Lewis v. Benedict Coal Corp.

361 U.S. 459



The parties to a collective bargaining agreement must express their meaning in unequivocal words before they can be said to have agreed that the union's breaches of its promises should give rise to a defense against the duty assumed by an employer to contribute to a welfare fund meeting the requirements of 29 U.S.C.S. § 186(c)(5).


Petitioners, a union and trustees, were granted writs of certiorari to review a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirming (a) the denial of immediate execution on an award to the trustees on a claim for contributions to a fund that were required by a labor contract, and (b) a ruling on respondent employer's cross-claim for damages that the union breached the contract by engaging in strikes and work stoppages. When the union went on strike, the employer stopped making contributions to a welfare and retirement fund, asserting that, because the union had violated their labor contract, its duty under that contract to pay royalties to the fund was excused. The trustees sued the employer to recover the amounts withheld from the fund and the employer asserted a set-off and cross-claim against the union for damages sustained by the work stoppages. On a jury verdict, the district court found for the trustees, but ruled that the employer was entitled to a set-off and award for the same amount on its cross-claim. The trustees were denied immediate execution and were allowed to satisfy their judgment only out of the proceeds on the judgment against the union. The court of appeals affirmed in all respects except as to the amount awarded to the employer on the cross-claim.


Must the parties to a collective bargaining agreement express their meaning in unequivocal words before they can be said to have agreed?




The judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed in part by an equally divided Court with respect to the holding that the union violated the contract by striking. The judgment was reversed in part and modified to allow the trustees immediate and unconditional execution and interest on the full amount of their judgment against the employer for contributions to the fund.

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