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North Jersey Newspaper Guild v. Rakos

Decided: April 20, 1970.


Kilkenny, Labrecque and Leonard. The opinion of the court was delivered by Labrecque, J.A.D.


Defendant Ronald E. Rakos appeals from a judgment of the Middlesex County District Court awarding damages of $500 to plaintiff and dismissing his counterclaim. Plaintiff cross-appeals, challenging the amount of damages awarded.

The North Jersey Newspaper Guild, Local No. 173 (Guild), is a subordinate local union of the American Newspaper Guild, an international union, and the collective bargaining representative of the employees in the news-editorial department of the Perth Amboy News (News). In December,

1960 defendant, a News employee, joined the Guild. In November 1965 a labor dispute arose between Local 658 of the International Typographical Union (ITU), which represented the printers and compositors, and the News. On November 11, 1965 ITU declared that the members of Local 658 had been locked out and sanctioned a strike against the News. The Perth Amboy Evening News unit of Local 173 of the Guild thereupon adopted a motion to support Local 658 by requiring its members not to cross picket lines set up by Local 658 at the News. This decision was ratified on November 15, 1965 by the executive committee of the Guild, after which its members honored the picket lines set up by Local 658. Officers and members of Local 173 also joined the picket line. The strike continued until November 29, 1965.

Defendant did not attend the meetings of the Guild at which it was voted to support Local 658 and not to cross its picket lines. He received no written notice of those decisions although he knew that the officers and members of the Guild had joined the ITU picket line. Actually, he had not attended any meetings of the local or participated in any of its activities since August 1964. At the conclusion of the strike he was appointed to the post of managing editor, a supervisory position excluded from the labor contract between the Guild and the News. He thereupon tendered his resignation, dated November 29, 1965, to be effective immediately.

When his resignation was submitted to the Guild's executive committee on December 11, 1965 it was tabled. On December 9, 1965 charges of improper activities during the strike were brought against defendant by members of the Guild. These were filed on or about December 12, 1965. Although served with the charges and duly notified of the hearing date defendant did not answer and failed to appear at the hearing before the Guild's trial board.

The charges against defendant included: (1) crossing ITU's picket line, (2) attempting to entice other members of the Guild to cross the picket line, (3) working on jobs

other than his own, (4) working under conditions other than those provided for in the Guild's contract with the News , and (5) acting collusively with the employer or its agent to the detriment of the Guild or any of its branches. At the hearing, various Guildsmen testified to seeing defendant violate the picket line. A letter was also received in evidence on the basis of which a finding was made that defendant had attempted to entice other Guildsmen to cross the picket line. Four complainants testified to defendant's association with an executive editor of the News , and to his suggestion to editorial workers to continue working despite the strike.

The trial board found defendant guilty of violating the picket line, attempting on one occasion to entice another Guildsman to cross the picket line and collusion with management. He was fined $750 and expelled from Local 173. The expulsion from the local brought with it loss of membership in the parent American Newspaper Guild.

Although defendant did not appeal the decision of the trial board to the membership of the local, it was nevertheless affirmed by the membership on April 17, 1966. While he could have appealed to the International's executive board within 30 days thereafter, he did not do so.

When defendant failed to pay the fine, plaintiff filed its present complaint to have it reduced to judgment. In his answer defendant challenged the right of the Guild to discipline him after he had submitted his resignation, and attacked the fine imposed as violative of his constitutional rights. He also counterclaimed seeking compensatory and punitive damages for malicious prosecution, based on three articles referring to the charges against him which were published in the Guild newsletter and were allegedly calculated to harass, persecute and humiliate him.

The matter was heard on an agreed statement of facts. The trial judge found that portion of the decision of the trial board which found defendant guilty of solicitation of another Guildsman to cross the picket line, to be unsupported by the proofs. He likewise found that, by reason

thereof, the fine should be reduced from $750 to $500. He concluded that at the time of the violations defendant was still a member of the local and subject to its discipline, that he had been afforded substantial due process and, in view of the nature of the offenses and the manner in which defendant had profited from them, the fine was not excessive.

Defendant now raises three points: (1) the local was without jurisdiction over him for the purpose of imposing disciplinary measures for conduct occurring during the period of his membership, after he had been appointed to an ineligible supervisory position and had submitted his resignation; (2) such disciplinary measures could not be imposed where his alleged transgression was in connection with a sympathy work stoppage involving a dispute in which Local 173 was not involved, and (3) by reason of its excessiveness and unreasonableness the penalty should not be enforced.

It would appear clear that, in general, a labor union may discipline one of its members for violation of its rules; that such discipline may take the form of a fine, and that such fine, when reasonable and levied in accordance with due process, may be collected in an action at law in the state courts. Division 1478, etc. v. Ross , 90 N.J. Super. 391 (App. Div. 1966); NLRB v. Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co. , 388 U.S. 175, 87 S. Ct. 2001, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1123 (1967); Local 248, UAW v. Natzke , 36 Wis. 2d 237, 153 N.W. 2d 602 (Sup. Ct. ...

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