decided: December 10, 1990.
ARTHUR GROVES, BOBBY J. EVANS AND LOCAL 771, INTERNATION UNION UAW, PETITIONERS
RING SCREW WORKS, FERNDALE FASTENER DIVISION
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.
Stevens, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The collective-bargaining agreements between the parties provide for voluntary grievance procedures and reserve the parties' respective rights to resort to economic weapons when the procedures fail to resolve a dispute. The collective-bargaining agreements are silent as to judicial remedies. The question presented is whether, upon failure of the grievance procedures, such contracts should be construed to bar recourse to the courts under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (LMRA), 61 Stat. 156, 29 U. S. C. § 185. We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict in the Circuits,*fn1 494 U.S. 1026 (1990), and we now conclude that the judicial remedy under § 301 is available to petitioners.
Two almost identical collective-bargaining agreements (CBA's) between respondent Ring Screw Works (company) and the union*fn2 prohibit discharges except for "just cause."
--> Petitioners Groves and Evans contend that they were discharged in violation of this provision.
Both CBA's provide that the parties will make "an earnest effort" to settle every dispute that may arise under the agreement. App. 16. Both CBA's also contain a voluntary multistep grievance procedure, but neither includes a requirement that the parties submit disputes to binding arbitration.*fn3 The CBA's prohibit strikes or lockouts until the grievance machinery has been exhausted. The no-strike clause provides:
"The Union will not cause or permit its members to cause, nor will any member of the Union take part in any strike, either sit-down, stay-in or any other kind of strike, or other interference, or any other stoppage, total or partial, of production at the Company's plant during the terms of this agreement until all negotiations have failed through the grievance procedure set forth herein. Neither will the Company engage in any lockout until the same grievance procedure has been carried out." Id., at 34 (emphasis added); see id., at 69.*fn4
The dispute in this case arose out of the company's decision to discharge petitioners.*fn5 With the assistance of the union, petitioners invoked the grievance procedures, but without success.*fn6 At the end of the procedures, the company decided not to call for arbitration, and the union decided not to exercise its right to strike.*fn7 Instead, petitioners filed this action invoking federal jurisdiction under § 301, 29 U. S. C. § 185.
Following the Sixth Circuit's decision in Fortune v. National Twist Drill & Tool Division, Lear Siegler, Inc., 684 F.2d 374 (1982), the District Court granted the company's motion for summary judgment and the Court of Appeals affirmed. 882 F.2d 1081 (1989). The Sixth Circuit explained:
"We believe that the CBA's in question do bring about an inference that a strike, or other job action, is the perceived remedy for failure of successful resolution of a grievance absent agreed arbitration. Such resolution, by work 'stoppage or other interference' is not a happy solution from a societal standpoint of an industrial dispute, particularly as it relates to the claim of a single employee that he has been wrongfully discharged. Were we deciding the issue with a clean slate, we might be disposed to adopt the rationale of Dickeson [v. DAW Forest Products Co.], 827 F.2d 627 [(CA9 1987)]." 882 F.2d, at 1086.*fn8
Section 301(a) of the LMRA provides a federal remedy for breach of a collective-bargaining agreement.*fn9 We have squarely held that § 301 authorizes "suits by and against individual employees as well as between unions and employers," including actions against an employer for wrongful discharge. Hines v. Anchor Motor Freight, Inc., 424 U.S. 554, 562 (1976). Our opinion in Hines described the strong federal policy favoring judicial enforcement of collective-bargaining agreements. We wrote:
"Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act . . . reflects the interest of Congress in promoting 'a higher degree of responsibility upon the parties to such agreements . . . .' S. Rep. No. 105, 80th Cong., 1st Sess., 17 (1947). The strong policy favoring judicial enforcement of collective-bargaining contracts was sufficiently powerful to sustain the jurisdiction of the district courts over enforcement suits even though the conduct involved was arguably or would amount to an unfair labor practice within the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. Smith v. Evening News Assn., 371 U.S. 195 (1962); Atkinson v. Sinclair Rfg. Co., 370 U.S. 238 (1962); Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95 (1962); Charles Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney, 368 U.S. 502 (1962). Section 301 contemplates suits by and against 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 such as wages, hours, overtime pay, and wrongful discharge. Smith v. Evening News Assn., supra, at 198-200. Petitioners' present suit against the employer was for wrongful discharge and is the kind of case Congress provided for in § 301." Id., at 561-562.
Thus, under § 301, as in other areas of the law, there is a strong presumption that favors access to a neutral forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Respondent correctly points out, however, that a presumption favoring access to a judicial forum is overcome whenever the parties have agreed upon a different method for the adjustment of their disputes.*fn10 The company argues that the union has agreed that if the voluntary mediation process is unsuccessful, then the exclusive remedy that remains is either a strike or a lockout, depending on which party asserts the breach of contract. According to this view, the dispute is not whether there was "just cause" for the discharge of Groves and Evans, but whether the union has enough muscle to compel the company to rehire them even if there was just cause for their discharge.
In our view, the statute's reference to "the desirable method for settlement of grievance disputes," see n. 10, supra, refers to the peaceful resolution of disputes over the application or meaning of the collective-bargaining agreement.*fn11 Of course, the parties may expressly agree to resort to economic warfare rather than to mediation, arbitration, or judicial review, but the statute surely does not favor such an agreement. For in most situations a strike or a lockout, though it may be a method of ending the impasse, is not a method of resolving the merits of the dispute over the application or meaning of the contract. Rather, it is simply a method by which one party imposes its will upon its adversary. Such a method is the antithesis of the peaceful methods of dispute resolution envisaged by Congress when it passed the LMRA.*fn12 In Associated General Contractors of Illinois v. Illinois Conference of Teamsters, 486 F.2d 972 (1973), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was confronted with the same issue presented by this case, albeit with the union, rather than the employer, claiming that the contractual provision foreclosed judicial relief. The Seventh Circuit, in response to the union's argument that the CBA's terms provided that deadlocked grievances would be resolved by economic sanctions without resort to the courts, wrote:
"Unquestionably 'the means chosen by the parties for settlement of their differences under a collective bargaining agreement [must be] given full play.' See United Steelworkers of America v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 566 [(1960)]. But it is one thing to hold that an arbitration clause in a contract agreed to by the parties is enforceable. It is quite a different matter to construe a contract provision reserving the Union's right to resort to 'economic recourse' as an agreement to divest the courts of jurisdiction to resolve whatever dispute may arise. This we decline to do.
"In our first opinion in this case we noted that the parties had not agreed to compulsory arbitration and that the Union had expressly reserved the right to 'economic recourse' in the event of a deadlock. We therefore held that the . . . right to strike was protected by the Norris-LaGuardia Act. However, we did not, and do not now, construe the agreement as requiring economic warfare as the exclusive or even as a desirable method for settling deadlocked grievances. The plain language of the
--> statute protects the right to strike, but there is no plain language in the contract compelling the parties to use force instead of reason in resolving their differences. In our view, an agreement to forbid any judicial participation in the resolution of important disputes would have to be written much more clearly than this." Id., at 976 (footnote omitted).
This reasoning applies equally to cases in which the union, an employee, or the employer is the party invoking judicial relief.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
882 F.2d 1081, reversed and remanded.
* Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States by Robin S. Conrad; and for Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association of the United States, Inc., by James D. Holzhauer, Stephen M. Shapiro, William H. Crabtree, and Edward P. Good.