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General Motors Corp. v. Bowling

OPINION FILED JUNE 26, 1981.

GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, APPELLEE,

v.

WILLIAM M. BOWLING, DIRECTOR OF LABOR, ET AL. (UAW LOCAL 694 ET AL., APPELLANTS).



Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Raymond K. Berg and Richard L. Curry, Judges, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE SIMON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied October 19, 1981.

___ N.E.2d ___ The question raised by this appeal is whether certain employees of General Motors Corporation (GM) are entitled to unemployment compensation benefits. Claimants were shop clerks employed at GM's Electro-Motive Division plants in Chicago and La Grange, and belonged to United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) Local No. 694. These plants employed 275 shop clerks. There were approximately 7,000 production workers in the two plants, and they belonged to UAW Local No. 719.

The collective bargaining agreement for members of Local No. 719 was negotiated separately from the agreement covering the shop clerks. The bargaining on behalf of production workers was conducted in national negotiations held in Detroit; the contract for the shop clerks was negotiated by their own local. When negotiations for the production workers had been concluded nationally, the contract covering shop clerks was negotiated, and certain items in the national agreement were usually incorporated into that contract.

During national negotiations in 1970, members of Local 719 struck at both the Chicago and La Grange plants, along with other GM employees in other places, as part of a selective strike designated by the UAW. The shop clerks did not strike and they did not picket. They crossed the picket lines and continued to work. Eventually, because of a shortage of work, some of the shop clerks were laid off, although some continued to work throughout the strike. The shop clerks who were laid off are the claimants in this case.

The Director of Labor allowed benefits, and the circuit court of Cook County confirmed that decision, over the employer's challenge. The appellate court reversed, holding that by paying union dues, part of which went to a strike fund which contributed to the production workers' strike, the shop clerks financed the strike that caused their unemployment, and so were ineligible for benefits. (87 Ill. App.3d 204.) We granted the claimants leave to appeal.

Section 604 of the Unemployment Compensation Act provided:

"Labor dispute. An individual shall be ineligible for benefits for any week with respect to which * * * his * * * 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 * * * employed, provided, that this Section shall not apply if * * * (A) he 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 * * * any of whom are participating in or financing or directly interested in the dispute." (Emphasis added.) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 48, par. 434.)

The italicized clause is commonly known as the "relieving proviso." The Act has since been amended; but the provisions at issue here have not materially changed.

The claimants are ineligible only if both (1) their unemployment was due to a stoppage of work which existed because of a labor dispute at the premises where they worked, and (2) they or others of their grade or class were participating in, financing, or directly interested in the labor dispute. We conclude that the claimants are within the relieving proviso, in that neither they nor anyone of their grade or class participated in, financed, or had a direct interest in the dispute. It is therefore unnecessary to decide whether their unemployment was due to a stoppage of work caused by a labor dispute at their premises. Regardless of the answer to that question, the claimants are eligible for unemployment benefits.

GM does not contend that the claimants were of the same grade or class as the striking production workers. Clearly, at least for the purposes of this case, the grades or classes of workers to which the claimants belong do not extend beyond the shop clerks' unit. See Shell Oil Co. v. Cummins (1955), 7 Ill.2d 329.

None of the shop clerks — the claimants or other workers of their grade or class — participated in the labor dispute. They did not strike or picket or otherwise interfere with GM's operations. They came to work every day, crossing the production workers' picket lines with passes from the international union, until GM laid them off.

Nor were the shop clerks "directly interested" in the dispute. Certain parts of the production workers' national agreement would customarily be copied into the shop clerks' own agreement. The shop clerks, therefore, might anticipate that the strike would influence their terms of employment. That, however, is at most an indirect interest. All they had was a hope, not any assurance. A mere expectancy without any legal right, subject to GM's views on the fairness and convenience of adopting parts of another agreement, does not disqualify the shop clerks for unemployment benefits. It is no greater an interest than, say, a Ford worker had at the time; for in 1970 it was usual for the other auto makers to go along with the deal worked out by the union and its "target" company, in the case of these negotiations GM. The appellate court's opinion includes a more thorough discussion of this point, which we need not repeat. 87 Ill. App.3d 204.

The issue, then, is whether the shop clerks financed the strike. Some of them, in the spirit of labor solidarity, volunteered their skills to help the striking local in its office, for example by making out the checks from the strike fund to the strikers. That, however, is not "financing" the strike, as GM recognizes. ...


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