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Marchitto v. Central Railroad Co.

Decided: February 26, 1952.


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


[18 NJSuper Page 164] This appeal presents the question: Is plaintiff's action for additional earnings claimed under

a collective bargaining agreement existing between the defendant railroad and the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, maintainable in our state courts? The Law Division decided it in the negative, holding that the National Railroad Adjustment Board established by authority of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C.A. 151 et seq. , has exclusive jurisdiction and dismissed the complaint.

Section 153 of the Railway Labor Act provides:

"(a) That the said Adjustment Board shall consist of thirty-six members, eighteen of whom shall be selected by the carriers and eighteen by such labor organizations of the employees, * * *.

(i) The disputes between an employee or group of employees and a carrier or carriers growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions, * * *, shall be handled in the usual manner up to and including the chief operating officer of the carrier designated to handle such disputes; but, failing to reach an adjustment in this manner, the disputes may be referred by petition of the parties or by either party to the appropriate division of the Adjustment Board * * *."

It is obvious that if plaintiff is to succeed, he must rely upon the terms of the bargaining agreement, because his action is based thereon. He argues that its provisions are clear and unambiguous; therefore, he does not seek an interpretation or construction thereof, but relies "upon the same as it exists." Thus, it is apparent that the issue cannot be decided without reference to and ascertainment of the meaning and purpose of its pertinent parts. It follows, of course, that such a necessary procedure would involve its interpretation and construction.

The further contention is made by the plaintiff that the major purpose of the act is to avoid a severance of interstate commerce traffic, from which premise he argues that the severance of interstate commerce is not nor could it be conceivably at stake here, citing Elgin, &c., R. Co. v. Burley , 325 U.S. 711 (1945), and other decisions in support thereof. The cases cited by the plaintiff all antedate the case of

Slocum v. Delaware, L. & W.R. Co. , 339 U.S. 239, 94 L. Ed. 795 (1950), hereinafter discussed. It may be that such a situation does not actually appear in the instant case, but it is common knowledge that a refusal by a railroad to comply with such a demand of an employee and other disagreements between a railroad and individual employees have caused strikes resulting in a severance of interstate commerce.

Additionally, plaintiff contends that "the case sub judice is one for money damages only; that in no wise does it affect the future labor relationship of himself or any other employees." We think that it is reasonably within the realm of probability that there are other individual employees who may be now, or in the future, similarly situated and who will be affected by the determination of this action. Can it, therefore, be successfully asserted that a determination of this issue will not disturb the future relationship of the railroad and its employees and result in a rupture of the employer-employee relationship, thereby causing a severance of interstate commerce? We think not.

In determining the question of the propriety of the trial court's action, we are bound by the decision in the Slocum case, supra , holding:

"In this case the dispute concerned interpretation of an existing bargaining agreement. Its settlement would have prospective as well as retrospective importance to both the railroad and its employees, since the interpretation accepted would govern future relations of those parties. This type of grievance has long been considered a potent cause of friction leading to strikes. It was to prevent such friction that the (May 20,) 1926 Act provided for creation of various Adjustment Boards by voluntary agreements between carriers and workers. 44 Stat. 577, 578, ch. 347. But this voluntary machinery proved unsatisfactory, and in 1934 Congress, with the support of both unions and railroads, passed an amendment which directly created a national Adjustment Board composed of representatives of railroads and unions. 48 Stat. 1189-1193, ch. 691. The Act thus represents a considered ...

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