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Bowers v. American Bridge Co.

Decided: December 4, 1956.

ROBERT BOWERS, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
AMERICAN BRIDGE CO., RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT



Goldmann, Freund and Conford. The opinion of the court was delivered by Conford, J.A.D.

Conford

In this workmen's compensation case the principal problems are two: (1) the place of contract and (2) the effect in New Jersey of an earlier Pennsylvania compensation award as res adjudicata within the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution, Art. IV, Sec. 1. The petitioner sustained two accidental injuries while at work for respondent at Morrisville, Pa. He recovered awards for temporary and permanent disability on account of each before the Division of Workmen's Compensation but these were reversed by the Mercer County Court on the finding by that tribunal that the agreement of employment was made in Pennsylvania, not New Jersey.

I.

Petitioner testified at the hearing in the Division that about July 10, 1951, while employed as an ironworker on the New Jersey Turnpike construction and living in a house trailer in Camden (he moves about in his trailer from job to job), he received a call from the Iron Workers Union Local 68 in Trenton to attend at its office there in reference to employment; that he went there about 8:00 A.M. one day and met one "Sailor" Davis, assistant business agent of the union, who informed him that there was work for him with the respondent at Morrisville, Pa., as member of

a five-man crew to operate a rig for unloading steel; that he "knew * * * at the hall at Trenton" what wage he was to receive; that he and the other members of the assembled crew, all of whom, with one exception, he was able to name, left for Morrisville at 8:30 A.M. and arrived on the job at 9:00 A.M.; and that he went to work at once, being paid for a full eight-hour day although regular working hours were 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. with half an hour off for lunch. When he arrived at the job, so he said, he was given a temporary badge and safety hat and later in the day, while working, he signed a payroll card. He gave a Langhorne, Pa. address, having been told there was a trailer camp there at which he could stay. He was living at the camp when he sustained the injuries here involved.

Petitioner testified that he has been an ironworker eleven years and that among his prior employments were a number of jobs with the present respondent. He said that the regular procedure for the hiring of ironworkers was through the contractor calling the local union business agent and that union members seeking employment are required by the union to apply at the union hall and are forbidden to apply directly to the employer. This is not controverted by respondent.

On August 30, 1952 petitioner was struck in the chest by a swinging load of steel and his consequent injuries kept him out of work until October 20, 1952. Toward the end of November 1952 he sustained an injury to his left leg when he stepped into a hole. It was for these mishaps that the awards here in question were allowed.

Respondent offered proofs designed to establish that its hiring of the petitioner took place when he arrived on the job at Morrisville, not before. The question was crucial, since, in these circumstances, the making of a contract of employment in New Jersey was essential to found jurisdiction in the New Jersey Division of Workmen's Compensation. Gotkin v. Weinberg , 2 N.J. 305 (1949). Respondent produced its safety engineer, McFarland, and its assistant to the project manager, Maxwell, to testify concerning the

procedure for hiring men at Morrisville as of July 1951. Neither of them was specifically familiar with the hiring of petitioner. The purport of this proof was that the nine superintendents on the project would congregate early each morning in company with the union stewards and decide how many additional men were needed that day; that the stewards were advised accordingly and required to obtain the men through the business agent of the union; that the union (Local No. 68 in Trenton) set up a hiring hall in Morrisville to handle employment for this project (Fairless Works of United States Steel Corporation) because of its size and that it was there that workers were recruited for the job by the stewards. Superintendent Grimes testified that the stewards were authorized "to bring in what [workers] we required."

The most significant testimony on this subject was given by Henry Gill, union steward at the time of petitioner's hiring and the only one of respondent's witnesses who remembered Bowers particularly. He testified:

"Q. Do you recall seeing Mr. Bowers in 1951, in July, or while you were engaged as a steward? A. Yes.

Q. Will you describe the way you met Mr. Bowers and what you did after you saw him? A. The only way I could describe that is, I had him in my steward's book. I know he was there and I collected assessments off him.

Q. Did you bring Mr. Bowers through the gate? A. That's right.

Q. Did you examine his book? A. Not me alone. The business agent examined the books. I'm only the steward. I bring them in."

On cross-examination Gill testified that after serving as a steward he "then became a regular employee of" the respondent and has been with it ever since. He also testified, concerning the men he brought through "the gate," that "the business agent had arranged for them to be there"; further:

"Q. They came from Local 68, didn't they? A. Come from all locals.

Q. Some from Local 68, some from other locals? A. That's right.

Q. Local 68 is in Trenton, isn't it? A. That's right.

Q. Saylor Davis at that time was working as -- handling the business agent duties at Trenton? A. Not at that time. Trenton, yes. Hanford was the business ...


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