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Cooper v. Nutley Sun Printing Co.

Decided: November 20, 1961.


For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall, Schettino and Haneman. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Proctor, J.


The issues presented on this appeal involve the effect which our courts should give to the constitutional rights of employees in private employment to organize and select their representatives for the purpose of collective bargaining.

The complaint was filed in the Superior Court, Chancery Division. It alleged that: On September 2, 1959, the nine individual plaintiffs were members of the plaintiff union (Local No. 103). Defendants, employers of the individual plaintiffs, were engaged in the printing and publishing of a newspaper and other types of printing. Between September 2, 1959 and September 28, 1959, defendants (a single employing unit for the purpose of this appeal) discharged the plaintiffs, Cooper, Ritter and Williams, because of their membership in Local No. 103. During this period defendants ordered the six other individual plaintiffs "to have nothing

to do with plaintiff Local No. 103, and to refrain from becoming members therein," and "threatened plaintiff Lukas with bodily harm if he joined any Union strike against the defendants." It was also alleged that because of these acts the six individual plaintiffs declared a strike and together with Cooper, Ritter and Williams commenced picketing defendants' place of business; the strike still continues. The complaint further stated that prior to instituting the present action, the individual plaintiffs filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging the defendants were guilty of unfair labor practices. The Board rejected jurisdiction over the matter because defendants were not sufficiently engaged in interstate commerce to justify the Board's intervention. Plaintiffs demanded judgment "ordering defendants to reinstate plaintiffs Cooper, Ritter, and Williams to their jobs with full back pay from the time of their discharge to the time of reinstatement and thereupon to re-employ the other individual plaintiffs at the jobs and wages enjoyed by them, and with the full seniority rights at the time of the commencement of the strike, upon their tender of return to employment." In their answer defendants denied the individual plaintiffs, Cooper, Ritter and Williams, were discharged because of their union activities. While defendants admitted the National Labor Relations Board had rejected jurisdiction, they contended that jurisdiction over the matter lay exclusively in the Federal courts or agencies. Defendants further contended the complaint failed to allege a cause of action upon which relief may be granted. The pretrial order embodied the above issues.

At the outset of the trial, plaintiffs contended their rights as set forth in the 1947 New Jersey Constitution, Art. I § 19, had been violated. That section provides:

" Persons in private employment shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Persons in public employment shall have the right to organize, present to and make known to the State, or any of its political subdivisions or agencies, their grievances and proposals through representatives of their own choosing." (Emphasis added)

They urged the "constitutional provision is self-implementing" and the courts have the duty to redress any infringement upon these rights. Therefore they sought what they considered to be the proper remedy, namely, the relief demanded in their complaint. The defendants contended that the discharges resulted solely from "reasons of economy." Since the parties agreed that an appeal would be taken regardless of the trial court's decision, they did not introduce evidence to resolve the factual dispute. Plaintiffs simply made an "offer of proof * * * which will tend to prove that some of the plaintiffs were discharged because they joined the Union, and that the others went on strike to support the right of the plaintiffs to join the Union and to bargain collectively." Thereupon the court replied:

"On the basis of that offer, Mr. Parsonnet, I am of the opinion that I do not have jurisdiction to grant the relief which you seek and I will refuse to accept the proof. In the event that the Appellate Court decides that my determination is erroneous the matter would then come back here for proof on the facts."

Accordingly, a judgment was entered stating, "[T]he Court lacks jurisdiction to grant the relief demanded by the Plaintiffs" and ordered "Judgment for the Defendants." Plaintiffs appealed to the Appellate Division and we certified the appeal before argument there.

We cannot tell the basis upon which the trial court found it lacked "jurisdiction." By their pleadings the parties assume the defendants are engaged in interstate commerce. If the court meant that through the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq.) Congress had given exclusive jurisdiction in interstate labor disputes to the National Labor Relations Board, it was in error. Congress has pre-empted the field, requiring that all labor disputes which involve interstate commerce be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board. See Guss v. Utah Labor Relations Bd., 353 U.S. 1, 77 S. Ct. 598, 1 L. Ed. 2 d 601 (1957); San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 353 U.S. 26,

77 S. Ct. 607, 1 L. Ed. 2 d 618 (1957). But in some circumstances the Board may reject jurisdiction. 29 ...

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