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Mid-America Regional Bargaining Association v. Will County Carpenters District Council

decided: April 13, 1982.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 80 C 1832 -- Frank J. McGarr, Judge.

Before Sprecher and Wood, Circuit Judges, and Brown, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Sprecher

This case concerns the scope of the labor exemptions to the federal antitrust laws. Here, contractors and their trade associations claimed that an alleged agreement between a union, a contractor, and a public utility violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1. Because we find that the acts alleged fall within both the "statutory" and "nonstatutory" labor exemptions we affirm the district court's dismissal of the complaint.


The plaintiffs are three trade associations ("the Trade Associations") and two private contractors ("the Contractors"). The defendants are the Will County Carpenters District Council ("the union"), its international, Commonwealth Edison ("Edison"), and the Gust K. Newberg Construction Company ("Newberg"). The action stems from a labor dispute in Will County during the summer of 1979.

The Trade Associations represented most construction contractors in Will County and had traditionally negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with the union's construction workers which became the standard for all Will County contractors. In 1979, however, the Trade Associations and the union could not agree on contract terms prior to the termination of the existing contract. Soon after the contract expired, the union directed its members to engage in selective picketing and strikes against certain contractor members of the Trade Associations. The Trade Associations responded to this action by directing all their members to engage in a defensive lockout of the union.

At this time, Newberg was engaged in construction for Edison on a nuclear generating station under construction in Braidwood, Illinois, and an existing generating facility in Romeoville, Illinois. Although Newberg was not a member of any of the Trade Associations, these projects were, nevertheless, subject to the strikes and lockouts.

Edison allegedly moved to prevent work stoppage on the projects by entering into an agreement with the union whereby Edison would "pressure" Newberg, as well as its other contractors, into paying into an escrow account $2.25 per employee for each hour worked during the strike.*fn1 The contractors were to pay this money into the account for all work done since the expiration of the previous contract, and the funds were to be released in accordance with any collective bargaining agreement negotiated by the union and the Trade Associations.*fn2 Edison agreed to compensate its contractors for this expense. Newberg employed approximately twenty-five per cent of the Will County union carpenters on its Edison projects, and these workers returned to work after the escrow agreement was reached. Approximately four weeks later, on August 20, the Trade Associations and the union agreed to a $2.25 per hour minimum wage increase retroactive to June 1, 1979.

The plaintiffs then brought this action in district court.*fn3 The complaint alleged that the defendants had violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act, tortiously interfered with contractual relations between the Trade Associations and their members, and engaged in a civil conspiracy to interfere with these contractual relations.

The plaintiffs' Section 1 claim asserted that by entering into the escrow agreement, the defendants undercut the bargaining position of the Trade Association, thus forcing them to pay a retroactive wage equal in amount to that deposited in the escrow account. This amount, the complaint alleged, was artificially high, since it was subsidized by Edison which, as a public utility, was insulated from competition. Thus, the agreement was a combination, contract or conspiracy which imposed a wage scale that would injure the contractors, and which interfered with the "rights" of the Trade Associations to engage in collective bargaining.

Defendants Edison and Newberg moved to dismiss the complaint, and the district court granted this motion on February 11, 1981. The court found that the only direct restraint alleged in the complaint was a restraint in the market for human labor. Such a restraint, the court found, is exempt from antitrust scrutiny under the "labor exemption" created by sections 6 and 20 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 17 and 29 U.S.C. § 52, and sections 4, 5 and 13 of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 104, 105 and 113. The court ruled, therefore, that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.*fn4 The plaintiffs challenge this ruling on appeal.


In reviewing the dismissal of a complaint, "the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint are taken as true." Ashbrook v. Hoffman, 617 F.2d 474, 475 (7th Cir. 1980). Accord, Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 101-02, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957). A dismissal will be upheld only "if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of their claim which would entitle them to relief." Ashbrook v. Hoffman, 617 F.2d 474, 475 (7th Cir. 1980). The court, however, "is not required to accept legal conclusions that may be alleged or that may be drawn from the pleaded facts." Mitchell v. Archibald & Kendall, Inc., 573 F.2d 429, 432 (7th Cir. 1978) (citations omitted). Furthermore, "conclusory allegations unsupported by any factual assertions will not withstand a motion to dismiss." Briscoe v. LaHue, 663 F.2d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 1981). Accord, Hiland Dairy, Inc. v. Kroger Co., 402 F.2d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1968), cert. denied, 395 U.S. 961, 89 S. Ct. 2096, 23 L. Ed. 2d 748 (1969) ("In testing the legal sufficiency of the complaint ... conclusions of law and unreasonable inferences or unwarranted deductions of fact are not admitted."). An examination of the plaintiffs' complaint in light of these standards demonstrates that the district court properly dismissed the complaint.*fn5

We begin with an examination of the history of the labor exemptions. Because this history has been told in detail elsewhere,*fn6 our sketch can be brief. Following passage of the Sherman Act in 1890, the courts found labor to be a commodity or article of commerce under the Sherman Act, and applied the Act to invalidate the collective bargaining agreements achieved by labor unions. See, e.g., Loewe v. Lawlor, 208 U.S. 274, 28 S. Ct. 301, 52 L. Ed. 488 (1908); United States v. Workingmen's Amalgamated Council, 54 Fed. 994 (C.C.E.D.La.), aff'd, 57 Fed. 85 (5th Cir. 1893). In response, Congress sought to specifically exempt labor union activity by enacting sections 6 and 20 of the Clayton Act. 15 U.S.C. § 17 and 29 U.S.C. § 52. Passage of the Clayton Act, however, failed to achieve this end, for the courts continued to apply the Sherman Act to union activities. See, e.g., Bedford Cut Stone Co. v. Journeymen Stone Cutters' Association, 274 U.S. 37, 47 S. Ct. 522, 71 L. Ed. 916 (1927); Duplex Printing Press Co. v. Deering, 254 U.S. 443, 41 S. Ct. 172, 65 L. Ed. 349 (1921); Alco Zander Co. v. Amalgamated Clothing Workers, 35 F.2d 203 (E.D.Pa.1929). Congress, therefore, enacted the Norris-LaGuardia Act, 29 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., which sought to exempt labor activities from the application of various statutes. See United States v. Hutcheson, 312 U.S. 219, 235-36, 61 S. Ct. 463, 467-68, 85 L. Ed. 788 (1941). The Clayton and Norris-LaGuardia Acts combined to provide a comprehensive exemption from antitrust liability for union activity.

In cases decided since the enactment of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, courts have defined the parameters of the labor antitrust exemption. As noted by the Supreme Court in Connell Construction Co. v. Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 100, 421 U.S. 616, 621-22, 95 S. Ct. 1830, 1834-35, 44 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1975), this has resulted in two distinct exemptions to the antitrust laws-a statutory exemption based on various sections of the Clayton and Norris-LaGuardia Acts, and a nonstatutory exemption based on an "accommodation between the congressional policy favoring collective bargaining under the NLRA and the congressional policy favoring free competition in business markets." Id. at 622, 95 S. Ct. at 1835.*fn7 We turn, ...

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