The Supreme Court Monday gave federal judges more power to decide lawsuits stemming from labor disputes.
The court unanimously reinstated a suit by two workers fired by a Michigan company, Ring Screw Works. The workers sued after losing grievances against the company.Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court, said the federal Labor Relations Management Act gives judges authority to rule in such cases unless the collective bargaining agreement between a union and management expressly forbids it.
Arthur Groves was fired by Ring Screw Works for allegedly excessive unexcused absences from work. Bobby Evans was dismissed for allegedly falsifying company records.
Both men denied the charges but lost grievance complaints against the company. They then sued the firm for firing them without due cause in violation of the Labor Relations Management Act.
The United Automobile Workers Union joined the lawsuits on the side of the workers.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld a ruling by a federal judge who threw out the suits.
The appeals court said the UAW contract with Ring Screw Works provides that a strike is the union's only recourse when workers lose grievances. Union members voted against striking after Groves and Evans lost their grievances.
The appeals court said the workers would be permitted to sue only if they accused the union of breaching its duty to represent them fairly, and the fired workers made no such claim.
Stevens said Monday that a contract that gives unions the right to strike and management the right to impose a lockout in such cases does not automatically strip the federal courts of authority to rule in those disputes.
"The parties may expressly agree to resort to economic warfare rather than to mediation, arbitration or judicial review," Stevens said. "But the (labor relations law) surely does not favor such an agreement."
The law favors "the peaceful resolution of disputes," including lawsuits, Stevens said. And that avenue remains open unless it is ruled out specifically by the labor-management contract, he said.
The case is Groves vs. Ring Screw Works, 89-1166.