Labor Law – LMRA – Duty of Certified Union to Represent Bargaining Unit Fairly

Local N, composed entirely of Negroes, and Local W, composed entirely of whites, and both affiliated with the same international union, had been certified by the National Labor Relations Board as the joint bargaining representatives for the bargaining unit. Subsequent to this certification, the two locals allegedly agreed between themselves that they would be represented by one bargaining committee elected by a majority vote of the unit, and that there would be but one line of seniority in any agreement negotiated by this committee. The committee which was elected consisted solely of members of Local W. It was further alleged that, under the agreement subsequently negotiated with the employer, two lines of seniority were in fact established and that this arrangement discriminated against Negro employees solely because of their race. Members of Local N, alleging jurisdiction based on a federal question sought an injunction in a federal district court to prevent enforcement of the agreement, and damages. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that, as the plaintiffs were voluntarily members of the union, any duty to represent them fairly was imposed, if at all, by the common law of the state and not the amended National Labor Relations Act or the Federal Constitution, and that, under the facts alleged, the plaintiffs’ cause of action, if any, ‘Was in a state court for breach of contract. On certiorari to the Supreme Court, held, reversed and remanded. The Court did not explain its decision other than to cite three similar cases arising under the Railway Labor Act in which a duty was imposed to represent nonmembers of the union fairly. Syers v. Oil Workers International Union, Local No. 23, 350 U.S. 892, 76 S.Ct. 152 (1955).