Baker v. General Motors Corp.
478 U.S. 621 (1986)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Baker v. General Motors Corp., 478 U.S. 621 (1986)

Baker v. General Motors Corp.

No. 85-117

Argued April 2, 1986

Decided July 2, 1986

478 U.S. 621

Syllabus

A Michigan statute makes an employee ineligible for unemployment compensation if he has provided "financing," by means other than the payment of regular union dues, for a strike that causes his unemployment. As authorized by their international union, appellant employees of appellee General Motors Corp. (GM) were required to pay, in addition to their regular union dues, "emergency dues" to augment the union's strike insurance fund. Although the union and GM reached an agreement on national issues at a time when negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement were taking place, three local unions went on strike at GM foundries, and strike fund benefits were paid to the striking employees from the fund in which emergency dues had been deposited. As a result of the strikes, operations were temporarily curtailed at other GM plants, idling more than 19,000 employees, most of whom are appellants in this case. Appellants' claims for unemployment benefits were ultimately denied by the Michigan Supreme Court on the ground that the emergency dues payments constituted "financing" of the strikes that caused appellants' unemployment, thus making appellants ineligible for unemployment compensation under the Michigan statute. The court further held that its construction of the state statute was not preempted by federal law on the asserted ground that it inhibited the exercise of rights guaranteed by § 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Held: The "financing" disqualification from receiving unemployment compensation, as construed by the Michigan Supreme Court, is not preempted by federal law. While, in financing the local strikes, appellants were exercising associational rights protected by § 7 of the NLRA, that protection does not deprive the State of the power to make the policy choice that otherwise would be authorized by Title IX of the Social Security Act, which gives the States a wide range of judgment as to the particular type of unemployment compensation program they may provide. The employers did nothing to impair the exercise of appellants' § 7 rights. Whether or not appellants were participants in the decision to strike, or to expend funds in support of the local strikes, the fact that their unemployment was entirely attributable to the voluntary use of the union's bargaining resources -- untainted by any unlawful conduct by the employer -- is a sufficient reason for allowing the State to decide whether or not to pay unemployment benefits. Appellants were not laid off simply

Page 478 U. S. 622

because they paid emergency dues, but rather became unemployed because there was a meaningful connection between the decision to pay emergency dues, the strikes that ensued, and ultimately their own layoffs. While federal law protects the employees' right to authorize a strike, it does not prohibit a State from deciding whether or not to compensate employees who thereby cause their own unemployment. An employee's decision to participate in a strike, either directly or by financing it, is not only an example of causing one's own unemployment, it is one that furthers the federal policy of free collective bargaining regardless of whether or not a State provides compensation for employees who are furloughed as a result of the labor dispute. Pp. 478 U. S. 632-638.

420 Mich. 463, 363 N.W.2d 602, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 478 U. S. 638.

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