Railroad Trainmen v. Howard
343 U.S. 768 (1952)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Railroad Trainmen v. Howard, 343 U.S. 768 (1952)

Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Howard

No. 458

Argued April 22, 1952

Decided June 9, 1952

343 U.S. 768




Petitioner union is an exclusively white union which acts under the Railway Labor Act as bargaining representative for railroad trainmen. By threat of a strike, it forced petitioner railroad to agree not to permit Negro "train porters" to perform any of the duties of brakemen. As a result, the railroad took steps to discharge Negro "train porters" and replace them with white brakemen. Respondent, a member of a group of Negro "train porters" who for many years had satisfactorily performed the duties of brakemen and had their own separate union as their bargaining representative, brought a class suit in a Federal District Court for a judgment declaring the agreement void and enjoining the railroad from carrying it out.


1. The Railway Labor Act prohibits bargaining agents who enjoy the advantages of its provisions from using their position and power to destroy Negro workers' jobs in order to bestow them on white workers. Steele v. Louisville & N. R. Co.,323 U. S. 192. Pp. 343 U. S. 769-774.

2. The District Court has the jurisdiction and power to issue the injunction necessary to protect these Negro workers from the racial discrimination practiced against them. Pp. 343 U. S. 774-775.

(a) Since this dispute involves the validity of a contract, not its meaning, it cannot be resolved by interpretation of a bargaining agreement so as to give exclusive jurisdiction to the Railway Adjustment Board under Slocum v. Delaware, L. & W. R. Co.,339 U. S. 239. P. 343 U. S. 774.

(b) Nor does this dispute hinge on the proper craft classification of the "train porters" so as to call for settlement by the National Mediation Board under Switchmen's Union v. National Mediation Board,320 U. S. 297. P. 343 U. S. 774.

(c) Nor is the issuance of an injunction in this case prohibited by the Norris-Lacuardia Act. Steele v. Louisville & N. R. Co.,323 U. S. 192; Graham v. Brotherhood of Firemen,338 U. S. 232. P. 343 U. S. 774.

Page 343 U. S. 769

3. On remand, the District Court should permanently enjoin the petitioner union and railroad from use of the contract or any other similar discriminatory bargaining device to oust the Negro "train porters" from their jobs. P. 343 U. S. 775.

191 F.2d 442 affirmed.

In a suit to enjoin enforcement of a bargaining agreement between a railroad and a trainmen's union on the ground that it discriminated against Negro "train porters," the District Court denied most of the relief prayed for on the ground that the National Mediation Board and the National Railroad Adjustment Board had exclusive jurisdiction of the dispute under the Railway Labor Act. 72 F.Supp. 695. The Court of Appeals reversed this holding. 191 F.2d 442. This Court granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 940. Affirmed and remanded to the District Court, p. 343 U. S. 775.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises questions concerning the power of courts to protect Negro railroad employees from loss of their jobs under compulsion of a bargaining agreement which, to avoid a strike, the railroad made with an exclusively white man's union. Respondent Simon Howard, a Frisco [Footnote 1] train employee for nearly forty years,

Page 343 U. S. 770

brought this action on behalf of himself and other colored employees similarly situated.

In summary, the complaint alleged: Negro employees such as respondent constituted a group called "train porters," although they actually performed all the duties of white "brakemen;" the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, bargaining representative of "brakemen" under the Railway Labor Act, [Footnote 2] had for years used its influence in an attempt to eliminate Negro trainmen and get their jobs for white men who, unlike colored "train porters," were or could be members of the Brotherhood; on March 7, 1946, the Brotherhood finally forced the Frisco to agree to discharge the colored "train porters" and fill their jobs with white men who, under the agreement, would do less work but get more pay. The complaint charged that the Brotherhood's "discriminatory action" violated the train porter's rights under the Railway Labor Act and under the Constitution; that the agreement was void because against public policy, prejudicial to the public interest, and designed to deprive Negro trainmen of their right to earn a livelihood because of their race or color. The prayers were that the court adjudge and decree that the contract was void and unenforceable for the reasons stated; that the Railroad be "enjoined from discontinuing the jobs known as Train Porters" and "from hiring white Brakemen to replace or displace plaintiff and other Train Porters as planned in accordance with said agreement."

