Wirtz v. Local 153, Glass Bottle Blowers Association of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO

RESPONDENT: Local 153, Glass Bottle Blowers Association of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 389 US 463 (1968)
ARGUED: Nov 08, 1967
DECIDED: Jan 15, 1968

Facts of the case


Media for Wirtz v. Local 153, Glass Bottle Blowers Association of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 1967 in Wirtz v. Local 153, Glass Bottle Blowers Association of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO

Earl Warren:

Number 57, W. Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor, Petitioner, versus Local 153 Glass Bottle Blowers Association of the United States of Canada.

Mr. Claiborne?

Louis F. Claiborne:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case, number 57, like the next one to be argued, arises under the Labor Reform Law of 1959, more popularly known as the Landrum-Griffin Act.

Each of these cases involves an election of local offices which allegedly were conducted in violation of the Labor Act and accordingly, must be set aside and rerun under the supervision of the Secretary of Labor and let me first sketch a little bit the scheme of the Act in dealing with this sort of violation.

The relevant provisions of the Act are reproduced in the appendix of the Government's brief and I will refer to them in order.

First, Section 401 (e), which is on page 57 and 58 of our brief, provides among other things that in the election of local officers, every member in good standing shall have a right to be candidate subject to reasonable qualifications uniformly imposed and shall likewise have a right to vote in elections for local officers.

The Act then provides that if a member believes that the Section 401 has been violated either because eligible members were denied the right to vote or denied the right to be candidates or on the contrary because ineligible members were permitted to vote or to be candidates, situation in the next case, then after exhausting his internal union remedies, he may complain to the Secretary of Labor.

This is provided for in Section 402 (a).

And the next Subsection 402 (b) requires the Secretary upon receiving this complaint from union member to conduct an investigation and if he finds probable cause to believe that there has been a violation of the Title, he is then to file suit in the District Court to set aside the invalid election and to obtain an order allowing him to rerun that election under his supervision or in order to have that election rerun under his supervision.

And finally, Section 402 (c), which was addressed to the District Court itself, directs that Court to enter this order if it finds that there has been a violation of Section 401 and if it further finds that that violation may have affected the outcome of the election.

In that event, the Court is directed to set aside the invalid election and to order a rerun under the supervision of the Secretary of Labor.

Now, in this case, number 57, we deal with Local 153 of the Glass Bottle Blowers and its election in October 1963.

At that time and even today and its likely attenuated for all, the union had a rule imposed both by the international and by the local constitution which provided that only members who had attended 75%, at least 75% of the regular monthly meetings of the local while the previous two years were permitted to vote or to be candidates and that 75% requirement is a rigid one because no excuses for nonattendance were permitted, not even illness, except being at work at the very time of the meeting.

The effect of the rule as it worked in 1963 has -- I'll say later as it continued to work at least two years later -- was to disfranchise and make ineligible as candidates the great majority of the local members.

Indeed, out of 500 members of this particular local, only 10 were eligible to be candidates.

The result of the -- I should add that there are 10 offices of the local to be filled which if there were one eligible candidate for each office would result in having only one slate and no contest whatever.

The actual result in the 1963 election was that there was only one candidate for two of the offices and that there were no candidates whatever for four of the offices who therefore had to be appointed from ineligible members at a later date.

This particular suit arises out of the complaint of a candidate for president who was disqualified under this meeting-attendance rule because he had attended one meeting too few and he had attended 17 meetings in the prior 2 years out of the 24 whereas if he had attended 18, he would have been eligible to be a candidate.

And he missed one meeting at least because he was ill but that was not an excused absence.

Now, after unsuccessfully exhausting his internal union remedies he complained to the Secretary, who, after investigating, filed a timely suit in the District Court.

The District Court agreed that the meeting attendance requirement, with its rigid rule on excuses, was an unreasonable qualification which violated the Act.

Now, although that finding is not disturbed by the Court of Appeals because the Court of Appeals didn't reached the matter, there is some suggestion here that the rule was indeed reasonable and not unreasonable as held by the District Court.

We assume that question is open here on the theory that the judgment below can be sustained on any ground.

However, it doesn't seem to us necessary to spend much time defending the district judge's ruling on this particular point.

It's perfectly clear that the meeting-attendance requirement did disfranchise 98% of the -- did make ineligible as candidates 98% of the membership.

It's also clear in this case that we have a candidate, a nominee, who was prevented from running on account of this rule, by the implication if this rule.

It is of course unknown whether had he run, he would have been elected but on the other hand no one can say that he would not have been.

Therefore, the invocation of this rule against him which disqualified him may have affected the outcome of the election and that's all the Act requires.

There is no requirement that there be a showing that the invocation of the rule in fact affected the outcome of the election or could there be.