CHAVEZ v. INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS

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Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 2, California.

CHAVEZ, et al. v. INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, etc., et al.

Nos. 4 Civil 15002 and 4 Civil 15096.

Decided: March 10, 1976

Jerome Cohen and Sanford N. Nathan, Salinas, Calif., for plaintiffs. Dickstein, Shapiro & Morin, Robert J. Higgins, Ira R. Mitzner, Washington, D.C., Erwin, Anderholt & Scherotter, and Gary Scherotter, for defendant union. Brundage, Beeson, Reich, Pappy & Hackler, and Julius Reich, Los Angeles, Calif., for defendant union. Best, Best & Krieger, Charles D. Field, and Richard T. Anderson, Riverside, Calif., for defendant employers. Adams, Duque & Hazeltine, Richard C. Field, and Robert W. Fischer, Jr., Los Angeles, Calif., for defendant employers. David E. Smith, Indio, Calif., for defendant employers. Parker, Stanburry, McGee & Babcock, and George H. Goodwin, Los Angeles, Calif., for defendant Smith.

This action for an injunction and 50 million dollars plus in damages is an outgrowth of the farm labor strife in the Coachella Valley and specifically was filed by six persons styling themselves as farm workers of Mexican and Filipino descent who live and work in the Coachella Valley. They alleged further that all are members of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW), and that it is their wish to have that union represent them as their collective bargaining agent.

There are dozens of parties defendant, and generally they fall into three groups. The first group is comprised of several levels of the Teamsters union and its various officers and organizers. The second group is made up of growers of grapes in the Coachella Valley. The third group consists of so-called labor relations consultants and “negotiators” for the growers.

The principal objective of the complaint seeks to have the defendants enjoined from threatening plaintiffs and other farm workers with discharge if they refuse to join the Teamsters as called for by the provisions of a union security clause contained in the Teamsters' contracts with the several growers. Otherwise, the plaintiffs seek compensatory damages and 50 million dollars in exemplary damages for themselves and on behalf of an alleged class of which they claim to be representative.

General demurrers were filed by the first two groups, and were sustained without leave to amend. The third group answered and then successfully moved for summary judgment. The appeal from that judgment has been consolidated with the appeal from the judgment of dismissal in favor of the demurring groups, and the issues on appeal as to all defendants are now deemed to be the same.

We concur in the several rulings of the trial court and affirm both judgments appealed from.

The Complaint

Because the legal posture of these cases turns on whether the plaintiffs' complaint states a cause of action in any of its three counts, we start with a detailed summary thereof necessary to address the plaintiffs' contentions. Paraphrased, it alleges:

Count One

(1) Plaintiffs are farm workers of Mexican and Filipino descent who live and work in the Coachella Valley. Each is a member and supporter of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, and wishes to have UFW as his collective bargaining agent. On or after April 14, 1973, each plaintiff was employed by one of the defendant growers. All of these employers had been signators of three-year labor contracts with UFW which expired on that date. Within ten hours of such expiration, the defendant growers had each signed so-called sweetheart contracts with defendant Western Conference of Teamsters, a union which did not represent plaintiffs or any substantial number of farm workers employed by the defendant growers, growers who have a policy of discriminating against non-white workers. The new Teamsters' contracts, as a condition of employment, required all of the growers' workers to join the Teamsters. Because of plaintiffs' loyalty to UFW most of them refused to join the Teamsters and then either went out on strike, quit their jobs, or were discharged. Other plaintiffs, threatened with discharge, joined the Teamsters under duress. By means of this action plaintiffs challenge the validity of the sweetheart contracts, particularly the union security clause or closed shop provision. “They ask this Court's assistance in vindicating their freedom to choose their own Union free from corrupt, back-room deals by those whose purpose is to destroy a strong, independent and democratic labor organization.”

(2) Paragraph 2 of count one characterizes the legal status of certain of the named defendants as corporations, partnerships, or individuals, and states as to all of these groups that they are engaged within the Coachella Valley in the growing, harvesting, and/or shipping of table grapes. Two additional defendants are alleged to be labor relation consultants and negotiators for the defendant growers, the employers of the plaintiffs and other farm workers.

(3) Paragraph 3 describes other of the defendants as unincorporated labor associations referred to collectively as the Teamsters. Other defendants are described therein as officers, employees, organizers, and/or agents of the Teamsters.

