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Santos v. District Council of New York City and Vicinity of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America

decided: January 3, 1977.

FRANK SANTOS, CARL GUERRIERRI, MARIO VOZZO, EACH OF THEM INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS, MEMBERS OF LOCAL UNIONS AFFILIATED WITH PAINTERS' DISTRICT COUNCIL #9 OF NEW YORK CITY AND THE INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF PAINTERS AND ALLIED TRADES, EMPLOYED OR SEEKING EMPLOYMENT AS WOODWORK FINISHERS WITHIN NEW YORK CITY, SIMILARLY SITUATED, APPELLANTS,
v.
DISTRICT COUNCIL OF NEW YORK CITY AND VICINITY OF UNITED BROTHERHOOD OF CARPENTERS AND JOINERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO, APPELLEE



Suit to enforce decision of impartial umpire, made pursuant to interunion dispute provision of labor federation's constitution. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Charles M. Metzner, Judge, granted summary judgment for defendant on the ground that, assuming plaintiffs had standing, suit was barred by provision of constitution prohibiting resort to courts for enforcement. Held, plaintiffs have standing and suit not barred. Reversed and remanded.

Smith, Oakes and Timbers, Circuit Judges.

Author: Oakes

OAKES, Circuit Judge:

This case of first impression presents the issue whether members of one union may sue another union for failure to comply with an arbitral decree, made pursuant to a labor federation's constitutional provision pertaining to interunion jurisdictional disputes. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Charles M. Metzner, Judge, granted summary judgment for the defendant union on the basis that, regardless of whether the plaintiffs had standing, the constitutional provision itself bars judicial enforcement of the arbitral award. No. 75 Civ. 4355 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 11, 1976). We reverse and remand.

I.

Suit was brought by appellants, individual union members, on behalf of themselves and similarly situated members of the 27 local unions comprising Painters' District Council No. 9 of New York City (Painters' District Council). They seek enforcement of an arbitral award against appellee, District Council of New York City and Vicinity of United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (Carpenters' District Council). The award was made pursuant to Article XX of the Constitution of the AFL-CIO, the article governing settlement of internal disputes between AFL-CIO-affiliated unions. Both appellee and Painters' District Council are bound by the AFL-CIO Constitution through their respective parent-affiliates, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (Carpenters' Brotherhood) and the Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers of America (Painters' Brotherhood).

Appellants are either employed or seeking employment as woodwork finishers. Prior to 1967, their union, Painters' District Council, had established collective bargaining relationships with 21 woodwork or furniture manufacturing shops in New York City; the Carpenters' District Council represented woodwork finishers in 27 other shops. In 1967, when the Painters' District Council was unable to reach agreement with the Manufacturing Woodworkers Association of Greater New York (the Association) on a new collective bargaining contract, the Painters went on strike. During the strike, members of Carpenters' locals crossed the picket lines and took over the woodfinishing duties of the striking Painters. The Painters' strike terminated without an agreement, and, over the next two years, the two unions sought to settle their differences. Following another Painters' strike in 1969 and, it is alleged, renewed efforts by Carpenters' members to take over woodfinishing, the Painters' District Council, through its Brotherhood, filed a complaint with the AFL-CIO, alleging a violation of Section 3 of Article XX of the AFL-CIO Constitution. That section prohibits an affiliate, "by agreement or collusion with any employer or by the exercise of economic pressure," from seeking "to obtain work for its members as to which an established work relationship exists with any other affiliate, except with the consent of such affiliate." In September, 1969, an "impartial umpire" found under the Constitution's procedures that the Carpenters had violated this section with regard to 17 of the shops. The Carpenters could have appealed this determination to the AFL-CIO President and Executive Council. AFL-CIO Const. Art. XX, § 12. They did not do so.

Over the next several years, appellants made repeated efforts to have the Carpenters comply with the umpire's decision. Because the Painters' District Council provided little help to appellants in their enforcement efforts, they protested to the Painters' Brotherhood. They also wrote to AFL-CIO President George Meany, asking that the umpire's decision be enforced. Their Brotherhood did support their request in a separate letter to President Meany. The letters provoked some meetings between Painters' and Carpenters' representatives and an AFL-CIO official, but no action. Finally, in September, 1975 - some five years after the umpire's decision - appellants filed the instant action, alleging that they had exhausted all internal remedies available to them. Jurisdiction is predicated on Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).*fn1

II.

We first consider appellee's claim that appellants lack standing to bring this action. The court below assumed standing arguendo and proceeded to consider the merits, a practice that must be disapproved. It is axiomatic that a court should not consider the merits of an action if the plaintiff cannot show some cognizable injury. See Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U.S. 288, 347-48, 80 L. Ed. 688, 56 S. Ct. 466 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring). See also Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 517-18, 45 L. Ed. 2d 343, 95 S. Ct. 2197 (1975) ("The rules of standing . . . are threshold determinants of the propriety of judicial intervention.").

We believe that the plaintiffs here have sufficiently alleged injury from the failure of appellee to abide by the umpire's decision and that they "personally would benefit in a tangible way from the courts' intervention." Id. at 508. Were their suit to succeed, appellants would regain, or at least have an opportunity to seek without the Carpenters' interference,*fn2 jobs presently held by Carpenters' members. The fact that appellants may be able to join a Carpenters' local and thereby perhaps obtain woodfinishing work may mitigate to some extent but by no means eliminates their injury; even if we assume they could obtain work in this way, there are likely to be, for appellants, a number of tangible differences, such as in seniority and dues, as well as perhaps some intangible differences, between being Carpenters' members and Painters' members. As the Supreme Court has recently made clear, moreover, LMRA "Section 301 contemplates suits by . . . individual employees as well as between unions and employers; and contrary to earlier indications § 301 suits encompass those seeking to vindicate 'uniquely personal' rights of employees. . . ." Hines v. Anchor Motor Freight, Inc., 424 U.S. 554, 562, 47 L. Ed. 2d 231, 96 S. Ct. 1048 (1976).

Appellee does not dispute these points, but instead argues that the only party to suffer cognizable damage was the Painters' District Council, since Article XX of the AFL-CIO Constitution is an interunion document intended to preserve peace among AFL-CIO affiliates, and since appellants are not parties to the Constitution. This argument is based upon language in this court's decision in Abrams v. Carrier Corp., 434 F.2d 1234 (2d Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 401 U.S. 1009, 91 S. Ct. 1253, 28 L. Ed. 2d 545 (1971). Abrams involved, in part, loss of a representation election by the union to which plaintiffs belonged. Plaintiffs alleged that the victorious union had violated an interunion agreement to the effect that one union would not contest another's representation. In denying standing to the plaintiffs to sue the other union, the court did note that they were not "signatories to the [interunion] Agreement" and that it "was not made for the[ir] benefit," id. at 1249, but, contrary to appellee's assertion, the Abrams court did not rely upon these facts. Rather, the court went on to consider, as a standing determination requires, whether the plaintiffs had made "the necessary allegations of demonstrable, particularized injury," Warth v. Seldin, supra, 422 U.S. at 508.*fn3 The Abrams court concluded that they had not, because, while their union "lost members, dues, assessments, and possibly prestige" when it lost the representation election, the plaintiffs had suffered no harm "except disappointment" at the election results, an "emotional" loss insufficient to establish standing. 434 F.2d at 1249-50.

The instant case is plainly distinguishable from Abrams. Appellants have not suffered mere "emotional disappointment"; they have lost their jobs and cannot obtain new ones in their trade, at least if they remain in their union, without court intervention. A more tangible harm is difficult to imagine. The harm, moreover, is directly related to appellee's alleged refusal to comply with the ...


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