New York Tel. Co. v. New York Dept. of Labor
440 U.S. 519 (1979)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

New York Tel. Co. v. New York Dept. of Labor, 440 U.S. 519 (1979)

New York Telephone Co. v. New York Department of Labor

No. 77-961

Argued October 30, 1978

Decided March 21, 1979

440 U.S. 519

Syllabus

A New York statute authorizes the payment of unemployment compensation after one week of unemployment, except that, if a claimant's loss of employment is caused by a strike in the place of his employment the payment of benefits is suspended for an additional 7-week period. Pursuant to this statute, petitioners' striking employees began to collect unemployment compensation after the 8-week waiting period, and were paid benefits for the remaining five months of the strike. Because New York's unemployment insurance system is financed primarily by employer contributions based on the benefits paid to former employees of each employer in past years, a substantial part of the cost of these benefits was ultimately imposed on petitioners. Petitioners brought suit in District Court seeking a declaration that the New York statute conflicts with federal law, and is therefore invalid, and injunctive and monetary relief. The District Court granted the requested relief, holding that the availability of unemployment compensation is a substantial factor in the worker's decision to remain on strike and has a measurable impact on the progress of the strike, and that the payment of such compensation conflicted "with the policy of free collective bargaining established in the federal labor laws and is therefore invalid under the [S]upremacy [C]lause." The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, although the New York statute conflicts with the federal labor policy, the legislative histories of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Social Security Act (SSA) indicate that such conflict was one which Congress has decided to tolerate.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 440 U. S. 527-546; 440 U. S. 546-547; 440 U. S. 547-551.

566 F.2d 388, affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, joined by MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, concluded that Congress, in enacting the NLRA and SSA, did not intend to preempt a State's power to pay unemployment compensation to strikers. Pp. 440 U. S. 527-546.

(a) This case does not involve any attempt by the State to regulate or prohibit private conduct in the labor-management field, but rather involves a state program for the distribution of benefits to certain

Page 440 U. S. 520

members of the public. Teamsters v. Morton,377 U. S. 252, and Machinists v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Comm'n,427 U. S. 132, distinguished. Although the class benefited is primarily made up of employees in the State and the class providing the benefits is primarily made up of employers in the State, and although some members of each class are occasionally engaged in labor disputes, the general purport of the program is not to regulate the bargaining relationship between the two classes, but instead to provide an efficient means of insuring employment security in the State. Pp. 440 U. S. 527-533.

(b) Rather than being a "state la[w] regulating the relations between employees, their union, and their employer," as to which the reasons underlying the preemption doctrine have their "greatest force," Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Carpenters,436 U. S. 180, 436 U. S. 193, the New York statute is a law of general applicability. Since it appears that Congress has been sensitive to the importance of the States' interest in fashioning their own unemployment compensation programs, and especially their own eligibility criteria, Ohio Bureau of Employment Services v. Hodory,431 U. S. 471; Steward Machine Co. v. Davis,301 U. S. 548; Batterton v. Francis,432 U. S. 416, it is appropriate to treat New York's statute with the same deference that this Court has afforded analogous state laws of general applicability that protect interests "deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility." With respect to such laws, "in the absence of compelling congressional direction," it will not be inferred that Congress "had deprived the States of the power to act." San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon,359 U. S. 236, 359 U. S. 244. Pp. 440 U. S. 533-540.

(c) The omission of any direction concerning payment of unemployment compensation to strikers in either the NLRA or SSA implies that Congress intended that the States be free to authorize, or to prohibit, such payments, an intention confirmed by frequent discussions in Congress subsequent to 1935 (when both of those Acts were passed) wherein the question of payments to strikers was raised but no prohibition against payments was ever imposed. In any event, a State's power to fashion its own policy concerning the payment of unemployment compensation is not to be denied on the basis of speculation about the unexpressed intent of Congress. New York has not sought either to regulate private conduct that is subject to the National Labor Relations Board's regulatory jurisdiction or to regulate any private conduct of the parties to a labor dispute, but instead has sought to administer its unemployment compensation program in a manner that it believes best effectuates the purposes of that scheme. In an area in which Congress has decided to tolerate a substantial measure of diversity, the fact that

Page 440 U. S. 521

the implementation of this general state policy affects the relative strength of the antagonists in a bargaining dispute is not a sufficient reason for concluding that Congress intended to preempt that exercise of state power. Pp. 440 U. S. 540-546.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN concluded that the legislative histories of the NLRA and SSA provide sufficient evidence of congressional intent not to preempt a State's power to pay unemployment compensation to strikers, and that therefore it was unnecessary to rely on any purported distinctions between this case and Teamsters v. Morton,377 U. S. 252, and Machinists v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Comm'n,427 U. S. 132. Pp. 440 U. S. 546-547.

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, joined by MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, concluded that, under the preemption analysis of Machinists v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Comm'n,427 U. S. 132, the evidence justifies the holding that Congress has decided to permit New York's compensation law notwithstanding its impact on the balance of bargaining power. He would not apply the requirement that "compelling congressional direction" be established before preemption can be found, nor would he find New York's law to be a "law of general applicability" under San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon,359 U. S. 236. Pp. 440 U. S. 547-551.

STEVENS, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion, in which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 440 U. S. 546. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 440 U. S. 547. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 440 U. S. 551.

Page 440 U. S. 522

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