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U.S. Supreme Court

Operating Engineers v. Jones, 460 U.S. 669 (1983)

Local 926, International Union of

Operating Engineers, AFL-CIO v. Jones

No. 81-1574

Argued December 1, 1982

Decided April 4, 1983

460 U.S. 669


Respondent filed a charge with a Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board (Board), alleging that petitioner Union (Union) had procured his discharge by a company from his position as a "supervisor" because he was not a member in good standing with the Union. Supervisors are expressly excluded from the definition of "employee" under the National Labor Relations Act. The Union's conduct allegedly violated § 8(b)(1)(A) of the Act, which proscribes unions from coercing employees in the exercise of their rights under § 7 to engage in concerted action, and § 8(b)(1)(B), which prohibits unions from coercing employers in the selection of their representatives for the purposes of collective bargaining or the adjustment of grievances. The Regional Director refused to issue a complaint, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the Union had caused respondent's discharge or had coerced the company in the selection of its bargaining representative. Instead of appealing to the Board's General Counsel, respondent filed suit against the Union and others in a Georgia state court, alleging that the Union had interfered with his employment contract by coercing the company into breaching the contract. The trial court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the common law tort action was preempted because the subject matter of the complaint was arguably within the Board's exclusive jurisdiction, but the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of the case against the Union.

Held: Respondent's state court action against the Union is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act. Pp. 460 U. S. 675-684.

(a) If the conduct that a State seeks to regulate or to make the basis of liability is actually or arguably prohibited or protected by the Act, otherwise applicable state law and procedures are ordinarily preempted. However, when the conduct at issue is only a peripheral concern of the Act or touches on interests so deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility that, in the absence of compelling congressional direction, it cannot be inferred that Congress intended to deprive the State of the power to act, the state regulation or sanction is not preempted. Pp. 460 U. S. 675-676.

(b) Here, the Union arguably violated § 8(b)(1)(A), because it is not unusual for workers in the construction industry, such as respondent, to chanrobles.com-red

Page 460 U. S. 670

fluctuate between supervisory and nonsupervisory positions and, in view of the low-level supervisory position that respondent held, it was not unlikely that he would from time to time serve in a nonsupervisory position, and that he might be intimidated by the Union's conduct once he again became a statutory employee. The Union's conduct also arguably violated § 8(b)(1)(B), since it was at least arguable that respondent was a "supervisor" within the Act's meaning, his complaint filed with the Regional Director having indicated that he would have collective bargaining responsibilities. It was for the Board, not the state courts, to decide whether respondent was the kind of supervisor who could invoke § 8(b)(1)(B). Cf. Iron Workers v. Perko, 373 U. S. 701. Pp. 460 U. S. 678-680.

(c) Preemption cannot be avoided on the theory that the Regional Director concluded that the Board lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the complaint because of respondent's supervisory status, since the Regional Director instead addressed the merits of the complaint. Nor did the Regional Director's rejection of the complaint for insufficient evidence satisfy all of the federal law interests involved, so as to clear the way for a state cause of action. The preemption doctrine not only mandates substantive preemption by the federal law in the areas to which it applies, but also protects the exclusive jurisdiction of the Board over matters arguably within the Act's reach. Nor can preemption be avoided on the asserted grounds that the state cause of action and the § 8(b)(1)(B) unfair labor practice charge were not sufficiently alike, Sears Roebuck & Co. v. Carpenters, 436 U. S. 180, distinguished; or that respondent should be permitted to proceed in the state court because he could be awarded punitive damages and attorney's fees there, whereas he would be limited to backpay if his complaint had gone forward before the Board. Pp. 460 U. S. 680-684.

Appeal dismissed and certiorari granted; 159 Ga.App. 693, 285 S.E.2d 30, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which POWELL and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 460 U. S. 684. chanrobles.com-red

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