FMC v. Pacific Maritime Assn.
Annotate this Case
435 U.S. 40 (1978)
U.S. Supreme Court
FMC v. Pacific Maritime Assn., 435 U.S. 40 (1978)
Federal Maritime Commission v. Pacific Maritime Assn.
Argued December 7, 1977
Decided March 1, 1978
435 U.S. 40
Respondent Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), a collective bargaining agent for a multiemployer bargaining unit composed of various employers of Pacific coast dockworkers, entered into a collective bargaining agreement with respondent Union regarding nonmember use of dockworkers jointly registered and dispatched through PMA-Union hiring halls whereby the nonmembers would participate in all fringe benefit programs, pay the same dues and assessments as PMA members, use "steady" men in the same way as members, and be treated as members during work stoppages. Various nonmember public ports, which had previously competitively made separate (and assertedly in several respects more advantageous) agreements with the Union and the PMA, filed a petition with petitioner Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) asserting that the collective bargaining agreement was subject to filing and approval under § 15 of the Shipping Act, 1916 (Act), which requires the filing of agreements between a common carrier by water (or "other person" furnishing facilities in connection with such a carrier) and another such carrier or person, including those agreements "controlling, regulating, preventing, or destroying competition." The FMC is empowered to "disapprove, cancel, or modify" any such agreement that it finds to be unjustly discriminatory or to be detrimental to commerce or the public interest. Before FMC approval or after disapproval, agreements subject to filing are unlawful, and may not be implemented. Lawful agreements are excepted from the antitrust laws. The FMC severed for initial determination the issues of its jurisdiction over the challenged agreement and whether there were considerations in the national labor policy that would nevertheless exempt the agreement from the filing and approval requirements of § 15. The FMC found that the purpose of the agreement was to place nonmembers on the same basis as members of the PMA, and that its effect was to control or affect competition between members and nonmembers. Applying the standards articulated in United Stevedoring Corp. v. Boston Shipping Assn., 16 F.M.C. 7, the FMC found the agreement to be outside the protection of an FMC-recognized labor exemption, and therefore subject to filing
under § 15. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that any collective bargaining agreement, regardless of its impact on competition, was exempt from the § 15 filing requirements. Though recognizing that its holding precluded for collective bargaining agreements the antitrust immunity that § 15 approval provides, even in cases where shipping considerations would support an exemption, the court felt its holding necessary to implement the collective bargaining system established by the federal statutes dealing with labor-management relations, including those in the shipping industry. Alternatively, the court held that, if its per se rule was infirm, the FMC had erred in refusing to exempt the challenged agreement.
1. Collective bargaining agreements, as a class, are not categorically exempt from § 15's filing requirements. Pp. 435 U. S. 53-60.
(a) Because § 15 provides that an approved agreement will not be subject to the antitrust laws, it is clear that Congress (1) assigned to the FMC, not the courts, the task of initially determining which anticompetitive restraints are to be approved and which are to be disapproved under the general statutory guidelines, and (2) anticipated that various anticompetitive restraints, forbidden by the antitrust laws in other contexts, would be acceptable in the shipping industry. Pp. 435 U. S. 53-56.
(b) The Court of Appeals' conclusion that prompt implementation of lawful collective bargaining agreements could not be realized under the § 15 procedure overlooked the fact that, under the Act's terms, the vast majority of collective bargaining arrangements would not be candidates for disapproval under § 15, and would be routinely approved even if filed. The FMC has determined that it will recognize a "labor exemption" from § 15 filing requirements for collective bargaining contracts falling within the boundaries of the exemption defined by announced criteria like those applicable to the labor exemption from the antitrust laws. Pp. 435 U. S. 56-58.
(c) The FMC's procedure for conditional approval of filed agreements pending a final decision as to their legality is adequate to overcome the Court of Appeals' concern that the § 15 procedures would prevent "the maintenance or prompt restoration of industrial peace." Pp. 435 U. S. 59-60.
2. The Court of Appeals also erred in its alternative ground of decision that, even under a balancing test weighing Shipping Act and labor relations considerations, the challenged agreement should be exempt from filing, in support of which view the court suggested that the FMC had failed to realize that the agreement was an effort to force the public ports into a multiemployer bargaining unit against their will, an issue exclusively within the domain of the National Labor Relations Board. Here,
there was no effort to change bargaining units, but to impose bargaining unit terms on employers outside the units. Pp. 435 U. S. 60-61.
3. The FMC made the requisite findings to sustain its decision. Pp. 435 U. S. 61-63.
177 U.S. App. D.C. 248, 543 F.2d 395, reversed.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 435 U. S. 64. BLACKMUN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.