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decided: May 24, 1937.



Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo

Author: Brandeis

[ 301 U.S. Page 472]

 MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the provisions of the Wisconsin Labor Code which authorize giving publicity to labor disputes, declare peaceful picketing and patrolling lawful and prohibit granting of an injunction against such conduct, violate, as here construed and applied, the due process clause or equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Labor Code occupies §§ 103.51 to 103.63 of the Wisconsin Statutes, 1935 (Wis. Laws, 1931, c. 376; Laws, 1935, c. 551, § 5). But only the following provisions of § 103.53 are directly involved on this appeal:

"(1) The following acts, whether performed singly or in concert, shall be legal:

"(e) Giving publicity to and obtaining or communicating information regarding the existence of, or the facts involved in, any dispute, whether by advertising, speaking, patrolling any public street or place where any person or persons may lawfully be, without intimidation or coercion, or by any other method not involving fraud, violence, breach of the peace, or threat thereof."

"(1) Peaceful picketing or patrolling, whether engaged in singly or in numbers, shall be legal.*fn1

"(2) No court, nor any judge or judges thereof, shall have jurisdiction to issue any restraining order or temporary or permanent injunction which, in specific or general terms, prohibits any person or persons from doing, whether singly or in concert, any of the foregoing acts."

[ 301 U.S. Page 473]

     On December 28, 1935, Senn brought this suit in the Circuit Court of Milwaukee County, against Tile Layers Protective Union, Local No. 5, Tile Layers Helpers Union, Local No. 47, and their business agents, seeking an injunction to restrain picketing, and particularly "publishing, stating or proclaiming that the plaintiff is unfair to organized labor or to the defendant unions"; and also to restrain some other acts which have since been discontinued, and are not now material. The defendants answered; and the case was heard upon extensive evidence. The trial court found the following facts.

The journeymen tile layers at Milwaukee were, to a large extent, members of Tile Layers Protective Union, Local No. 5, and the helpers, members of Tile Layers Helpers Union, Local No. 47. Senn was engaged at Milwaukee in the tile contracting business under the name of "Paul Senn & Co., Tile Contracting." His business was a small one, conducted, in the main, from his residence, with a showroom elsewhere. He employed one or two journeymen tile layers and one or two helpers, depending upon the amount of work he had contracted to do at the time. But, working with his own hands with tools of the trade, he performed personally on the jobs much work of a character commonly done by a tile layer or a helper. Neither Senn, nor any of his employees, was at the time this suit was begun a member of either union, and neither had any contractual relations with them. Indeed, Senn could not become a member of the tile layers union, since its constitution and rules require, among other things, that a journeyman tile setter shall have acquired his practical experience through an apprenticeship of not less than three years, and Senn had not served such an apprenticeship.

For some years the tile laying industry had been in a demoralized state because of lack of building operations; and members of the union had been in competition with

[ 301 U.S. Page 474]

     non-union tile layers and helpers in their effort to secure work. The tile contractors by whom members of the unions were employed had entered into collective bargaining agreements with the unions governing wages, hours and working conditions. The wages paid by the union contractors had for some time been higher than those paid by Senn to his employees.

Because of the peculiar composition of the industry, which consists of employers with small numbers of employees, the unions had found it necessary for the protection of the individual rights of their members in the prosecution of their trade to require all employers agreeing to conduct a union shop to assent to the following provision:

"Article III. It is definitely understood that no individual, member of a partnership or corporation engaged in the Tile Contracting Business shall work with the tools or act as Helper but that the installation of all materials claimed by the party of the second part as listed under the caption 'Classification of Work' in this agreement, shall be done by journeymen members of Tile Layers Protective Union Local #5."

The unions endeavored to induce Senn to become a union contractor; and requested him to execute an agreement in form substantially identical with that entered into by the Milwaukee contractors who employ union men. Senn expressed a willingness to execute the agreement provided Article III was eliminated. The union declared that this was impossible; that the inclusion of the provision was essential to the unions' interest in maintaining wage standards and spreading work among their members; and, moreover, that to eliminate Article III from the contract with Senn would discriminate against existing union contractors, all of whom had signed agreements containing the Article. As the unions declared its elimination impossible, Senn refused to sign

[ 301 U.S. Page 475]

     the agreement and unionize his shop. Because of his refusal, the unions picketed his place of business. The picketing was peaceful, without violence, and without any unlawful act. The evidence was that the pickets carried one banner with the inscription "P. Senn Tile Company is unfair to the Tile Layers Protective Union," another with the inscription "Let the Union tile layer install your tile work."*fn2

The trial court denied the injunction and dismissed the bill. On the findings made, it ruled that the controversy was "a labor dispute" within the meaning of § 103.62; that the picketing, done solely in furtherance of the dispute, was "lawful" under § 103.53; that it was not unlawful for the defendants

"to advise, notify or persuade, without fraud, violence or threat thereof, any person or persons, of the existence of said labor dispute; . . .

"That the agreement submitted by the defendants to the plaintiff, setting forth terms and conditions prevailing in that portion of the industry which is unionized, is

[ 301 U.S. Page 476]

     sought by the defendants for the purpose of promoting their welfare and enhancing their own interests in their trade and craft as workers in the industry.

"That Article III of said agreement is a reasonable and lawful rule adopted by the defendants out of the necessities of employment within the industry and for the protection of themselves as workers and craftsmen in the industry."

Senn appealed to the Supreme Court of the State, which affirmed the judgment of the trial court and denied a motion for rehearing, two judges dissenting. (222 Wis. 383, 400; 268 N. W. 270, 872.) The case is here on appeal.

First. The defendants moved to dismiss the appeal for want of jurisdiction. They contend that the federal question presented is not substantial. And friends of the court suggest that the appeal should be dismissed because the decision below was based upon non-federal grounds, or that there was an alternative, independent non-federal ground broad enough to sustain the judgment; that the challenge here is not to a statute, but to a judicial decision based upon principles of general law which have been approved by some judges and disapproved by others;*fn3 and that there is nothing to show that the provisions of the Wisconsin Labor Code here questioned are not merely declaratory of the common law of Wisconsin as it existed prior to the statute. But it sufficiently appears that the ...

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