to arbitrate on the basis that the petitioner does not represent the majority of the employees. This will permit us to get away from the interference of this organization, and if successful in this, I am satisfied we can make settlement with our own employees at a cost not to exceed $75,000 per annum.'

Motive is a persuasive interpreter of equivocal conduct, and the petitioners are not entitled to complain because their activities were viewed in the light of manifest interest and purpose. The most that can be said in favor of the petitioners on the question of fact is that the evidence permits conflicting inferences, and this is not enough. The circumstances of the soliciting of authorizations and memberships on behalf of the association, the fact that employee of the railroad company who were active in promoting the development of the association were permitted to devote their time to that enterprise without deduction from their pay, the charge to the railroad company of expenses incurred in recruiting members of the association, the reports made to the railroad company of the progress of these efforts, and the discharge from the service of the railroad company of leading representatives of the brotherhood and the cancellation of their passes, gave support, despite the attempted justification of these...

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