(4) Paragraph 4 asserts that the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO is an “independent” labor organization representing farm workers in the Coachella Valley. It continues that UFW until April 14, 1973, was a party to various collective bargaining agreements with each of the defendant growers covering the wages, hours and working conditions of their agricultural employees.

(5) Paragraph 5 contains the customary fictitious name allegations.

(6) Paragraph 6 seeks to establish the basis for a class action as to three subclasses comprised of farm workers who, on or after April 15, 1974:

(a) went out on strike against or quit their employment rather than join the Teamsters;

(b) were discharged because they refused to join the Teamsters;

(c) joined the Teamsters solely because of threats of discharge.

(7) Paragraph 7 charges a conspiracy among the growers and their negotiatiors to deprive plaintiffs and the classes noted of their rights, per sections 920-23 of the Labor Code, to select and be represented by the collective bargaining agent of their own choice, namely: UFW. The details of the alleged conspiracy are that the defendant growers and their negotiators agreed to:

(a) refuse to renegotiate their existing labor contracts with UFW, which allegedly at all times had been the chosen bargaining agent for all “or an overwhelming” majority of farm workers employed by the defendant growers;

(b) solicit from the Teamsters, a union which had never represented farm workers in the table grape industry, an agreement recognizing the Teamsters as exclusive bargaining agent for the growers' employees;

(c) enter into sweetheart contracts with the Teamsters providing for wages, hours and working conditions of the farm workers “favorable” to the defendant growers.

(8) Paragraph 8 says that on or about January 1973, before the expiration of its collective bargaining agreements with defendant growers, the UFW tried to negotiate these agreements. However, the defendant growers refused to negotiate in good faith.

(9) Paragraph 9 on information and belief sets forth that at about the same time representatives of the defendant growers solicited from the Teamsters an agreement under which the Teamsters would be recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent for the farm workers employed by the defendant growers. It is asserted further that the Teamsters agreed in return to include in such agreement certain “terms more favorable” to the growers than those sought by UFW.

(10) Paragraph 10, also on information and belief, states that at no time material did the Teamsters threaten to engage in any coercive economic activities traditionally used by labor unions as a means to compel the signing of a union contract. It is also stated that at no time material did the Teamsters take a position “adverse to or independent of” the defendant growers.

(11) Paragraph 11 adds that the agreement between the defendant growers and the UFW expired at midnight, April 14, 1973. It continued that on April 15, 1973 at 10 a.m. the defendant growers entered into so-called sweetheart contracts with the Teamsters and that those contracts recognized the Teamsters as the collective bargaining representative for the farm workers employed by the defendant growers.

(12) Paragraph 12 says that each of these contracts was identical and contained a “union security clause” requiring as a condition of employment that all employees of the defendant growers, parties to these agreements, must become and remain members of the Teamsters within 10 days of hiring.

(13) Paragraph 13 asserts that such contracts were more favorable to the defendant growers than those sought by UFW in that:

(a) the Teamsters' contracts provided for lower wage levels than those found in the agreements “negotiated by the UFW with other Coachella Valley grape growers;”

(b) the Teamsters' contract abolished the hiring hall procedure by which farm workers were employed by the defendant growers; and

(c) The Teamsters' contracts did away with “crucial health protections, particularly those against deadly pesticides.”

The remaining paragraphs of count one numbering up to 29 allege: that at the time of the execution of the new labor contracts the Teamsters did not represent any substantial number of farm workers and that this was known to the defendant growers; that the farm workers had no notice of the signing of the new contracts nor opportunity to vote on them; that there were various inquiries and polls taken among the farm workers by Congressmen, religious leaders and others who determined that substantial percentages of the groups of farm workers polled preferred to be represented by UFW; that on April 12, 1973, 1,200 out of 1,500 farm workers employed by the defendant growers attended a UFW meeting and voted to strike if contracts were signed with the Teamsters; that on April 16, 1973, because of the union security clause in the new contracts, plaintiff Celestino Chavez and a majority of other farm workers employed by the defendant growers went out on strike; that plaintiff Fred Abad quit his job rather than join the Teamsters; that plaintiffs Javier Sanchez and Teresa Sanchez were fired from their jobs because they refused to join the Teamsters as requested by the union security clause; that plaintiffs Bartola Delgado and Roberto Delgado joined the Teamsters because of threats to fire them if they did not join; that all of the foregoing was in violation of section 923 of the Labor Code1 because it interfered with plaintiffs' rights to “full freedom of association . . . and designation of representation of (their) own choosing to negotiate the terms of conditions of (their) employment . . .”; that all of the foregoing also was illegal because of the provisions of section 921 of the Labor Code;2 that because of this conduct of the defendants each of the plaintiffs and their class have suffered economic injury of not less than $5,000 each; that defendants acted maliciously with specific intent to injure plaintiffs and their class and accordingly they are entitled to exemplary damages of 25 million dollars for plaintiffs and for their class; and that unless restrained defendants will continue in their unlawful course of conduct.

