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UNITED STATES v. INTERNATIONAL UNION

April 19, 1948

UNITED STATES
v.
INTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GOLDSBOROUGH

The Court delivered the following opinion orally in overruling the motion of the defendants to discharge and vacate the Rule to Show Cause why the defendants should not be held in contempt, and holding the defendants guilty of contempt:

Gentlemen, the matter before the Court this morning is the verdict of the Court on the contempt proceeding which were tried in this Court last week, and concluded, I believe on Thursday morning.

 This controversy arose upon the question of pensions to miners. The United Mine Workers of America, and its President, Mr. Lewis, desired that the miners who had been employed for 20 years and were 60 years old should have a pension of $ 100 a month regardless of whether or not they were presently employed.

 The Court, of course, thinks that that was a worthy objective and if that was the matter before the Court it would receive very sympathetic consideration. But that is not the matter before the Court. The matter before the Court is whether or not the defendants refused to obey a lawful order of this Court.

 Under an act passed in 1947 which is commonly known as the Taft-Hartley Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 141 et seq., the President, if he is advised that a cessation of work or a strike imperils the national health or safety, shall appoint a Board of Inquiry; they shall pass upon the facts after investigation, make no recommendations and report the factual situation as they understand it, to him.

 On the 23rd of March, I think, the President appointed such a board. The board reported to him on March 31st that a cessation of work in the bituminous mines was in process, and that the cessation of work in the bituminous mines which was then in process did imperil the national health and safety.

 During the course of that inquiry one of the witnesses subpoenaed to testify before the Board was the individual defendant, John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers. He failed to comply with the subpoena and then an order was served on him which he obeyed, and his testimony was a part of the material which the Board of Inquiry had and upon which they based their conclusion.

 On April 3rd, the President, acting under the provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, directed the Attorney General to file a complaint for an injunction against the United Mine Workers prohibiting what he deemed to be a strike, and on the evening of the 3rd of April this Court issued a preliminary restraining order ordering that the strike cease until the merits of the controversy could be decided in the injunction proceedings. In other words, in the simplest sort of language, it ordered that the status quo be resumed, that is, that the miners go back to work and that then the Court would ascertain, after full judicial investigation, whether or not the national health and safety was imperiled by the walk-out. If it was not, the Court would allow the miners to stay out, or go out.

 On the other hand, if it was, they would have to go back into the mines.

 Now, of course, in order for an injunction to be effective there would have to be a strike. The United Mine Workers and their President claim that there was no strike. They defend on certain constitutional grounds and claim that the miners left the mines entirely of their own volition and without any instructions from the President, direct or indirect. That is the matter which has to be sifted in this inquiry. Obviously, if as a matter of fact no strike was called, while the restraining order should have been obeyed, yet the penalty for its disobedience would very naturally be very slight; it would be very small.

 'The National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1947 required, among other things, the designation of a pension fund (out of the United Mine Workers of America Welfare and Retirement Fund) 'to be used for providing for pensions or annuities for the members of the United Mine Workers of America or their families or dependents and such other persons as may be properly included as beneficiaries thereunder.'

 'On this date, seven months after the effective date of the Agreement, Your Representative Trustee, Mr. Ezra VanHorn of Cleveland, Ohio, continues (as he has consistently continued) to thwart the fulfillment of that contractual obligation. It now constitutes an outstanding, unresolved dispute, national in scope and character, affecting the integrity of the contract and impeding its fulfillment.'

 Now, what follows is what the Court thinks is a very significant sentence.

 'The United Mine Workers of America, therefore, now advise you as a signatory to the Agreement that it reserves the right at will to take any independent action necessary to the enforcement of the contract. Signed, John L. Lewis, President, United Mine Workers of America.'

 On March 12th a letter was written to the officers and members of all the local unions in all bituminous districts in the United States, by Mr. Lewis, signed as Trustee, United Mine Workers of America, Welfare and Retirement Fund and also as President of the United Mine Workers of America. It is a long letter. The Court doesn't think it is necessary to read all the letter. But the following statement is made at its conclusion:

 'The winter is now gone. This office proposes to go forward in requiring the coal operators to honor their agreement. Your ears will soon be assailed by their outcries and wails of anguish. To relieve themselves, they need only to comply with the provisions of the Agreement which they solemnly executed in this office on July 8, 1947.

