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Webster v. Midland Elec. Coal Corp.

OCTOBER 14, 1963.

LESTER WEBSTER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

MIDLAND ELECTRIC COAL CORPORATION, A CORPORATION, MARTHA TERLEKE, ACTING SECRETARY OF THE ILLINOIS COAL OPERATORS ASSOCIATION, THOMAS KENNEDY AS PRESIDENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL UNION UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, JOHN OWENS AS SECRETARY-TREASURER OF THE INTERNATIONAL UNION UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, HUGH WHITE AS PRESIDENT OF DISTRICT 12 UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, WILLIAM SEARS AS PRESIDENT OF LOCAL UNION 1904 UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, AND THOMAS NOWERS AS SECRETARY OF LOCAL UNION 1904, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Henry County; the Hon. GEORGE O. HEBEL, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.

SPIVEY, J.

Plaintiffs' appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of Henry County dismissing their suit for declaratory judgment and incidental relief for damages.

Plaintiffs are twelve employees of Midland Electric Coal Corporation, hereinafter referred to as Midland; and members of The International Union United Mine Workers of America, hereinafter referred to as International Union; District 12 United Mine Workers of America, hereinafter referred to as District 12; and Local Union 1904 United Mine Workers of America, hereinafter referred to as Local 1904.

The original complaint was filed as an action at law for damages against Midland and its superintendent for allegedly discharging plaintiffs in violation of a local seniority agreement and against certain union defendants for allegedly influencing, inducing or causing Midland to breach said agreement. After motions to quash summons and to dismiss the complaint had been filed, but before any hearing thereon, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in chancery. This amended complaint was further amended on February 15, 1961, and as amended, charged that Midland had discharged plaintiffs in violation of said local agreement and the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement and asked that Midland account to them for wages and monetary benefits lost, for further damages, including punitive damages and for equitable relief including the reinstatement of plaintiffs in their former positions. The plaintiffs further charged that the union defendants refused to take the necessary steps to redress plaintiffs' grievances and asked that they be required to take such steps, desist from an alleged violation of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement and to pay damages, including punitive damages.

Defendants' motions to dismiss the amended complaint were sustained. Plaintiffs then filed the aforesaid declaratory judgment action as their second amended complaint which was designated as a class action with respect to the Union defendants.

The second amended complaint after all amendments thereto, charged Midland with an unlawful violation of the seniority provisions of a written collective bargaining agreement known as the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement, dated March 5, 1950, as amended, hereinafter referred to as National Agreement.

This complaint further charged the International Union, District 12 and Local 1904 all of which are unincorporated associations, with failure to process their grievances, which failure, they allege to be in violation of their obligations under the National Agreement and the constitution of the United Mine Workers of America, hereinafter referred to as the Constitution.

This complaint in additional counts charged the same defendants with wilfully, wantonly, maliciously and arbitrarily doing the same acts or omissions and prayed for the imposition of punitive or exemplary damages.

The second amended complaint, in addition to other matters, alleged that prior to the commencement of this action they had performed all of the necessary conditions precedent under the terms of the National Agreement and the Constitution, "which were not illusory and futile."

Plaintiffs in their brief and argument with reference to their exhaustion of the remedies required by the National Agreement and the Constitution state that the second amended complaint together with supporting affidavits show that a few days before their layoff, plaintiff Fairbanks had a conversation with James MacAffee, Superintendent of Midland, relative to the pending layoff of some of the older men with greater seniority, contrary to the provisions of a superseded local agreement at which time MacAffee told Fairbanks that Midland could no longer operate profitably under the old local agreement. On or about February 12, 1960, Fairbanks was accosted by MacAffee and told that he and some of the older men were being laid off, whereupon Fairbanks protested, and pointed out that such contemplated layoff was contrary to the contract. Plaintiffs were laid off for the reasons of slowdown in production and lack of work on or about February 25, 1960. It is further stated that plaintiffs Moon and Williams, when advised of their layoff, complained to MacAffee of a violation of the seniority provisions of their employment and MacAffee told them that the action of the company was final and that their layoff was in accordance with the contract.

Certain of the plaintiffs then asked William Sears, president of Local 1904, to enforce their seniority rights and were told by Sears to go back and see MacAffee. MacAffee is said to have again told them there was nothing that could be done about their layoff. A few days later at a regular meeting of Local 1904 attended by some of the plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and the other plaintiffs, the question of their layoff was brought to the floor of the meeting and a request made of Thomas Nowers and William Sears, officers of the Local Union to process their claimed contract violation through regular grievance channels. Sears and Nowers told them Midland was following the National Agreement, action would be useless, and that they would not process their complaint.

Continuing it is said that about a week later, at plaintiffs' request, a meeting of the Joint Grievance Committee was held at the mine office of Midland and that Moon and Williams attended along with Herman Lisse, District 12 Grievance Committee Member, Henry Nowers, Management Representative for the Mine, James MacAffee, Superintendent of the Mine, and Bill Duryea, James Mohler and Vern Mineart, representing labor. Moon and Williams protested the violation of the seniority provisions of the contract and asked the Joint Grievance Committee to set up a case on their complaint, and they were advised they did not have a case and that they would not write up a complaint or take any action to process their claim.

Lastly it is said that in May of 1960 a District 12 meeting was held to consider an appeal from the failure of action on the part of Local 1904 and the Joint Grievance Committee. Attending were Herman Lisse and Joseph Shannon, District 12 Executive Board Members, Lisse also being a member of District 12 Grievance Board and Shannon also being a member of the Grievance Board of the International Union, and, plaintiffs Brutsche, Williams, Moon, and Fairbanks on their behalf and on behalf of the other plaintiffs. Plaintiffs' grievances were brought to the floor of the meeting and a request made of the presiding officer to process their complaint. Following deliberation by the District 12 Executive Board they were informed that nothing could be done, and thereafter Shannon was requested to take action which he refused to do.

Midland moved to dismiss the second amended complaint and among other things alleged that the court lacked jurisdiction in that the plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies provided in the collective bargaining agreement.

The International Union, District 12, and Local 1904 moved to dismiss the second amended complaint and stated, inter alia, that plaintiffs had failed to exhaust the provisions for adjustment and settlement of grievances provided by its Constitution, and that plaintiffs had failed to exhaust or invoke the grievance procedures provided in the National Agreement.

Defendants' motions were supported by affidavits, the pertinent parts to our decision are that the records of the secretary-treasurer of District 12 disclose that none of the plaintiffs have ever filed or made any complaint, grievance or charge against the International Union, District 12, or Local 1904 as authorized by the Constitution, nor have they ever made or filed with the National Labor Relations Board, nor with any agent or agency thereof, any such complaint, grievance or charge. The books and records of Midland disclose that each of the plaintiffs was laid off because of a reduction in the working force except Leonard Johnson who is not and has never been employed by Midland at the mine, and no complaint, grievance or charge has been filed with Midland by or on behalf of the Plaintiffs and no effort has been made by any of the plaintiffs under the grievance procedure outlined in the collective bargaining agreement.

In addition the affidavits set forth certain provisions of the National Agreement, the Constitution ...


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