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General Motors Corp. v. Bowling

OPINION FILED MAY 16, 1980.

GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

WILLIAM M. BOWLING, DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. RICHARD L. CURRY, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE SULLIVAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff appeals from an order affirming the Director of Labor's determination that claimant-defendants are eligible for unemployment benefits. The issues presented are (1) whether claimants' unemployment was due to a stoppage of work caused by a labor dispute at the establishment where claimants were employed; (2) whether claimants were directly interested in the labor dispute; and (3) whether claimants financed the labor dispute.

The facts in this case are not disputed. Claimants herein are among the 275 shop clerks employed at General Motors' two Electro-Motive Division plants in Chicago and LaGrange, Illinois, and are members of Local 694 of the International Union, United Automobile Aerospace and Agricultural Workers of America (hereinafter "International Union"). Approximately 7,000 production workers also are employed at the two plants, and they are members of Local 719 of the International Union.

The terms of employment for the production workers are embodied in a "National Agreement" which is negotiated in Detroit. The terms for the shop clerks are negotiated separately by Local 694 and are set forth in a "Master Agreement." It was customary for General Motors and Local 694 not to negotiate the Master Agreement until the National Agreement was finalized, and certain major items settled in the negotiations of the National Agreement would then be incorporated in the Master Agreement.

Both contracts with General Motors were set to expire late in 1970 and, pursuant to the International Union's constitution, double dues were assessed on all union members for a few months prior to the expiration date in order to build up its strike fund. On September 15, 1970, during negotiations on the new National Agreement, the production workers went on strike at both plants in response to a selective strike called by the International Union. Picket lines were set up at both plants, although claimants crossed the lines with official passes issued by the International Union and continued to work. Since production had ceased, work eventually ran out and claimants were sent home. Some of the claimants assisted Local 719 by writing the checks issued to the strikers and keeping records. Also during the strike, claimants' Local 694 was negotiating a new Master Agreement with General Motors.

On November 11, 1970, a new National Agreement was reached, and shortly afterward the Master Agreement was finalized, incorporating certain key elements of the National Agreement such as wages, pensions, insurance, bereavement pay, holiday pay, and vacation pay. Production was completely resumed on November 23, 1970, after which certain union members who worked during the strike, including claimants, were assessed emergency strike fund dues of $20 per member.

Claimants filed for unemployment benefits for the period of time in which they did not work. The Director of Labor originally determined that claimants' unemployment was not due to a stoppage of work resulting from a labor dispute and, accordingly, allowed the benefits. Plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review, and the circuit court reversed, holding that claimants' unemployment was caused by a labor dispute, and remanded the case to determine whether claimants were protected by the "relieving proviso" of section 604 of the Unemployment Insurance Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 48, par. 434); namely, whether they "had not financed" and "were directly interested in the dispute" — in which case they would nonetheless be entitled to benefits. The Director, in turn, found that claimants were protected by the relieving proviso and allowed the benefits. The circuit court upheld the Director on administrative review, and plaintiff appeals from that affirmance.

OPINION

The matters presented in the instant litigation are governed by section 604 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, which provides as follows:

"An individual shall be ineligible for benefits for any week with respect to which it is found that his total or partial unemployment is due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises at which he is or was last employed. * * * This section shall not apply if it is shown that (A) the individual is not participating in or financing or directly interested in the labor dispute which caused the stoppage of work and (B) he does not belong to a grade or class of workers of which immediately before the commencement of the stoppage there were members employed at the premises at which the stoppage occurs, any of whom are participating in or financing or directly interested in the dispute; * * *. If in any case, separate branches of work which are commonly conducted as separate businesses in separate premises are conducted in separate departments of the same premises, each such department shall, for the purpose of this Section, be deemed to be a separate factory, establishment, or other premises." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 48, par. 434.

The Director of Labor, in affirming his representative's findings on remand, held that claimants were entitled to unemployment compensation because they fell within the "relieving proviso" of section 604 in that they (1) did not participate in, finance, or possess a direct interest in the labor dispute; and (2) were not members of the same grade or class of workers who participated in, financed, or were directly interested in the dispute. In reviewing these findings, we note that the relevant facts are uncontradicted and, under such circumstances, we note that the standard of review to be employed was explained by the supreme court in Kensington Steel Corp. v. Industrial Com. (1944), 385 Ill. 504, 53 N.E.2d 395, as follows:

"Where facts are not in dispute, their legal effect become a matter of law and the rule as to the power of the court to set aside the decision only when it was made against the manifest weight of the evidence has no application, and upon questions of law this court is not bound by the decision of the [administrative agency]." 385 Ill. 504, 509, 53 N.E.2d 395, 397.)

Also see Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Department of Revenue (1963), 29 Ill.2d 564, 194 N.E.2d 257; Schoenbein v. Board of Trustees (1965), 65 Ill. App.2d 379, 212 N.E.2d 380. We are cognizant also of the cases holding that the decision of an agency on a point of law is nonetheless entitled to great weight (see Legg v. Illinois Fair Employment Practices Com. (1975), 28 Ill. App.3d 932, 329 N.E.2d 486).

We turn then to the first issue; namely, whether claimants' unemployment was due to a stoppage of work which existed because of a labor dispute at the establishment. The Director and Local 694 assert that it was not. It is first argued that claimants' unemployment was not due to a labor dispute but was the result of a managerial decision to lay off claimants because of a lack of available work. At the hearing before the Director's representative, John Marohnic (plaintiff's assistant divisional personnel director) testified that there was no other reason for claimants' unemployment other than the strike; that there would have been enough work for claimants had there been no strike; and that Electro-Motive "told each one of these people (claimants) either written or verbal, and that they are being sent home because of labor difficulties between General Motors Corporation and the International UAW." The witness also explained, "I am saying they were sent home because of the strike situation. We had no manufacturing in the plant, and there was no work for these people to do, ...


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