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UNITED ELEC. RADIO & MACH. WORKERS v. GE

December 30, 1954

UNITED ELECTRICAL RADIO AND MACHINE WORKERS OF AMERICA et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCLAUGHLIN

Plaintiffs in this action seek a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief and damages.

The basis of the plaintiffs' claim for relief is the discharge from employment of the individual plaintiff Nelson in accordance with defendant Company's statement of 'Policy concerning Admitted Communists, Saboteurs, and Subversives; and Employees who invoke the Fifth Amendment in Order to Refuse to Testify on such Subject.'

 Jurisdiction of the Court is invoked under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C.A. § 185; 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, 1985(3), the Civil Rights Act; and 18 U.S.C. § 241, the section dealing with conspiracy against the rights of citizens.

 On September 15, 1950, the defendant General Electric Company, hereinafter referred to as defendant Company, entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America, hereinafter referred to as the Union. This agreement as amended on June 19, 1953, is presently in full force and effect and according to its terms will continue in full force and effect until at least April 15, 1955.

 In accordance with Article I of this agreement the defendant Company agreed to recognize the Union as the exclusive bargaining representative of its employees covered by said contract with respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of employment and other conditions of employment.

 Defendant Company on December 9, 1953, issued the statement of policy, which forms the basis of this action. This policy provides for the immediate discharge of admitted Communists and saboteurs. It further provides that any employee who has been identified as a Communist by testimony under oath at a public hearing of a Congressional Committee or other government authority and who thereafter has declined to accept an opportunity to testify under oath before such committee or authority or has invoked the Fifth Amendment in refusing to testify concerning Communist affiliations, espionage or sabotage, shall be suspended for a period of 90 days without loss of pay. The penalty is to be imposed on any employee who had pursued either of these courses within the previous six-month period. It further provides that an employee who has been suspended can be reinstated (1) if within the 90-day suspension period he appears before the Congressional Committee or authority and fully answers under oath all questions asked him pertaining to Communist affiliations, espionage or sabotage, and in the course thereof does not admit being a Communist or being engaged in espionage or sabotage; or (2) if he obtains from an accredited security agency of the United States and furnishes to the Company a certificate or statement that an investigation of the employee had been conducted by the agency and that no evidence was found to indicate that the employee was a Communist or otherwise a risk for employment in an industry essential to national defense. It also provides that if an employee is not entitled to reinstatement in accordance with the above provisions at the end of the 90-day period, he shall be discharged.

 The plaintiff Nelson is the President of Local 306 of the Union located at Erie, Pennsylvania. This local represents the employees at the Company's Erie plant. On November 12, 1953, Nelson had appeared before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to a subpoena. At this hearing Nelson invoked the Constitutional privilege of the Fifth Amendment in answer to several questions. Two days after the promulgation of the Company's policy, on December 11, 1953, the plaintiff Nelson was suspended for 90 days according to the provisions of the policy. At the end of the 90-day period of suspension he was discharged since he had not qualified for reinstatement in accordance with the terms of the policy statement.

 This action was instituted as a result of the discharge of plaintiff Nelson. The remedies prayed for are:

 1. By the plaintiff Union -- a declaratory judgment that the statement of policy is a violation of the collective bargaining agreement between the Union and the defendant Company.

 2. By plaintiff Nelson -- an injunction ordering defendant to refrain from discharging him; an order rescinding his notice of suspension and restoring his full seniority rights; an order directing defendant to refrain from discharging any and all other employees similarly situated under the provisions of the statement of policy; a declaratory judgment that the suspension and threatened discharge is illegal; damages in an amount of $ 50,000; damages to all other employees similarly situated in amounts to be determined by the Court.

 According to Article I of the collective bargaining agreement the Union is designated as the exclusive bargaining representative with respect to 'conditions of employment'.

 It is plaintiffs' contention that the statement of policy constituted a new condition of employment and that it should have been negotiated with the Union in accordance with the agreement. Plaintiffs allege that the failure to submit the policy statement to the Union for bargaining constituted a breach of the agreement.

 Defendant contends that there is no condition of employment involved but rather the question of discharge. It argues that the right to discharge is an inherent right of an employer and that it has always reserved this right in its agreements with the Union. It further contends that there is no obligation to notify the Union before hand of the bases for discharge and, consequently, that there has been no violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

 The questions posed by these respective contentions rest for determination upon the meaning and effect of the provisions of the contract relied on respectively by the parties, which meaning and effect in turn, rest upon the intention of the parties. In the statement of issues made during the trial of the case the above basis for determination of meaning ...


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