 'Please discuss this matter in your local unions so that our membership may be fully advised. You will later hear more from this office on this subject.'

 That letter, dated March 12th, and which I suppose went out at that time, was received on March 13th, maybe sometime a little later, on the 14th, was followed immediately on the 15th, I think it was, by a walk-out of some three hundred and fifty to four hundred and fifty thousand miners in the bituminous coal mines, 87 per cent of whom, according to testimony here, were members of the United Mine Workers Union.

 The preliminary restraining order was served on the United Mine Workers of America on April 5th. On April 7th, after waiting two days, the Government filed a petition for a Rule to Show Cause why the United Mine Workers of America should not be held in contempt. On the same day the United Mine Workers of America filed a motion to dismiss the preliminary restraining order.

 On last Monday, at 10 o'clock -- maybe 5 minutes to 10; approximately 10 o'clock -- the United Mine Workers of America filed their answer to the petition of the Government asking that they be held in contempt.

 Now, the answer was based, practically speaking, on two grounds. The answer claims that the First, the Fifth, and the Thirteenth Amendments of the Constitution were violated by the issuance of the restraining order.

 The First Amendment is an amendment which permits free expression of speech, that is, any legitimate expression of speech.

 The Fifth Amendment provides for due process of law.

 The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits involuntary servitude.

 I presume the theory of the claim that the restraining order was in violation of the Fifth Amendment is that it was issued without a hearing, and it is evidently claimed, although it was not argued, that it was mandatory in character, and therefore should not have been issued without a hearing.

 It appears on the surface, and only on the surface, to be mandatory in character, that is, in the nature of a mandamus. Certainly a preliminary restraining order would have been legal if irreparable injury had been demonstrated by the petitioner, if it had been prayed for prior to the walk-out.

 It is an emergency legal measure and there is just as much reason for its issuance after the walk-out as before. What it did was to state facts and attach affidavits which were sufficient to indicate that irreparable injury would happen to the country if the walk-out was allowed to continue, just as it would have said, if it had been issued prior to the strike, that irreparable injury would be the outcome if a walk-out occurred.

 So that, as a matter of fact, legalistically speaking and practically speaking, it was simply an order to return to the status quo, return to the position that the parties were in until the Court could determine in the injunction proceedings whether or not the peace and security of the country were imperiled by the walk-out.

 So much for the objection on constitutional grounds as to the Fifth Amendment. As to the First Amendment, providing for liberty of speech, it has never been held by any court that an injunction to prevent a strike was a deprivation of the liberty of speech, nor has it ever been held, insofar as the Thirteenth Amendment is concerned, that an injunction preventing a strike constituted involuntary servitude, or an injunction which ordered a strike to cease, involved involuntary servitude.

 But the defendants' contention is this: That the First and the Thirteenth Amendments were violated because, as a matter of fact, no strike was called, no strike existed. These men, it is contended, did, as individuals, what they had a right to do, work or not to work, and they decided not to work.

 Now, we have to consider the validity of that claim objectively. If a nod or a wink or a code was used in place of the word 'strike,' there was just as much a strike called as if the word 'strike' had been used. Now let us see. In the letter of February 2nd to the signatories to the National Bituminous Coal Agreement the following words were used:

 'The United Mine Workers of America therefore now advise you as a signatory to the agreement that it reserves the right at will to take any independent action necessary to the enforcement of the contract.'

 What independent action could be taken by them, except strike? Now in the letter of March 12th, they say:

 'The winter is now gone; this office proposes to go forward in requiring the coal operators to honor their agreement.'

 Go forward in what way? Any other way except strike?

 'Your ears will soon be assailed by their outcries and wails of anguish. To relieve themselves they need only to comply with the provisions of the Agreement which they solemnly executed in this office on July 8, 1947.'

 Does that constitute a nod, or a wink, or the use of a code in order to call a strike? Is there any other reasonable interpretation?

 And then this Court believes that there is a principle of law which, as far as I know, no Court has ever been called upon to announce, because this use of a code in order for a union to avoid responsibility is a new thing. It is a new method of endeavoring to avoid responsibility.

 The Court thinks the principle is this: that as long as a union is functioning as a union it must be held responsible for the mass action of its members. It is perfectly obvious not only in objective reasoning but because of experience that men don't act collectively without leadership. The idea of suggesting that from 350,000 to 450,000 men would all get the same idea at ...


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