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decided: December 9, 1957.



Author: Burton

[ 355 U.S. Page 132]

 MR. JUSTICE BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issues here are whether, under the circumstances of this case, a state court may enjoin strikers and union representatives from (1) "threatening, intimidating or coercing any of the officers, agents or employees of [the employer] at any place," and also "from obstructing, or attempting to obstruct the free use of the streets adjacent to [the employer's] place of business, and the free ingress and egress to and from [the employer's] property," and (2) all "picketing or patrolling" of the employer's premises. For reasons hereafter stated, we conclude that the state court may lawfully enjoin conduct of substantially the first category but not of the second.

Most of the material facts are uncontroverted. In 1955, respondent, Rainfair, Inc., was a Wisconsin corporation with headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin. It owned and operated a plant in Wynne, Arkansas, an essentially rural community of about 4,000 inhabitants. About 100 women and seven men were there employed in the manufacture of men's slacks which were shipped in interstate commerce. None of the employees were members of a labor union but many had signed applications to join the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, CIO, which is one of the petitioners.

Apparently in an effort to compel the employer to recognize the union as the bargaining agent of the employees, 29 of the employees did not report for work on May 2, 1955. A picket line was established on the street in front of the plant. Strike headquarters were

[ 355 U.S. Page 133]

     maintained across the street from the plant entrance. Nearly all of the strikers were women. Their number varied from eight to 37. All was not quiet, however. On one occasion nails were strewn over the company's parking lot and, about a week later, the whole lot was "seeded" with roofing tacks. Tacks were also scattered in the driveway of the plant manager's home and on the driveways of 12 of the nonstriking women employees. One of the pickets told the plant manager that she would "wipe the sidewalk" with him and send him back to Wisconsin because he "was nothing but trash." The plant manager was followed by the strikers each time he left the plant; he also was harassed at night by occasional shouting at his home and by numerous anonymous telephone calls.

Immediately after the strike was called, respondent, by registered mail, informed each of the strikers that, if they did not return to work within a few days, the company would assume that those not returning had quit their jobs. Only three returned. Thirteen new employees were hired. The strike ended on May 19, the pickets were withdrawn and the strikers applied for reinstatement. Respondent, however, declined to arrange for immediate reinstatement. On June 17, the strikers voted to re-establish the picket line on Monday, June 20.*fn1 The purpose was to protest against respondent's failure to recognize the union and its refusal to reinstate the employees who had applied for reinstatement in May.

[ 355 U.S. Page 134]

     Shortly after midnight, on the morning of June 20, two women strikers deliberately drove a sharp instrument into two tires of a car owned by the daughter of one of the nonstriking women employees.*fn2 At about 5:15 a.m. the police were summoned to the plant where they found a five-foot black snake inside the plant beneath a broken window. At about 6 a.m. picketing was resumed.*fn3 Although the union posted notices warning the strikers against committing acts of violence, a union representative later was sufficiently concerned to ask the police to have someone regularly on duty at the entrance to the plant. The evidence shows that the tension was in large part caused by the enormous amount of abusive language hurled by the strikers at the company employees. The Supreme Court of Arkansas later summarized this as follows:

"As the employees would go to and from work at the plant, or go to lunch, or take a recess, the strikers would congregate along the west edge of their lot and sometimes in Rowena Street and engage in loud and offensive name calling, singing or shouting directed at the workers. They would call the workers 'scabs,' 'dirty scabs,' 'fat scabs,' 'yellow scabs,' 'crazy scabs,' 'cotton patch scabs,' 'pony tailed scabs,' 'fuzzy headed scabs,' 'fools,' 'cotton picking fools,' and other similar names. This took place every time an employee left or entered the plant. It was done by the strikers individually, in couples or by the entire group and in a loud and boisterous manner. One witness described it as 'just bedlam' when more than a dozen joined in the shouting. Particular

[ 355 U.S. Page 135]

     names or remarks were reserved for individual workers. One pregnant worker was greeted with, 'Get the hot water ready,' or, 'I am coming to make another payment on the baby, call Dr. Beaton,' or, 'Why, you can work another hour until you go to the delivery room.' This worker and another drove to a filling station for gasoline when two of the ...

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