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decided: April 10, 1950.



Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Jackson, Burton, Clark, Minton; Douglas took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Black

[ 339 U.S. Page 240]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 3 of the Railway Labor Act confers jurisdiction on the National Railroad Adjustment Board to hold hearings, make findings, and enter awards in all disputes between carriers and their employees "growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions . . . ."*fn1 The question presented is whether state courts have power to adjudicate disputes involving such interpretations when the Adjustment Board has not acted.

The respondent railroad has separate collective-bargaining agreements with the Order of Railroad Telegraphers and the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks.*fn2 A dispute arose between the two unions concerning the scope of their respective agreements. Each claimed for its members certain jobs in the railroad yards at Elmira, New York. The railroad agreed with the Clerks Union. The chairman of Telegraphers protested, urging reassignment of the work to members of his union and claiming back pay on behalf of certain individual members. The claims were pursued in "the usual manner" required by § 3 First (i) of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U. S. C. § 153 First (i), as a prerequisite to invoking jurisdiction of the Adjustment Board.*fn3 That section further provides that,

[ 339 U.S. Page 241]

     "failing to reach an adjustment in this manner, the disputes may be referred by petition of the parties or by either party to the appropriate division of the Adjustment Board . . . ."

Instead of invoking the jurisdiction of the Adjustment Board, the railroad filed this action for declaratory judgment in a New York state court, naming both unions as defendants. It prayed for an interpretation of both agreements, and for a declaration that the Clerks' agreement, not the Telegraphers', covered the jobs in controversy. It also asked for a declaration that the Telegraphers must refrain from making similar claims under its bargaining agreement. Telegraphers moved to dismiss the case on the ground that the Railway Labor Act left the state court without jurisdiction to interpret the contracts and adjudicate the dispute. That motion was denied. After a trial, the court interpreted the contracts as the railroad had urged, and entered the requested declarations. This judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of New York, two judges dissenting. 299 N. Y. 496, 87 N. E. 2d 532.*fn4 The majority thought that our opinion in Moore v. Illinois Central R. Co., 312 U.S. 630,

[ 339 U.S. Page 242]

     left state courts free to adjudicate disputes arising out of a carrier-union collective agreement without obtaining the Board's interpretation of that agreement. The dissenting judges, however, relied on Order of Conductors v. Pitney, 326 U.S. 561, where we held that federal courts should not interpret such agreements prior to interpretation by the Adjustment Board. They asserted that this rule was also applicable in state courts. We granted certiorari to consider these questions. 338 U.S. 890.

The first declared purpose of the Railway Labor Act is "To avoid any interruption to commerce or to the operation of any carrier engaged therein." 48 Stat. 1186 (§ 2), 45 U. S. C. § 151a. This purpose extends both to disputes concerning the making of collective agreements and to grievances arising under existing agreements. See Elgin, J. & E. R. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 722. The plan of the Act is to provide administrative methods for settling disputes before they reach acute stages that might be provocative of strikes. Carriers are therefore required to negotiate with bargaining representatives of the employees. Virginian R. Co. v. Federation, 300 U.S. 515, 547, 548. The Act also sets up machinery for conciliation, mediation, arbitration and adjustment of disputes, to be invoked if negotiations fail.

In this case the dispute concerned interpretation of an existing bargaining agreement. Its settlement would have prospective as well as retrospective importance to both the railroad and its employees, since the interpretation accepted would govern future relations of those parties. This type of grievance has long been considered a potent cause of friction leading to strikes. It was to prevent such friction that the 1926 Act provided for creation of various Adjustment Boards by voluntary agreements between carriers and workers. 44 Stat. 578. But this voluntary machinery proved unsatisfactory, and

[ 339 U.S. Page 243]

     in 1934 Congress, with the support of both unions and railroads, passed an amendment which directly created a national Adjustment Board composed of representatives of railroads and unions.*fn5 48 Stat. 1189-1193. The Act thus represents a considered effort on the part of Congress to provide effective and desirable administrative remedies for adjustment of railroad-employee disputes growing out of the interpretation of existing agreements. The Adjustment Board is well equipped to exercise its congressionally imposed functions. Its members understand railroad problems and speak the railroad jargon.*fn6 Long and varied experiences have added to the Board's initial qualifications. Precedents established by it, while not necessarily binding, provide opportunities for a desirable degree of uniformity in the interpretation of agreements throughout the nation's railway systems.

The paramount importance of having these chosen representatives of railroads and unions adjust grievances and disputes was emphasized by our opinion in Order of Conductors v. Pitney, supra. There we held, in a case remarkably similar to the one before us now, that the Federal District Court in its ...

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