Jacobs, Donges and Bigelow. The opinion of the court was delivered by Jacobs, S.j.a.d.
This is an appeal from a determination by the Board of Review that the appellants were disqualified under the provisions of R.S. 43:21-5(d) from receiving unemployment compensation.
The respondent Herman Basch & Co., Inc., is engaged in the business of dressing, dyeing and processing fur skins
owned by its customers. It operates a plant at North Bergen, New Jersey, where the appellants, who are members of Fur Dressers' Union Local No. 2 or Fur Floor Workers' Union Local No. 3, were employed. Several weeks are required to process the skins and once processing is started, it must be completed in regular course to avoid spoilage. When the plant is operating in normal manner there are in excess of 200,000 skins being processed.
In 1946 the employer and the unions entered into collective bargaining contracts which expired under their terms on April 30, 1948. These contracts provided that on or about February 15, 1948, the parties shall meet for the purpose of discussing their renewal, revision or modification. Early in February, 1948, the unions sent letters to the employer embodying demands for wage increases and other benefits in proposed contracts for the period commencing May 1, 1948. Thereafter, negotiations were conducted between the employer and the unions and conferences were held, mostly in New York City, during which the unions presented their demands and the employer presented counter demands. On March 1, 1948, the unions addressed formal sixty-day notices under the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (29 U.S.C.A. , § 158) stating they proposed terminating their collective bargaining agreements and requesting that the terms of the new contracts be negotiated. Thereafter the conferences between the parties were continued but produced no agreement.
Dr. Nauen, vice-president and secretary in charge of operations of the employer's plant, testified that about the middle or end of March it was apparent it would be difficult to reach agreements with the unions and the company began curtailing its production. Mr. Vort, president of the employer, testified there were numerous meetings with union representatives in February, March and thereafter, they were unable to reach agreements and in March "we stopped taking skins until we knew where we stood." By the close of March the skins in process had been reduced to approximately 20,000 and it was evident, as the Board of Review found, that there
had been "a substantial curtailment of production." The employer had apparently determined that it would not undertake extensive processing, with the risk of spoilage in the event of sudden cessation of work, until contracts for the period commencing May 1, 1948, had been executed. As the volume of skins processed was reduced the earnings of the members of the unions were correspondingly reduced. About the beginning of April the employer started to lay off the employees and not many members of the unions remained at work when the contracts expired on Friday, April 30, 1948. None of the members reported for work on Monday, May 3, 1948, although, with minor exceptions, they did not remove their tools or work clothes from the plant.
No further negotiations between the employer and the unions were conducted until a conference was called on May 10th by the United States Conciliation Service. Thereafter negotiations were continued until June 15, 1948, on which date memorandum agreements were reached. The employees resumed work between June 15th and June 30, 1948. The Board of Review found that, although the employer had been diligent in obtaining additional furs for processing "a considerable number of employees could not be recalled until June 30, 1948, the first date on which substantial production was resumed." The Board concluded that each of the appellants was disqualified from unemployment compensation for the period prior to June 30, 1948, on the ground that his unemployment was "due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises at which he is or was last employed." See R.S. 43:21-5(d).
We are not concerned with the wisdom or unwisdom of the labor dispute disqualification clause of our Unemployment Compensation Law; the important policy determination rests entirely with the Legislature. Our judicial function is confined to the interpretation and application of the comprehensive legislative phraseology in the light of its history, purpose and context. It was taken from the Social Security
Board Draft Bill and is found, in identical language, in the laws of many of the States. See Fierst and Spector, Unemployment Compensation in Labor Disputes , 49 Yale L.J. 461 (1940); Sakrison v. Pierce , 66 Ariz. 162, 185 P. 2d 528, 173 A.L.R. 480 (Sup. Ct. 1947). It has been said to place the State in a completely neutral position without regard to the rightness or reasonableness of the positions or demands of the employer or the employees. In re Steelman , 219 N.C. 306, 13 S.E. 2d 544 (Sup. Ct. 1941); Fash v. Gordon , 398 Ill. 210, 75 N.E. 2d 294 (Sup. Ct. 1947). Apart from exceptions not pertinent here, if there was a "labor dispute" at the premises and as a result thereof there was a "stoppage of work" causing the unemployment the disqualification, under its express terms, ...