The facts as found by the District Court, affirmed with emphasis by the Court of Appeals, substantially established the truth of the complaint's material allegations. These facts showed that the Negro train porters had, for a great many years, served the Railroad with loyalty, integrity, and efficiency; that "train porters" do all the work

Page 343 U. S. 771

of brakemen; [Footnote 3] that the Government administrator of railroads during World War I had classified them as brakemen and had required that they be paid just like white brakemen; that, when the railroads went back to their owners, they redesignated these colored brakemen as "train porters," "left their duties untouched," and forced them to accept wages far below those of white "brakemen" who were Brotherhood members; that, for more than a quarter of a century, the Brotherhood and other exclusively white rail unions had continually carried on a program of aggressive hostility to employment of Negroes for train, engine, and yard service; that the agreement of March 7, 1946, here under attack, provides that train porters shall no longer do any work "generally recognized as brakeman's duties;" that, while this agreement did not in express words compel discharge of "train porters," the economic unsoundness of keeping them after transfer of their "brakemen" functions made complete abolition of the "train porter" group inevitable; that, two days after "the Carriers, reluctantly, and as a result of the strike threats," signed the agreement, they notified train porters that, "[u]nder this agreement we will, effective April 1, 1946, discontinue all train porter positions." Accordingly, respondent Howard and others were personally notified to turn in their switch keys, lanterns, markers, and other brakemen's equipment, and notices of job vacancies were posted to be bid in by white brakemen only.

Page 343 U. S. 772

The District Court held that the complaint raised questions which Congress by the Railway Labor Act had made subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Mediation Board and the National Railroad Adjustment Board. 72 F.Supp. 695. The Court of Appeals reversed this holding. [Footnote 4] It held that the agreement, as construed and acted upon by the Railroad, was an "attempted predatory appropriation" of the "train porters'" jobs, and was, to this extent, illegal and unenforceable. It therefore ordered that the Railroad must keep the "train porters" as employees; it permitted the Railroad and the Brotherhood to treat the contract as valid on condition that the Railroad would recognize the colored "train porters" as members of the craft of "brakemen," and that the Brotherhood would fairly represent them as such. 191 F.2d 442. We granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 940.

While different in some respects, the basic pattern of racial discrimination in this case is much the same as that we had to consider in Steele v. Louisville & N. R. Co.,323 U. S. 192. In this case, as was charged in the Steele case, a Brotherhood acting as a bargaining agent under the Railway Labor Act has been hostile to Negro employees, has discriminated against them, and has forced the Railroad to make a contract which would help Brotherhood members take over the jobs of the colored "train porters."

There is a difference in the circumstances of the two cases, however, which it is contended requires us to deny the judicial remedy here that was accorded in the Steele

Page 343 U. S. 773

case. That difference is this: Steele was admittedly a locomotive fireman, although not a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, which, under the Railway Labor Act, was the exclusive bargaining representative of the entire craft of firemen. We held that the language of the Act imposed a duty on the craft bargaining representative to exercise the power conferred upon it in behalf of all those for whom it acts, without hostile discrimination against any of them. Failure to exercise this duty was held to give rise to a cause of action under the Act. In this case, unlike the Steele case, the colored employees have for many years been treated by the carriers and the Brotherhood as a separate class for representation purposes, and have in fact been represented by another union of their own choosing. Since the Brotherhood has discriminated against "train porters," instead of minority members of its own "craft," it is argued that the Brotherhood owed no duty at all to refrain from using its statutory bargaining power so as to abolish the jobs of the colored porters and drive them from the railroads. We think this argument is unsound, and that the opinion in the Steele case points to a breach of statutory duty by this Brotherhood.

As previously noted, these train porters are threatened with loss of their jobs because they are not white, and for no other reason. The job they did hold under its old name would be abolished by the agreement; their color alone would disqualify them for the old job under its new name. The end result of these transactions is not in doubt; for precisely the same reasons as in the Steele case,

"discriminations based on race alone are obviously irrelevant and invidious. Congress plainly did not undertake to authorize the bargaining representative to to make such discriminations."

Steele v. Louisville & N. R. Co., supra, at 323 U. S. 203, and cases there cited. Cf. 334 U. S. S. 774

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