Felter v. Southern Pacific Company

RESPONDENT: Southern Pacific Company
LOCATION: Fargo, North Dakota

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 359 US 326 (1959)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1959
DECIDED: Apr 27, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Felter v. Southern Pacific Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1959 (Part 1) in Felter v. Southern Pacific Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1959 (Part 2) in Felter v. Southern Pacific Company

Harry E. Wilmarth:

-- the point which I was addressing myself -- the agreement itself, in and of itself didn't become applicable to the craft as a whole.

Now that point is made clear at the bottom of page 3 of the appendix, the last few lines in which it says that “no agreement made pursuant to subparagraph (b)” which is the check off paragraph, “shall provide for deductions and payments to the union of dues other than that in which he holds membership.”

Now that particular section is important because it's involved in this case.

In this case, the employee had terminated his membership in the union.

The union in the carrier insisted, however, that unless he followed certain conditions in the collective agreement, they would continue to deduct dues and pay them over to the union even though he had terminated his membership, which we claim is invalid under the Railway Labor Act.

Now in addition on page 4 as a last proviso guarantees to the employee that he may change membership from one union to another, and that nothing in the act or in the agreement shall prevent him from having that right of change.

At the top of page 3 of the appendix, we would like to emphasis this fact; a head of the proviso, that is section b of 11, which begins at the bottom of page 2 and the top of page 3, “a head of the proviso deals with action between the carrier and the union.”

In other words, the carrier and the union are permitted and authorized to sit down and negotiate a check off agreement.

The proviso, however, doesn't deal with any action by the union.

It deals with action as between the individual employee and the carrier in a sense it's so directly involved in this case, I will read it.

The proviso provides, “provided that no such agreement shall be effective with respect to any individual employee until he shall have furnished the employer with a written assignment to the labor organization of such membership dues, initiation fees and assessments which shall be revocable in writing after the expiration of one year.”

And the point that I am emphasizing is that the -- that the act doesn't authorize the union to negotiate in the check off agreement anything regarding the authorization that the employee signs to make a check off agreement effective to him.

That is he signs the authorization, he files it with his employer, he is guaranteed the right to revoke it in writing after one year.

Now in our brief, we have set forth, in addition to emphasizing these points, some of the legislative history of this act with particular reference to the proviso.

What would have happened sir (Inaudible) notified the employer that he changed his (Inaudible)

Harry E. Wilmarth:

Well in our judgment Mr. Justice they would have had to promptly discontinue dues deductions.

Since you've asked the question, I will say at this point, in the lower courts and in the Court of Appeals and up to the time of this Court, the respondents took the position that they would not recognize his revocation unless he did it according to the agreement or conditions imposed and that they would continue to deduct the dues even though he had terminated his membership.

Now for the first time in this Court they have changed that position.

I was going to advert to it later.

They now say that if he had sent a letter to the carrier advising the carrier that he had terminated his membership, they would have stopped dues deductions immediately or respectively (Inaudible)

Earl Warren:

What did he do here Mr. Wilmarth?

Harry E. Wilmarth:

Very well, he submitted a revocation in writing in the exact form provided by the dues deduction agreement, sent that form both to the carrier and the union saying I revoke my dues deduction.

The carrier at first recognized that it's valid and transmitted to the union to be noted.

The union however stated that it did not comply with the provisions of the dues deduction agreement, that the form that he had submitted had not been printed by the union and that he must come to the union, obtain a form that has been printed by it and submit that form.

The union -- the agreement itself appears at page 74 of the record, the first paragraph just states that it's a check off relating to members, paragraph B states that the signed authorization maybe revoked in writing at any time after the expiration of the year.

At the end of the agreement, there are forms set forth both for authorization and for revocation and in this case we have not challenged the forms themselves.

It's not before the court, probably the man could write a letter in unequivocal terms and obtain the same result, but he did file the forms and that's undisputed.

Earl Warren:

Now what I'd like to ask is, how does that vary from what you say the respondents now say at this point they will be willing to accept?

Harry E. Wilmarth:

I think I can make it clear by pointing to subparagraph C of page 75 of the record.

He submitted that in the form, the text here, the identical form.