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Barnhart v. United Automobile

Decided: March 1, 1951.


Jacobs, Eastwood and Bigelow. The opinion of the court was delivered by Eastwood, J.A.D.


We are of the opinion that the judgment of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, directing the reinstatement of the plaintiffs as members of United Automobile, Aircraft, Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW-CIO) International Union and Amalgamated Local 669, UAW-CIO, must be affirmed, on the ground that the international convention was without authority to expel them.

It is not necessary to engage in a detailed factual recital with respect to the charges made against the plaintiffs. A statement thereof may be found in the opinion of Judge Grimshaw, reported in 10 N.J. Super. 357 (Ch. Div. 1950). Suffice it to say that the plaintiffs, Barnhart and DeAngelis, president and financial secretary-treasurer, respectively, of Local 669, were charged with offering a bribe to one Eugene Zoppo (a member of Local 669 and international representative assigned to assist Local 950, whose members were employees of the Rowe Manufacturing Company), to secure a reduction in the wage rates of the employees of the Rowe Company when it changed the model of a cigarette vending machine. On December 20, 1948, the plaintiffs were tried and acquitted by the trial committee of Local 669 and their verdict was approved by the local union. Thereafter, in July, 1949, Local 950 presented the same charges to the executive board of the international convention, which in turn referred the matter to its grievance committee. At the outset of the trial by this committee, the plaintiffs entered a special appearance, protesting the committee's authority to hear and determine the charges and thereupon left the meeting. Notwithstanding this protest, the grievance committee proceeded with the hearing and reported to the convention their findings of plaintiffs' guilt, recommending expulsion. The resolution expelling the plaintiffs was adopted by an almost unanimous vote of the convention. At the conclusion of the trial of the present action to set aside the expulsion of the plaintiffs, the Chancery Division determined that "* * * the expulsion of the plaintiffs from the defendant union was not accomplished in the

manner provided by the Union Constitution" and directed their reinstatement.

The constitution of the international union with which we are concerned was adopted at Atlantic City in November, 1947. In July, 1949, the convention adopted a constitution at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wherein "In case of extreme emergency, and when it appears to the International Executive Board that irreparable injury may result to the International Union or to a subordinate body * * *" the executive board is vested with authority to originate and try charges against members. However, the issue here is not affected by the 1949 constitution.

The pertinent provision of the 1947 constitution is contained in sections 1 and 2, Article 48, viz.:

"All charges against a member of the Union with the violation of any of the provisions of this Constitution, or with conduct unbecoming a member of the Union, must be specifically set forth in writing and signed by the member making the charge.

Charges must be submitted to the Recording Secretary of the Local Union or of the Shop Organization, as the case may be, within sixty (60) days of the time the complainant becomes aware of the alleged offense, * * *"

Courts are loath to interfere with the internal management of an unincorporated, voluntary association. The right of a voluntary association to interpret and administer its own rules and regulations is as sacred as the right to make them, and there is no presumption against just and correct action or conduct on the part of its supervising or appellate authorities and tribunals. The expulsion of a member, if for cause within the jurisdiction of the tribunal of the association by which it is pronounced, after notice and opportunity to be heard and a trial conducted in accordance with the constitution, laws and regulations of the association, is conclusive upon the civil courts. Dragwa v. Federal Labor Union No. 23070 , 136 N.J. Eq. 172 (Ch. 1945). While it is clear from an examination of the authorities that a trade union may discipline and even expel a member, such action cannot be arbitrarily exercised, but must follow the procedure specifically

provided for in the laws of the association. Walsh v. International Alliance, &c. , 22 N.J. Misc. 161 (Ch. 1944); Gordon v. Tomei , 19 A.2d 588 (Super. Ct. Pa. 1941); Sweetman v. Barrows , 263 Mass. 349, 161 N.E. 272, 62 A.L.R. 311 (Mass. Sup. Jud. Ct. 1928); 25 R.C.L. 58; Dragwa v. Federal Labor Union No. 23070, supra. Membership in an association or society is based upon the implied, if not express, condition of loyalty. The power of expulsion is included in what may be denominated the police power of such an organization, which is derived from the law of self-preservation. It must have the power to relieve itself of its discordant elements, in order that harmony may prevail and, therefore, it has the right to provide by its constitution and by-laws, for the expulsion of members transgressing their reasonable provisions. See DeMille v. American Federation of Radio Artists , 31 Cal. 2d 139, 187 P. 2d 769 and 175 A.L.R. 382, pp. 390-393, 506-523 (Cal. Sup. Ct. en banc 1947).

The settled rule in New Jersey is that the constitution is a contract between the international union and the local union and the members thereof. "The members of the local may all, of right, insist that their affairs be managed in the manner therein prescribed." Harris v. Geier , 112 N.J. Eq. 99 (Ch. 1932). The procedure for the trial of charges made against a member must be that prescribed by the constitution, and unless it is followed the penalty imposed upon the member will be set aside. Blanchard v. Newark Council , 77 N.J.L. 389 (Sup. Ct. 1909); Gaestel v. Brotherhood of Painters, &c. , 120 N.J. Eq. 358, 362 (Ch. 1936). So long as such an association adheres to such rules and regulations, the member must likewise act in accordance therewith. When, however, the association departs from the letter and spirit of the contract, it would be without reason to say that the member cannot secure relief from such unauthorized action. The contract, which is the constitution, rules ...

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