Count Two

Here all of the 29 paragraphs of count one are incorporated by reference, and then it is alleged that a large majority of the farm workers employed by the defendant growers are “non-white: e.g., of Mexican descent, Filipino, Black, and Arab.” It is further alleged that the Teamsters have refused to grant full member-ship and voting rights to such nonwhite farm workers. This charge is amplified by quotation from an interview of one Einar Mohn, a director of the defendant Western Conference of Teamsters. Because of these allegations and other discriminatory policies, it is claimed that there has been a violation of section 1410 et seq. of the Labor Code. The foregoing is the basis for a claim for an additional 25 million dollars in exemplary damages.

Count Three

Again all of the paragraphs of count one are incorporated by reference. Likewise paragraphs one through ten of count two are incorporated. It is then alleged that this conduct constitutes unfair competition within the meaning of section 3369 of the Civil Code.3

The plaintiffs have prayed for a variety of legal, equitable and declaratory relief; however, because the case comes up on a judgment of dismissal4 following the sustaining of a demurrer without leave to amend, no good purpose would be served by spelling out the extensive details of the relief sought.

Issues and Disposition

As to count one, the thrust of the plaintiffs' case is that under the circumstances of this case, as the substantial majority of the defendant growers' workers, they and their class have a right under section 923 of the Labor Code not to be subjected to the coercive effects of the union security clause as contained in the Teamsters' contracts with the several defendant growers. Such contention cannot survive in light of Justice Traynor's decision in Petri Cleaners, Inc. v. Automotive Employees, Etc., Local No. 88, 53 Cal.2d 455, 469-475, 44 LRRM 2404. Shortly stated, it was there held that section 923 does not compel an employer to bargain with any particular labor union.

This interpretation was reiterated in Englund v. Chavez, 8 Cal.3d 572, 82 LRRM 2180, where it was said that: “[U]nion shop agreements between a nonrepresentative union and an employer are not ‘illegal’ . . . and will not be enjoined by the state . . . .” (P. 596.) While the plaintiffs and UFW may find the factual situation which is alleged in the complaint to be a distasteful one in view of their own objectives, nevertheless there is nothing there alleged wich in any way limits the plaintiffs and the members of UFW from a resort to the traditional economic sanctions by which labor unions have achieved their objectives over the years. In view of the “laissez-faire” atmosphere of California's labor policy, at the time the events alleged occurred, it is not reasonable for plaintiffs, who have failed to achieve this objective in the field, to expect that they can turn to the courts to do their job for them.

Plaintiffs rely heavily on Knopf v. Producers Guild of America, Inc., 40 Cal.App.3d 233, 87 LRRM 2419, and Shafer v. Registered Pharmacists Union, 16 Cal.2d 379. Those cases are readily distinguishable, for on their facts the unions involved could readily be characterized as company unions. No such description could possibly apply to the Teamsters in this case.

In our view Petri is controlling and supports the ruling on the demurrer as to count one. Turning to the language in the excellent brief filed by Mr. Richard C. Field on behalf of certain of the defendants, it is cogently observed: “Appellants, in their Opening Brief, contend that the result advocated by Respondents and mandated by the court below . . . means that an employer has an unbridled license to interfere with its employees' union activities. This indicates a major misunderstanding of California's legislative and judicial policy toward labor disputes. The restriction which is always imposed on an employer's interference with union activities is economic. The threat of strikes, secondary boycotts and the other economically coercive tools which labor unions may use is present in this type of case regardless of the holding of the Court. The holding of Petri . . . does not allow an employer unbridled liberty to interfere in union activities. These cases simply mean that the remedy of aggrieved employees is economic coercion, rather than judicial action. Absent legislative approval and appropriate machinery (which may well have been established by the legislature by the time this brief is reviewed by the Court), the courts will not create a new remedy for employees in this situation.”

The contentions advanced in support of count two and count three require scant treatment to dispose of. The count based on alleged discriminatory conduct as proscribed by section 1410 et seq of the Labor Code fails to show that a prior resort has been made to remedies available under the California Fair Employment Practice Act. It is well established in this state that a party must exhaust all administrative remedies provided by statute before he may turn to the court for relief. (United States v. Superior Court, 19 Cal.2d 189, 194.)

