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Local Union No. 657 of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America of Sheboygan County v. Sidell

decided: April 12, 1977.

LOCAL UNION NO. 657 OF THE UNITED BROTHERHOOD OF CARPENTERS AND JOINERS OF AMERICA OF SHEBOYGAN COUNTY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WILLIAM SIDELL, RONALD STADLER, THE INTERNATIONAL UNITED BROTHERHOOD OF CARPENTERS AND JOINERS OF AMERICA, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 76-C-39 - Myron L. Gordon, Judge.

Cummings and Tone, Circuit Judges, and William J. Campbell, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Cummings

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.

This complaint was brought under Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act (29 U.S.C. § 185(a)). The gravamen of the complaint by plaintiff Local 657 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America was that the three defendants, the Brotherhood, its general president William Sidell, and its agent in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, had violated the Brotherhood's constitution by Sidell's August 4, 1975, letter ordering Local 657 to affiliate with the Fox River Valley District Council of the Brotherhood and by seeking to effectuate that order.*fn1 Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment, a preliminary and ultimately a permanent injunction prohibiting defendants from enforcing the affiliation order. Defendants filed both an answer and a motion for summary judgment, urging lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and in any event that they acted within their constitutional authority. Affidavits and exhibits were also filed by the parties.

In 416 F. Supp. 890, the district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, denied the injunction application and dismissed plaintiff's complaint on the ground that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act. Before reaching the jurisdictional question, the opinion stated that the reasons for the Brotherhood's decision to require the plaintiff to affiliate with the District Council and its impact upon the plaintiff "are amply delineated in the record." The court found that the Brotherhood's affiliation directive was made pursuant to Section 6A of its constitution. (Mem. op. at 891.)

Next the district court's opinion concluded that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because otherwise it would be required to interfere in the internal affairs of the unions and because the case presented "issues of intra-union autonomy rather than a significant threat to industrial peace" (mem. op. at 892). Although we disagree as to lack of jurisdiction, we affirm on the merits. United States v. General Motors Corp., 171 U.S. App. D.C. 27, 518 F.2d 420, 441 (1975).

I. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction.

Section 301(a) provides:

"Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this Act, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties" (29 U.S.C. § 185(a)).

Defendants assert that this case involves an alleged violation of the Brotherhood's constitution rather than any contract violation. This, of course, assumes the proposition that a union constitution cannot be a Section 301(a) "contract." However, the Supreme Court has held that Section 301(a) is to be liberally construed both as a grant of subject-matter jurisdiction*fn2 and as an authorization to develop a body of federal common law to provide the substantive rules for resolving labor disputes.*fn3 And the "legislative history makes clear that the basic purpose of § 301(a) was not to limit, but to expand, the availability of forums for the enforcement of contracts made by labor organizations." Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney, 368 U.S. 502, 508-509, 7 L. Ed. 2d 483, 82 S. Ct. 519.

Defendants concede, as they must, that "contracts" between two labor organizations are generically enforceable through the mechanism of a Section 301(a) suit. Lion Dry Goods, supra, 369 U.S. at 26. Rather, they contest whether a union constitution is a Section 301(a) "contract" and whether a local and its parent international are sufficiently distinct entities to be two separate labor organizations within the meaning of Section 301(a). These analytical lines tend to blend together but we still believe it useful to address them seriatim.

As an initial matter, we should note that the legislative history of Section 301(a) does not answer these questions. The "contracts between labor organizations" clause was added in conference, and the Conference Report merely states that:

"Subsection (a) provides that suits for violation of contracts between labor organizations, as well as between a labor organization and an employer, may be brought in the Federal courts." 2 N.L.R.B., Legislative History of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 at 1535, 1543.

The general term "contract" is meaningless in the abstract unlimited sense since, as Chief Justice Marshall noted long ago, such a huge panoply of relationships can conceivably be comprehended by the word. Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518, 627-628, 4 L. Ed. 629. Writing then without statutory constraint, we start with the premise that "'contract in labor law is a term the implication of which must be determined from the connection in which it appears.'" Lion Dry Goods, supra, at 28. As Judge Sobeloff noted in holding a union constitution to be a Section 301(a) "contract" in Parks v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 314 F.2d 886, 917 (4th Cir. 1963), certiorari denied, 372 U.S. 976, 10 L. Ed. 2d 142, 83 S. Ct. 1111, "the Supreme Court itself has recognized that under state law this is the generally accepted characterization of union constitutions," citing International Ass'n of Machinists v. Gonzales, 356 U.S. 617, 618-619, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1018, 78 S. Ct. 923.*fn4 The First, Second and Sixth Circuits have followed the Parks ' conclusion that a union constitution is a Section 301(a) "contract." Local Union ...


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