On appeal from the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Industry.
Crane, Milmed and King. The opinion of the court was delivered by King, J.A.D.
This is an appeal by Cointreau, Ltd. from a decision of the Board of Review, Department of Labor and Industry, affirming a decision of the Appeals Tribunal, Division of Unemployment and Disability Insurance, granting unemployment compensation to three of its employees (claimants). The claimants were members of Local 19 of the Distillery, Rectifying and Wineworkers' International which represented Cointreau's hourly workers at its Lawrenceville plant.
On March 30, 1977 the claimants, all part-time assembly line workers, were laid off indefinitely due to a lack of work. These employees, though part-time, worked full shifts when employed in this seasonally sensitive work. They were told by their supervisors that they would be recalled when work became available.
At an April 2 meeting the membership of Local 19 voted to strike the plant starting April 4. On that morning a picket line was formed. On April 4 at about 11 a.m. the laid-off claimants were called by Cointreau's management and told that work was available to them at the struck plant. Cointreau agreed at the administrative proceeding that these laid-off employees were recalled to replace the full-time employees who were on strike. The laid-off employees refused to cross the picket line and report for work on April 4. The strike continued through June 2, although the company continued limited production with management personnel throughout.
The claimants, who successfully sought unemployment benefits in the Division, participated minimally in the picket line for a few hours a week. However, the Appeals Tribunal found as a fact that these claimants were available for suitable work and were not thereby disqualified for benefits. See N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(c). The factual finding is not challenged on this appeal.
Cointreau contends that the three laid-off employees should not have received benefits because their unemployment after April 4 was the result of a labor dispute and not a lay-off and
because they rejected an offer of "suitable work" within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(c). Our Unemployment Compensation Act provides that an individual shall be disqualified for benefits:
For any week with respect to which it is found that his unemployment is due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises at which he is or was last employed; provided, that this subsection shall not apply if it is shown that:
(1) He is not participating in or financing or directly interested in the labor dispute which caused the stoppage of work; and
(2) He does not belong to a grade or class of workers of which, immediately before the commencement of the stoppage, there were members employed at the premises at which the stoppage occurs, any of whom are participating in or financing or directly interested in the dispute; . . . [N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(d)].
The purpose of this provision is to "place the State in a completely neutral position" with respect to labor disputes which result in temporary unemployment. Sweeney v. Board of Review , 43 N.J. 535, 539 (1965); ...