Mackenzie, J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).
This is an action brought by a labor union against two of its members to enforce and collect disciplinary penalties previously imposed by the trial board of the union for violations of the union constitution and by-laws. These two defendants resist payment of the fines, urging that their rights as union members were so grossly violated as to require the court to invalidate the sanctions imposed by the union.
The facts are not seriously in dispute. At a general membership meeting in June 1975 the rank and file of Local 32, Office and Professional Employees International Union, AFL-CIO (Local 32), following the recommendation of its leadership, voted to strike against Hospital Service Plan of New Jersey (hereafter Blue Cross) and Medical Service Plan of New Jersey (hereafter Blue Shield).*fn1 Defendants, as dues paying members of Local 32 in good standing, were employed at that time by Blue Cross/Blue Shield at the Morristown office. They were present at the meeting when
the strike vote was taken. They heard the business agent of the union instruct the membership that picket lines were to be set up at Blue Cross/Blue Shield offices throughout the State. The membership was forbidden either to cross the picket lines or to perform useful work for the employers. The business agent warned that fines, suspensions or expulsion could be the result should any member violate his instructions. Specific reference was made to Art. 15, § 2 of the union constitution, which provides:
Any member may be penalized for committing any one or more of the following offenses:
(b) Working for an employer against whom the union has declared a strike * * * unless permission has been granted by the proper officers of the union.
A member is subject to a fine of $25 for each separate violation of the by-laws. However, no written instructions respecting conduct during the strike were given to the membership.
On July 7, 1975 Mrs. Walton walked through the picket line set up in front of the Morristown Blue Cross/Blue Shield office at 24 Washington Street and entered the building. Mrs. Sabetay did the same on July 8, 1975. Cocaptains of the strike team who were on picket duty observed Mrs. Walton and Mrs. Sabetay enter the office but could not determine what either did, if anything, while inside. By separate letters, each dated July 8, 1975, the cocaptains wrote to the secretary-treasurer of Local 32 charging these defendants with having "crossed the picket line [on July 7, 1975 in the case of Mrs. Walton and on July 8, 1975 as to Mrs. Sabetay] to perform work for New Jersey Blue Cross and New Jersey Blue Shield at 24 Washington Street, Morristown, New Jersey 07960, during a strike." The co-captains requested the executive board of the union to hold a hearing as to these charges. The letters were timely received at Local 32's business office. No other charges
against these defendants were made to the secretary-treasurer in writing by the cocaptains or by anyone else.
The union constitution sets up an internal procedure to be followed in case of violation of union rules. Any member of the local may complain about the conduct of another member by filing a written statement of charges with the secretary-treasurer of the union. Immediately upon receiving the complaint the secretary-treasurer is required to serve a copy of the charge upon the accused and to notify the member of the time and place of the hearing before the executive board of the local union. The member is entitled to be represented by counsel or by another union member at the hearing.
The notice of charges was sent to Mrs. Sabetay by certified mail on October 9, 1975. She received the letter on October 16, 1975. The letter informed her that "you are hereby directed and required to appear before a trial board of this local union on October 15, 1975, at 6:00 p.m. in the Robert Treat Hotel, 15 Park Place, Newark, N.J." The letter also warned that the hearing would proceed even in the absence of the accused "upon proof that sufficient notice of the time and place set for the trial was given to the defendant." A copy of the accusatory letter of July 8, 1975 was enclosed. Why the secretary-treasurer waited for three months before sending the required notices to these two union members was not established. No prior notice -- writen or oral, formal or informal -- was given to either defendant by the union.
Mrs. Walton was mailed a letter which was identical in form to the letter sent to Mrs. Sabetay, with the exception that the time set for her trial was 5 p.m. There was no proof when this letter dated October 10, 1975 was received by Mrs. Walton. The letters were the first notice in writing from Local 32 to either defendant that charges had been filed against them. They were the first and only notice of the trial dates. Neither lady appeared on October 15, 1975 before the trial board. Nonetheless, the charges against both
of them were heard on that date. Mrs. Sabetay was found to have crossed the picket line and performed useful work for the employer on 40 successive working days from July 5, 1975 until the end of the strike in early September. Mrs. Walton was found to have committed the same violations on 39 successive working days beginning on July 6, 1975. The general union membership approved the actions of the trial board at its meeting of November 20, 1975.
By letter of November 25, 1975, the secretary-treasurer informed Mrs. Walton that she had been found guilty of violations of the local constitution and by-laws. She was informed that a fine had been assessed against her in the amount of $25 for each of 40 violations. The total fine assessed was $1,000. A similar letter was sent to Mrs. Sabetay on the same date, the only difference being that her total fine was $975. Both women exhausted their union remedies by appealing unsuccessfully to the International Brotherhood. Neither defendant has paid her respective fine despite repeated requests by the union. Suit was instituted against each ...