wage claims is to furnish distressed workers with a cushion of purchasing power against the impact of their employers' bankruptcy. Collier on Bankruptcy (14th ed. 1941), Vol. 3, Paragraph 64.201; see also Blessing v. Blanchard, 9 Cir., 1915, 223 F. 35. This rationale does not encompass an employer's unpaid contribution to a union insurance or retirement fund.
The contentions arising from the record of this case illustrate the mischief caused when we lift a term from its context and seek to have it do service in an alien setting. Conceded, the term 'wages' has been expanded to comprise severance pay, vacation pay, back pay awards under the N.L.R.A. and portal-to-portal pay. In re Wil-Low Cafeterias, Inc., 2 Cir., 1940, 111 F.2d 429; In re Public Ledger, 3 Cir., 1947, 161 F.2d 762; Kavanas v. Mead, 4 Cir., 1948, 171 F.2d 195, 6 A.L.R.2d 645; and other decisions. But in all of these cases, the wages were due the worker directly for services rendered and were not due to another pursuant to a contract. The brief submitted by the claimant cites numerous decisions which interpret the term in the light of the particular statute then before the courts. For example, the court of appeals in Inland Steel Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 7 Cir., 1948, 170 F.2d 247, 12 A.L.R.2d 240 certiorari denied 336 U.S. 960, 69 S. Ct. 887, 93 L. Ed. 1112, examined the term 'wages' in the light of Section 9(a) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 159(a). We may accept that court's view that so-called 'fringe benefits' are subjects over which employers are compelled to bargain collectively. The point to be noted here, however, is that the term 'wages' will take its content and meaning from the particular legislative enactment. The problem, in short, calls for the application of the maxim 'noscitur a sociis,' which is to say that words like people, may be known by the company they keep. The general and specific words are associated with and take color from each other.
The Bankruptcy Act evinces a carefully drawn and delicately balanced pattern of priorities. As our Court of Appeals has declared in In re Ko-Ed Tavern, Inc., 3 Cir., 1942, 129 F.2d 806, 809, 142 A.L.R. 357:
'By § 64 sub. a, of the Bankruptcy Act, wage claimants are entitled to priority of payment immediately after administration expenses if, but only if, they supply the qualifications 'called for by the Act. If they fail to do so, their claims are automatically relegated to the class of general unsecured creditors. See 3 Collier on Bankruptcy, 14th Ed., p. 2083.'
Subsequent to the hearing, claimants directed my attention to the decision In the Matter of Embassy Restaurant, Inc., rendered June 28, 1957, by Judge Welsh of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. 154 F.Supp. 141. As the court there noted, our Court of Appeals has not resolved the matter, and cases in other circuits are not in harmony. That being so, Judge Welsh concluded that the case of In re Otto, D.C.S.D.Cal.1956, 146 F.Supp. 786, was 'most persuasive.' That decision of Judge Mathes rests its holding upon the theory that the employees assigned a portion of their 'wages' to the welfare fund. The court emphasized that it had to look 'to the state law which rules the validity and effectiveness of any partial assignment,' and concluded that partial assignment was expressly sanctioned by California statute. Cal.Civ.Code, § 1044, 1045. 146 F.Supp. at page 790. By contrast, the law of New Jersey is contra, i.e., the courts do not enforce such assignments. Glaser v. Columbia Laboratories, Inc., 1933, 11 N.J.Misc. 707, 167 A. 201, affirmed 1934, 112 N.J.L. 91, 169 A. 693. The more persuasive reasoning it seems to me is that of Chief Judge Brennan in In the Matter of Brassel, D.C.N.D.N.Y.1955, 135 F.Supp. 827, 839, and of the courts in Local 140 Security Fund v. Hack, supra. As these courts have noted, it is for Congress to expand the carefully framed priority coverage of the Bankruptcy Act; it is not a proper matter for judicial legislation.
The order of the Referee is affirmed.
The foregoing opinion shall constitute findings of fact and conclusions of law, as required by Rule 52 Fed.Rules Civ.Proc. 28 U.S.C.
An order may be submitted in conformity with the opinion herein expressed.