Virginian Ry Co v. System Federation No 40

Citation57 S.Ct. 592,81 L.Ed. 789,300 U.S. 515
Decision Date29 March 1937
Docket NumberNo. 324,324
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 515-517 intentionally omitted] Messrs. James Piper, of Baltimore, Md., H. T. Hall, of Roanoke, Va., and John C. Donnally, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 518-524 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Frank L. Mulholland, for Toledo, Ohio, and S. M. Brandt, of Norfolk, Va., for respondents.

[Argument of Counsel from Pages 524-533 intentionally omitted]

Page 534

Mr. Stanley F. Reed, Sol. Gen., of Washington, D.C., for the United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

[Argument of Counsel from Pages 534-537 intentionally omitted]

Page 538

Mr. Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents questions as to the constitutional validity of certain provisions of the Railway Labor Act of May 20, 1926, c. 347, 44 Stat. 577, as amended by the Act of June 21, 1934, c. 691, 48 Stat. 1185, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151—163 (45 U.S.C.A. §§ 151—163), and as to the nature and extent of the relief which courts are authorized by the act to give.

Respondents are System Federation No. 40, which will be referred to as the Federation, a labor organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and representing shop craft employees of petitioner railway, and certain individuals who are officers and members of the System Federation. They brought the present suit in equity in the District Court for Eastern Virginia, to compel petitioner, an interstate rail carrier, to recognize and treat with respondent Federation, as the duly accredited representative of the mechanical department employees of petitioner, and to restrain petitioner from in any way interfering with, influencing, or coercing its shop craft employees in their free choice of representatives, for the purpose of contracting with petitioner with respect to rules, rates of pay, and working conditions, and for the purpose of considering and settling disputes between petitioner and such employees.

Page 539

The history of this controversy goes back to 1922, when, following the failure of a strike by petitioner's shop employees affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, other employees organized a local union known as the 'Mechanical Department Association of the Virginian Railway.' The Association thereupon entered into an agreement with petitioner, providing for rates of pay and working conditions, and for the settlement of disputes with respect to them, but no substantial grievances were ever presented to petitioner by the Association. It maintained its organization and held biennial elections of officers, but the notices of election were sent out by petitioner and all Association expenses were paid by petitioner.

In 1927 the American Federation of Labor formed a local organization, which, in 1934, demanded recognition by petitioner of its authority to represent the shop craft employees, and invoked the aid of the National Mediation Board, constituted under the Railway Labor Act, as amended, to establish its authority. The Board, pursuant to agreement between the petitioner, the Federation, and the Association, and in conformity to the statute, held an election by petitioner's shop craft employees to choose representatives for the purpose of collective bargaining with petitioner. As the result of the election, the Board certified that the Federation was the duly accredited representative of petitioner's employees in the six shop crafts.

Upon this and other evidence, not now necessary to be detailed, the trial court found that the Federation was the duly authorized representative of the mechanical department employees of petitioner, except the carmen and coach cleaners; that the petitioner, in violation of section 2 of the Railway Labor Act (45 U.S.C.A. §§ 151a, 152), had failed to treat with the Federation as the duly accredited representative of petitioner's employees; that petitioner had sought to influence its employees against any affiliation with labor organizations other than an association maintained by petitioner, and to

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prevent its employees from exercising their right to choose their own representative; that for that purpose, following the certification, by the National Mediation Board, of the Federation, as the duly authorized representative of petitioner's mechanical department employees, petitioner had organized the Independent Shop Craft Association of its shop craft employees, and had sought to induce its employees to join the independent association, and to put it forward as the authorized representative of petitioner's employees.1

Upon the basis of these findings, the trial court gave its decree applicable to petitioner's mechanical department employees except the carmen and coach cleaners. It directed petitioner to 'treat with' the Federation and to 'exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain agreements concerning rates of pay, rules and working conditions, and to settle all disputes, whether arising out of the application of such agreements or otherwise. * * *' It restrained petitioner from 'entering into any contract, undertaking or agreement of whatsoever kind concerning rules, rates of pay or working conditions affecting its Mechanical Department employees, * * * except * * * with

Page 541

the Federation,' and from 'interfering with, influencing or coercing' its employees with respect to their free choice of representatives 'for the purpose of making and maintaining contracts' with petitioner 'relating to rules, rates of pay and working conditions or for the purpose of considering and deciding disputes between the Mechanical Department employees' and petitioner. The decree further restrained the petitioner from organizing or fostering any union of its mechanical department employees for the purpose of interfering with the Federation as the accredited representative of such employees. (D.C.) 11 F.Supp. 621.

