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Vegelahn v. Guntner - 167 Mass. 92, 44 N.E. 1077 (1896)

Rule:

A motive or purpose to secure better wages does not justify maintaining a patrol in front of an employer's premises, as a means of carrying out a conspiracy. A combination among persons merely to regulate their own conduct is within allowable competition, and is lawful, although others may be indirectly affected thereby. But a combination to do injurious acts expressly directed to another, by way of intimidation or constraint, either of himself or of persons employed or seeking to be employed by him, is outside of allowable competition, and is unlawful.

Facts:

Following upon a strike of the plaintiff’s workers, defendants conspired to prevent plaintiff employer from getting workers, thereby preventing him from carrying on his business, unless and until the plaintiff should adopt a certain schedule of prices. Defendants instituted a patrol of two men in front of the plaintiff’s factory, which was maintained, from half past six in the morning until half past five in the afternoon. The patrol was maintained as one of the means of carrying out the defendants' plan, and it was used in combination with social pressure, threats of personal injury or unlawful harm, and persuasion to break existing contracts. It was thus one means of intimidation indirectly to the plaintiff, and directly to persons actually employed, or seeking to be employed, by the plaintiff, and of rendering such employment unpleasant or intolerable to such persons. Consequently, plaintiff filed a bill in equity against defendants, seeking to restrain the defendants from patrolling in the vicinity. At a preliminary hearing, an injunction issued pendent lite. On appeal, defendant strikers asserted that their acts were justifiable because they were only seeking to secure better wages.

Issue:

Should the strikers be enjoined against maintaining the patrol?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court held that the injunction should continue because the patrol was an unlawful interference with the rights of both the plaintiff and of those employed in plaintiff’s factory. According to the Court, an employer has a right to engage all persons who were willing to work for him, at such prices as may be mutually agreed upon; and persons employed or seeking employment have a corresponding right to enter into or remain in the employment of any person or corporation willing to employ them. The Court maintained that these rights were secured by the Constitution itself and no one can lawfully interfere by force or intimidation to prevent employers or persons employed or wishing to be employed from the exercise of these rights. The Court further held that notwithstanding the defendants’ motives, it did not justify their action of maintaining a patrol within the vicinity of the plaintiff’s factory.

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