The contention made in support of count three borders on the picturesque. Section 3369 of the Civil Code which provides for the enjoining of so-called unfair business practices is hardly applicable to jurisdictional struggles between labor unions. Unfair competition as in that section referred to is viewed by the courts as a practice which raises the question of whether the public is likely to be deceived and therefore influenced to trade with one party rather than another because of the deception. (See Payne v. United California Bank, 23 Cal. App.3d 850.)

Because plaintiffs have not been able to state any basis for relief, it is unnecessary to go into the conspiracy question or into whether they have alleged an ascertainable class. However, even assuming arguendo that the plaintiffs' claims could survive demurrer, it is our view that their allegations as to a class action fail to meet the test of Daar v. Yellow Cab Co., 67 Cal.2d 695, 704.) There is no community of interest within the categories of persons said to make up the class. The basic issues presented involve questions of fact particular to each individual farm worker.

Conclusion

In this litigation plaintiffs have attempted to portray their case as a simple effort by employees to overturn a contract forced upon them by a conspiracy between their employers and a company union. However, the record indicates clearly that this case is actually an effort by one union to win for itself as against a rival union the benefits of recognition as an exclusive collective bargaining unit.

Plaintiffs are attempting to reach by judicial intervention what they could not accomplish by economic coercion. They seek to make the courts of California forums for jurisdictional disputes between unions, for the relief they seek would require a court exhaustively to examine all of the factual disputes involved in choosing the union to serve as a collective bargaining agent for the employees in question. This the courts are not prepared to do.

The judgments are affirmed.

FOOTNOTES

1.  Section 923 of the Labor Code reads: “In the interpretation and application of this chapter, the public policy of this State is declared as follows:“Negotiation of terms and conditions of labor should result from voluntary agreement between employer and employees. Governmental authority has permitted and encouraged employers to organize in the corporate and other forms of capital control. In dealing with such employers, the individual unorganized worker is helpless to exercise actual liberty of contract and to protect his freedom of labor, and thereby to obtain acceptable terms and conditions of employment. Therefore it is necessary that the individual workman have full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of his own choosing, to negotiate the terms and conditions of his employment, and that he shall be free from the interference, restraint, or coercion of employers of labor, or their agents, is the designation of such representatives or in self-organization or in other concerned activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

2.  Section 921 of the Labor Code reads: “Every promise made after August 21, 1933, between any employee or prospective employee and his employer, prospective employer or any other person is contrary to public policy if either party thereto promises any of the following: [¶] (a) To join or to remain a member of a labor organization or to join or remain a member of an employer organization. [¶] (b) Not to join or not to remain a member of a labor organization or of an employer organization, [¶] (c) To withdraw from an employment relation in the event that he joins or remains a member of a labor organization or of an employer organization. [¶] Such promise shall not afford any basis for the granting of legal or equitable relief by any court against a party to such promise, or against any other persons who advise, urge, or induce, without fraud or violence or threat thereof, either party thereto to act in disregard of such promise.”

3.  Section 3369 of the Civil Code reads:“1. Neither specific nor preventive relief can be granted to enforce a penalty or forfeiture in any case, nor to enforce a penal law, except in a case of nuisance or unfair competition.“2. Any person performing or proposing to perform an act of unfair competition within this state may be enjoined in any court of competent jurisdiction.“3. As used in this section, unfair competition shall mean and include unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising and any act denounced by Busines and Professions Code Sections 17500 to 17535, inclusive.“4. As used in this section, the term person shall mean and include natural persons, corporations, firms, partnerships, joint stock companies, associations and other organizations of persons.“5. Actions for injuncion under this section may be prosecuted by the Attorney General or any district attorney or any city attorney of a city having a population in excess of 750,000, and, with the consent of the district attorney, by a city prosecutor in any city or city and county having a full-time city prosecutor in the name of the people of the State of California upon their own complaint or upon the complaint of any board, officer, person, corporation or association or by any person acting for the interests of itself, its members or the general public.”

4.  In case No. 15096 there was an answer filed by certain defendants and then a motion for summary judgment was granted. In the consolidation of the appeals it has been stipulated that the postures of the cases as to all defendants shall be deemed that of No. 15002.

McDANIEL, Justice:

TAMURA, Acting Presiding Justice, and KAUFMAN, Justice, concur.

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