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decided: February 28, 1949.



Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson, Rutledge, Burton

Author: Jackson

[ 336 U.S. Page 247]

 MR. JUSTICE JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Certain labor legislation of the State of Wisconsin,*fn1 as applied by its Supreme Court, is challenged because it is said to transgress constitutional limitations imposed

[ 336 U.S. Page 248]

     by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments and by the Commerce Clause*fn2 as implemented by the National Labor Relations Act*fn3 and the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947.*fn4

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin held*fn5 that its Act authorizes the State Employment Relations Board to order a labor union to cease and desist from instigating certain intermittent and unannounced work stoppages which it had caused under the following circumstances: Briggs & Stratton Corporation operates two manufacturing plants in the State of Wisconsin engaging approximately 2,000 employees. These are represented by the International Union, Automobile Workers of America, A. F. of L., Local No. 232, as collective bargaining agent, it having been duly certified as such by the National Labor Relations Board in proceedings under the National Labor Relations Act. Under such certification, the Union had

[ 336 U.S. Page 249]

     negotiated collective bargaining agreements, the last of which expired on July 1, 1944. Negotiation of a new one reached a deadlock and bargaining sessions continued for some time without success.

On November 3, 1945, its leaders submitted to the Union membership a plan for a new method of putting pressure upon the employer. The stratagem consisted of calling repeated special meetings of the Union during working hours at any time the Union saw fit, which the employees would leave work to attend. It was an essential part of the plan that this should be without warning to the employer or notice as to when or whether the employees would return. The device was adopted and the first surprise cessation of work was called on November 6, 1945; thereafter, and until March 22, 1946, such action was repeated on twenty-six occasions. The employer was not informed during this period of any specific demands which these tactics were designed to enforce nor what concessions it could make to avoid them.*fn6

This procedure was publicly described by the Union leaders as a new technique for bringing pressure upon the employer. It was, and is, candidly admitted that these tactics were intended to and did interfere with production and put strong economic pressure on the employer, who was disabled thereby from making any dependable production plans or delivery commitments. And it was said that "this can't be said for the strike. After the initial surprise of the walkout, the company knows what it has to do and plans accordingly." It was

[ 336 U.S. Page 250]

     commended as a procedure which would avoid hardships that a strike imposes on employees and was considered "a better weapon than a strike."

The employer did not resort to any private disciplinary measures such as discharge of the employees; instead, it sought a much less drastic remedy by plea to the appropriate public authority under Wisconsin law*fn7 to investigate and adjudge the Union's conduct under the law of the State. After the prescribed procedures, the Board ordered the Union to cease and desist from "(a) engaging in any concerted efforts to interfere with production by arbitrarily calling union meetings and inducing work stoppages during regularly scheduled working hours; or engaging in any other concerted effort to interfere with production of the complainant except by leaving the premises in an orderly manner for the purpose of going on strike."*fn8

Two court proceedings resulted from the Board's order: one by the Board to obtain enforcement and the other by the Union to obtain review. They are here considered, as they were below, together.

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin sustained the Board's order but significantly limited the effect of its otherwise general prohibitions. It held that what the order does, and all that it does, is to forbid individual defendants and members of the Union from engaging in concerted effort to interfere with production by doing the acts instantly

[ 336 U.S. Page 251]

     involved. As we have heretofore pointed out, the construction placed upon such an order by the State Supreme Court is conclusive on us. Allen-Bradley Local v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 315 U.S. 740. Our only question is, therefore, whether it is beyond the power of the State to prohibit the particular course of conduct described.*fn9

The Union contends that the statute as thus applied violates the Thirteenth Amendment in that it imposes a form of compulsory service or involuntary servitude. However, nothing in the statute or the order makes it a crime to abandon work individually (compare Pollock v. Williams, 322 U.S. 4) or collectively. Nor does either undertake to prohibit or restrict any employee from leaving the service of the employer, either for reason or without reason, either with or without notice. The facts afford no foundation for the contention that any action of the State has the purpose or effect of imposing any form of involuntary servitude.

It is further contended that the statute as applied invades rights of free speech and public assemblage guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. We recently considered a similar contention in connection with other state action concerning labor relations. Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., and Whitaker v. North Carolina, 335 U.S. 525, and American Federation of Labor v. American Sash & Door Co., 335 U.S. 538.

[ 336 U.S. Page 252]

     For reasons there stated, these contentions are without merit.

No serious question is presented by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution standing alone. It never has been thought to prevent the state legislatures from limiting "individual and group rights of aggression and defense" or from substituting "processes of justice for the more primitive method of trial by combat." Mr. Justice Brandeis, dissenting, Duplex Co. v. Deering, 254 U.S. 443, 488; see also Dorchy v. Kansas, 272 U.S. 306, 311, cited with approval, Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 103; and see Hotel & Restaurant Employees' Local v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 315 U.S. 437.

The substantial issue is whether Congress has protected the union conduct which the State has forbidden, and hence the state legislation must yield. When the order of the State Board and the decision of the State Supreme Court were made, the National Labor Relations Act, 49 Stat. 449, 29 U. S. C. §§ 151-166, was in effect and questions of conflict between state and federal law were raised and decided with reference to it. However, the order imposes a continuing restraint which it is contended now conflicts with the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 61 Stat. 136, 29 U. S. C. §§ 141-197, which amended the earlier statute. We therefore consider the state action in relation to both Federal Acts.

Congress has not seen fit in either of these Acts to declare either a general policy or to state specific rules as to their effects on state regulation of various phases of labor relations over which the several states traditionally have exercised control. Cf. Securities Act of 1933, § 18, 48 Stat. 74, 85, 15 U. S. C. § 77r; Securities Exchange Act of 1934, § 28, 48 Stat. 881, 903, 15 U. S. C. § 78bb; United States Warehouse Act, before and after 1931 Amendment, 39 Stat. 486, 490, 46 Stat. 1465, 7 U. S. C. § 269.

[ 336 U.S. Page 253]

     However, as to coercive tactics in labor controversies, we have said of the National Labor Relations Act what is equally true of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, that "Congress designedly left open an area for state control" and that the "intention of Congress to exclude States from exercising their police power must be clearly manifested." Allen-Bradley Local v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 315 U.S. 740, 750, 749. We therefore turn to its legislation for evidence that Congress has clearly manifested an exclusion of the state power sought to be exercised in this case.

Congress made in the National Labor Relations Act no express delegation of power to the Board to permit or forbid this particular union conduct, from which an exclusion of state power could be implied. The Labor Management Relations Act declared it to be an unfair labor practice for a union to induce or engage in a strike or concerted refusal to work where an object thereof is any of certain enumerated ones. § 8 (b) (4), 61 Stat. 140, 141; 29 U. S. C. § 158 (b) (4). Nevertheless the conduct here described is not forbidden by this Act and no proceeding is authorized by which the Federal Board may deal with it in any manner. While the Federal Board is empowered to forbid a strike, when and because its purpose is one that the Federal Act made illegal, it has been given no power to forbid one because its method is illegal -- even if the illegality were to consist of actual or threatened violence to persons or destruction of property. Policing of ...

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