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Ludwigsen v. New Jersey Department of Labor and Industry

March 30, 1953


On appeal to Appellate Division, certified to Supreme Court of its own motion.

For affirmance -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by William J. Brennan, Jr., J.


[12 NJ Page 65] This appeal to the Appellate Division, here on certification of our own motion, brings up the decision of the Board of Review, Division of Employment Security, that the appellant claimants were ineligible for benefits during the period of their unemployment from

September 15 to December 3, 1951. The decision, applicable to all claimants, was made on the claim of Mary E. Haberli and rests on a finding that she "could have had suitable work all the time that she was unemployed. She did not have good cause for refusing it."

The claimants were employed in the plant cafeteria maintained by the then-named Wright Aeronautical Corporation (now Curtiss-Wright Corporation) for the convenience of the approximately 15,000 employees at its Wood-Ridge plant. Claimants were covered by a collective bargaining agreement between Wright and Local 669, UAW-CIO, which agreement also covered some 10,000 production workers at the plant.

On September 15, 1951 Wright discontinued self-operation of the cafeteria and turned over the operation to respondent Slater System, Inc., specialists in the management of industrial food facilities. Slater agreed with Wright to continue the claimants in its employ. The claimants, however, did not take employment with Slater but, upon receipt from Wright of notices of termination of employment with Wright effective September 15, filed claims for unemployment benefits.

R.S. 43:21-4, as amended by L. 1948, c. 110, p. 598 (amendments made by L. 1952, c. 187, p. 616, are not pertinent), provided that "An individual, totally or partially unemployed, shall be eligible to receive benefits * * * only if it appears that: * * * (c) He is able to work, is available for work, and has demonstrated that he is actively seeking work, * * *." The substantial question is whether the claimants were "available for work" in light of their failure to accept employment with Slater. "The availability requirement is satisfied only when the workman is able, willing and ready to accept 'suitable work which he does not have good cause to refuse.'" Valenti v. Board of Review, etc., 4 N.J. 287, 290 (1950); Muraski v. Board of Review, etc., 136 N.J.L. 472 (Sup. Ct. 1948).

The Board of Review's findings from the evidence may be summarized as determining that Slater offered to continue the claimants in its employ at the same wages and

under the same working conditions; that the claimants, however, preferred Wright as an employer and, with the active help, if not, indeed, at the instigation of their union, agreed among themselves not to accept employment with Slater; that by that and other measures, including, after Slater commenced operations, the encouragement by their union of a plant-wide boycott of the cafeteria participated in by all workers except executive and supervisory personnel, the claimants and their union endeavored to bring pressure upon Wright to retain the claimants in its employ; and that success attended this design when, on or about October 22, Wright made an agreement with the union affording the claimants opportunities for employment in production jobs in the plant. We think that the findings are fully substantiated in the evidence and establish that the claimants' unemployment was not involuntary in the sense contemplated by the act, but was voluntary in the sense that rendered them ineligible under section 4(c) to receive unemployment benefits.

The stated policy of the Unemployment Compensation Law is to protect workers against the dire and distressing consequences of "involuntary unemployment" which "falls with crushing force upon the unemployed worker and his family," R.S. 43:21-2. While the act is liberally construed to further its remedial and beneficent purposes, Bergen Point Iron Works v. Board of Review, etc., 137 N.J.L. 685 (E. & A. 1948), the fund created to pay benefits thereunder is not to be used to finance employees who, merely because they prefer the former employer, deliberately and intentionally refuse to continue employment with the new operator of the business although no change in wage or working conditions is involved. Cf. W.T. Grant Co. v. Board of Review, etc., 129 N.J.L. 402 (Sup. Ct. 1943); Muncie Foundry Division of Borg-Warner Corp. v. Review Board of Employment Security Division, 114 Ind. App. 475, 51 N.E. 2 d 891 (App. Ct. 1943).

Though Slater did offer suitable work, the claimants were, of course, entirely free to refuse ...

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