Eastwood, Goldmann and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Eastwood, S.j.a.d.
The question posed by this appeal of the Campbell Soup Company (hereinafter referred to as the "employer") is whether, having reached the age of 65 years, the employees affected by the retirement provision in the collective bargaining agreement are eligible for benefits under the unemployment compensation statutes.
This appeal is one of several such cases evolving out of the same fundamental factual situation, and which have been consolidated by order of the court.
The employer, with an extensive plant in Camden, New Jersey, is engaged in the business of canning soup and other food products. The claimant, John A. Hattel, was employed by that company from July 21, 1941 until February 28, 1951, as a machine maintenance man. During the term of his employment claimant was a member of Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union of America, Local 80, the collective bargaining agent for its members.
On March 22, 1950 an agreement was entered into between the union and the company which provided in part as follows:
"SECTION XII -- HEALTH, SAFETY AND WELFARE.
(b) The Company agrees to wholly pay for the pension plan outlined below:
ELIGIBILITY: Employees are eligible after 5 years of service and attainment of age 30 but under age 65.
RETIREMENT AGE: 65 years of age; or earlier with consent of Company, on a reduced amount of pension."
During the month of February 1951 the claimant, John A. Hattel, reached the age of 65 years, and at the end of that month the employer notified him that in view of the provision of the agreement set forth above, he could no longer be employed and thereafter he would receive a pension of approximately $25 per month. The claimant retired and accepted his pension payments.
Thereafter Hattel filed his claim for unemployment compensation benefits and was held eligible by the agency, and the Board of Review of the Division of Employment Security affirmed.
In other cases, referred to collectively as the Attanasio cases, the claimants were found to be production workers, possessing no skill or experience in any line of work other than food processing, wherein the board of review held that these workers had unreasonably restricted their availability for work by seeking employment in similar capacities, and were not entitled to benefits under the statute. The claimants involved in this class also appeal from the board's determination.
A third group of cases, referred to as the Piere cases, involved production workers who had removed from the local labor market and sought employment elsewhere and had thus not restricted their availability. These workers were found to hold compensable claims, from which holding the employer appeals.
The employer contends that the purpose of the unemployment compensation statutes was to provide economic protection to those involuntarily unemployed; that having contracted through the union the employees of the Campbell Soup Company called for a cessation of employment at the age of 65, through the retirement provision of the contract; that the same is not discretionary with the employer and that such separation from employment is, therefore, voluntary on the part of the employee and consequently not compensable under the unemployment compensation statutes; that to be compensatory the cessation of employment must have been "for good cause," which has generally been considered to mean attributable to something beyond the control of the employee; that this is not the situation in the matter sub judice; that it is also a statutory prerequisite to benefits that the claimant be "available for work," and that by acceptance of the pension the employee has not shown an unequivocal exposure to the labor market.
The employer takes the position that the group of employees (in the Attanasio cases) who were unskilled production workers in food processing, found by the board to have non-compensable claims because they had unreasonably restricted their availability for labor, had non-compensable claims for the reason that they voluntarily severed their employment rather than for the reason assigned.
In the last group of cases (Piere cases) the board held that having removed themselves to another area, they had not unreasonably restricted their availability for work and were, therefore, possessed of compensable claims. The employer, however, contends that this holding is too narrow and that this group of cases should be held ineligible for benefits for the reason that they left their employment ...