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P.T. & L. Construction Co. v. Teamsters Local Union No. 469

Decided: November 30, 1973.

P.T. & L. CONSTRUCTION CO., INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION NO. 469, DEFENDANT



Salvest, J.s.c.

Salvest

[131 NJSuper Page 107] The parties to this controversy are an Employer and a Union who executed a "Labor Contract" on September 15, 1969, covering the period May 1, 1969 to April 30, 1972. The project consisted of construction of new sections of Route 18 pursuant to a contract between plaintiff and the Department of Transportation. In January 1972, plaintiff was in the process of clearing a site for construction of a section of Route 18 at Colts Neck, New Jersey, when a disagreement arose concerning the use of laborers who were not members of defendant Local 469 for certain tasks at that site. Defendant claimed that plaintiff was using non-member personnel to do labor which should have been under defendant's jurisdiction according to the contract. Plaintiff denied this allegation and in response claimed that defendant was "featherbedding" in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.*fn1 This dispute was not resolved in negotiations between the parties and on February 16, 1972, defendant established a picket line which was honored by several other unions. Work was halted until plaintiff conformed under protest to the Union's demands and later that month plaintiff brought suit for damages caused by the work stoppage.

Defendant answered contending that New Jersey courts lack jurisdiction over the subject matter because the National Labor Relations Act has preempted resolution of such disputes in state or federal courts. Defendant also asserted that the labor contract contained an arbitration clause which plaintiff had not invoked and therefore the suit was premature. Defendant now brings a motion to dismiss the complaint and the parties have stipulated the issues presented. Initially this Court must determine the merits of the jurisdictional question.

The general principle of preemption of state and federal jurisdiction by the National Labor Relations Act regarding conduct that is arguably protected or prohibited by the Act was established in San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 79 S. Ct. 773, 3 L. Ed. 2d 775 (1959). The central purpose is to insure vital uniformity of national labor policy through submission of disputes to the expertise of the NLRB. This rationale was recently reconsidered and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Motor Coach Employees v. Lockridge, 403 U.S. 274, 91 S. Ct. 1909, 29 L. Ed. 2d 473 (1971), where the Court concluded that the state was preempted from entertaining a suit by an individual against his union for terminating his membership in violation of the union's constitution and general laws. Although there has been some confusion during the evolution of the Garmon principle of preemption concerning its application to the variety of labor disputes, Cox, Labor Law Preemption Revisited, 85 Harv. L. Rev. 1337 (1972), it is apparent that the doctrine continues to be a viable concept.

However, the judiciary has not been unequivocally preempted by the NLRB. The first general exception to the Garmon doctrine is that a state has jurisdiction to act in a labor dispute when there is an overriding state interest, such as the interest in maintaining domestic peace and preventing violent conduct or threats to the public order. United Constr. W., etc. v. Laburnum Constr. Corp., 347 U.S. 656, 74 S. Ct. 833, 98 L. Ed. 1025 (1954); Cream-O-Land Dairy v. Local

680, 111 N.J. Super. 578, 582-583 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 57 N.J. 290 (1970); Gotthelf Knitting Mills, Inc. v. Local No. 222, 93 N.J. Super. 263, 270-271 (App. Div. 1966), certif. denied, 48 N.J. 577 (1967). The basis for this exception is the presumed intent that Congress would not by passage of the National Labor Relations Act preempt in areas that had traditionally been a matter of local concern or where such state determinations would have a mere peripheral effect on national labor policy. However, in Blum v. International Ass'n of Machinists, AFL-CIO, 42 N.J. 389 (1964), the New Jersey Supreme Court found that the NLRA precluded a libel action brought by a plant manager against the union for statements contained in distributed leaflets. Although a libel action is traditionally local in nature the Court held that the subject matter was arguably subject to §§ 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act and thus within the sole jurisdiction of the NLRB. Subsequently the United States Supreme Court found an overriding state interest in protecting its citizens from malicious libel that would allow state jurisdiction although the dispute may be arguably subject to the NLRA. Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53, 86 S. Ct. 657, 15 L. Ed. 2d 582 (1966).

The second general exception to the Garmon principle has a statutory basis. The Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, § 301, 29 U.S.C.A. § 185, provides as follows:

(a) Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.

By this provision Congress bestowed on federal courts the authority to interpret and enforce collective bargaining agreements, and it has been held that not only do state courts have concurrent jurisdiction to also interpret and enforce such agreements but that either court may do so even when

the conduct alleged is arguably protected or prohibited by the NLRA. Smith v. Evening News Association, 371 U.S. 195, 83 S. Ct. 267, 9 L. Ed. 2d 246 (1962); Local 174, Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers of America v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 82 S. Ct. 571, 7 L. Ed. 2d 593 (1962); Charles Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney, 368 U.S. 502, 82 S. Ct. 519, 7 L. Ed. 2d 483 (1962).

Section 301 jurisdiction further allows a federal or state court to entertain a suit by a member against his union for the latter's interference with the individual's rights under the collective bargaining agreement where it is shown that the union was by its conduct breaching its duty of fair representation of the union members. State court jurisdiction is not dislodged because the interference is arguably an unfair labor practice. Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 87 S. Ct. 903, 17 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1967); Humphrey v. Moore, 375 U.S. 335, 84 S. Ct. 363, 11 L. Ed. 2d 370 (1964).

New Jersey courts have recognized their jurisdiction under § 301 to interpret and enforce collective bargaining agreements where disputes arise between employer, union and individual members even though the conduct objected to may arguably be protected or prohibited by the NLRA. Carpenters & Millwrights etc. v. Riggs-Distler & Co., 40 N.J. 97, 99 (1963) (Per Curiam); Donnelly v. United Fruit Co., 40 N.J. 61, 75-79 (1963); Independent Oil Workers v. Socony Mobile Oil Co., 85 N.J. Super. 453, 456-458 (Ch. Div. 1964).

It is apparent from the facts of this case that the jurisdiction of this Court cannot be founded upon a compelling state interest arising from possible threat to the public order or because the subject matter of the dispute is that which has traditionally been a matter of local law. State jurisdiction in light of the Garmon preemption doctrine must be based on § 301. The question is whether the relief sought by plaintiff employer is for the interpretation or enforcement ...


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