On appeal the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit approved and adopted the findings of the District Court and affirmed its decree. 84 F.(2d) 641. This Court granted certiorari to review the cause as one of public importance. 299 U.S. 529, 57 S.Ct. 43, 81 L.Ed. —-.

Petitioner here, as below, makes two main contentions: First, with respect to the relief granted, it maintains that section 2, Ninth, of the Railway Labor Act (45 U.S.C.A. § 152, subd. 9), which provides that a carrier shall treat with those certified by the Mediation Board to be the representatives of a craft or class, imposes no legally enforceable obligation upon the carrier to negotiate with the representative so certified, and that in any case the statute imposes no obligation to treat or negotiate which can be appropriately enforced by a court of equity. Second, that section 2, Ninth, in so far as it attempts to regulate labor relations between petitioner and its 'back shop' employees, is not a regulation of interstate commerce authorized by the commerce clause because, as it asserts, they are engaged solely in intrastate activities; and that so far as it imposes on the carrier any obligation to negotiate with a labor union authorized to represent its employees, and restrains it from making agreements with any other labor organization, it is a denial of due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Other minor objections to the decree, so far as relevant to

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our decision, will be referred to later in the course of this opinion.

The concurrent findings of fact of the two courts below are not shown to be plainly erroneous or unsupported by evidence. We accordingly accept them as the conclusive basis for decision, Texas & N.O.R. O.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Railway & S. S. Clerks, 281 U.S. 548, 558, 50 S.Ct. 427. 429, 74 L.Ed. 1034; Pick Mfg. Co. v. General Motors Corporation, 299 U.S. 3, 4, 57 S.Ct. 1, 2, 81 L.Ed. 4, and address ourselves to the questions of law raised on the record.

First. The Obligation Imposed by the Statute. By title III of the Transportation Act of February 28, 1920, c. 91, 41 Stat. 456, 469 (45 U.S.C.A. §§ 131—146), Congress set up the Railroad Labor Board as a means for the peaceful settlement, by agreement or by arbitration, of labor controversies between interstate carriers and their employees. It sought 'to encourage settlement without strikes, first by conference between the parties, failing that, by reference to adjustment boards of the parties' own choosing and, if this is ineffective, by a full hearing before a national board.' Pennsylvania R. Co. v. United States Railroad Labor Board, 261 U.S. 72, 79, 43 S.Ct. 278, 281, 67 L.Ed. 536. The decisions of the Board were supported by no legal sanctions. The disputants were not 'in any way to be forced into compliance with the statute or with the judgments pronounced by the Labor Board, except through the effect of adverse public opinion.' Pennsylvania Railroad System & Allied Lines Federation v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 267 U.S. 203, 216, 45 S.Ct. 307, 311, 69 L.Ed. 574.

In 1926 Congress, aware of the impotence of the Board, and of the fact that its authority was generally not recognized or respected by the railroads or their employees, made a fresh start toward the peaceful settlement of labor disputes affecting railroads, by the repeal of the 1920 Act and the adoption of the Railway Labor Act (44 Stat. 577). Report, Senate Committee on Interstate Commerce, No. 222, 69th Cong., 1st Sess. Texas & N.O.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Railway & S. S. Clerks, supra, 281 U.S. 548, 563, 50 S.Ct. 427, 431, 74 L.Ed. 1034. By the new measure Congress continued its policy of encouraging the amicable adjustment of labor disputes by their voluntary submis-

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sion to arbitration before an impartial board, but it supported that policy by the imposition of legal obligations. It provided means for enforcing the award obtained by...

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