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HOWARD JOHNSON CO. v. DETROIT LOCAL JOINT EXECUTIVE BOARD

decided: June 3, 1974.

HOWARD JOHNSON CO., INC
v.
DETROIT LOCAL JOINT EXECUTIVE BOARD, HOTEL & RESTAURANT EMPLOYEES & BARTENDERS INTERNATIONAL UNION, AFL-CIO



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.

Marshall, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Brennan, Stewart, White, Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist, JJ., joined. Douglas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 265.

Author: Marshall

[ 417 U.S. Page 250]

 MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Once again we are faced with the problem of defining the labor law obligations of a "successor" employer to the employees of its predecessors. In this case, petitioner Howard Johnson Co. is the bona fide purchaser of the assets of a restaurant and motor lodge. Respondent Union was the bargaining representative of the employees of the previous operators, and had successfully concluded collective-bargaining agreements with them. In commencing its operation of the restaurant, Howard Johnson hired only a small fraction of the predecessors' employees. The question presented in this case is whether the Union may compel Howard Johnson to arbitrate, under the arbitration provisions of the collective-bargaining agreements signed by its predecessors, the extent of its obligations under those agreements to the predecessors' employees.

Prior to the sale at issue here, the Grissoms -- Charles T. Grissom, P. L. Grissom, Ben Bibb, P. L. Grissom & Son,

[ 417 U.S. Page 251]

     Inc., and the Belleville Restaurant Co., a corporation wholly owned by P. L. Grissom & Son -- had operated a Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge and an adjacent Howard Johnson's Restaurant in Belleville, Michigan, under franchise agreements with the petitioner. Employees at both the restaurant and motor lodge were represented by the respondent Hotel & Restaurant Employees & Bartenders International Union.*fn1 The Grissoms had entered into separate collective-bargaining agreements with the Union covering employees at the two establishments. Both agreements contained dispute settlement procedures leading ultimately to arbitration. Both agreements also provided that they would be binding upon the employer's "successors, assigns, purchasers, lessees or transferees."

On June 16, 1972, the Grissoms entered into an agreement with Howard Johnson to sell it all of the personal property used in connection with operation of the restaurant and motor lodge. The Grissoms retained ownership of the real property, leasing both premises to Howard Johnson. Howard Johnson did not agree to assume any of the Grissoms' obligations, except for four specific contracts relating to operation of the restaurant and motor lodge. On June 28, Howard Johnson mailed the Grissoms a letter, which they later acknowledged and confirmed, clarifying that "it was understood and agreed that the Purchaser . . . would not recognize and assume any labor agreements between the Sellers . . . and any

[ 417 U.S. Page 252]

     labor organizations," and that it was further agreed that "the Purchaser does not assume any obligations or liabilities of the Sellers resulting from any labor agreements . . . ."

Transfer of operation of the restaurant and motor lodge was set for midnight, July 23, 1972. On July 9, the Grissoms notified all of their employees that their employment would terminate as of that time. The Union was also notified of the termination of the Grissoms' business. On July 11, Howard Johnson advised the Union that it would not recognize the Union or assume any obligations under the existing collective-bargaining agreements.

After reaching agreement with the Grissoms, Howard Johnson began hiring its own work force. It placed advertisements in local newspapers, and posted notices in various places, including the restaurant and motor lodge. It began interviewing prospective employees on July 10, hired its first employees on July 18, and began training them at a Howard Johnson facility in Ann Arbor on July 20. Prior to the sale, the Grissoms had 53 employees. Howard Johnson commenced operations with 45 employees, 33 engaged in the restaurant and 12 in the motor lodge. Of these, only nine of the restaurant employees and none of the motor lodge employees had previously been employed by the Grissoms. None of the supervisory personnel employed by the Grissoms were hired by Howard Johnson.

The Union filed this action in the state courts on July 21. Characterizing Howard Johnson's failure to hire all of the employees of the Grissoms as a "lockout" in violation of the collective-bargaining agreements, the Union sought a temporary restraining order enjoining this "lockout" and an order compelling Howard Johnson and the Grissoms to arbitrate the extent of their obligations

[ 417 U.S. Page 253]

     to the Grissom employees under the bargaining agreements. The state court granted an ex parte temporary restraining order, but the Company refused to honor it, claiming that it had not received adequate notice or service, and the order was dissolved after a hearing on July 24.

The defendants subsequently removed this action to the federal courts on the ground that it was brought under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U. S. C. § 185. At a hearing before the District Court on August 7, the Grissoms admitted that they were required to arbitrate in accordance with the terms of the collective-bargaining agreements they had signed and that an order compelling arbitration should issue. On August 22, the District Court, in a memorandum opinion unofficially reported at 81 L. R. R. M. 2329 (ED Mich. 1972), held that Howard Johnson was also required to arbitrate the extent of its obligations to the former Grissom employees. The court denied, however, the Union's motion for a preliminary injunction requiring the Company to hire all the former Grissom employees, and granted a stay of its arbitration order pending appeal. Howard Johnson appealed the order compelling arbitration, but the Court of Appeals affirmed. 482 F.2d 489 (CA6 1973). We granted certiorari, 414 U.S. 1091 (1973), to consider the important labor law question presented. We reverse.

Both courts below relied heavily on this Court's decision in John Wiley & Sons v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543 (1964). In Wiley, the union representing the employees of a corporation which had disappeared through a merger sought to compel the surviving corporation, which had hired all of the merged corporation's employees and continued to operate the enterprise in a substantially identical form after the merger, to arbitrate

[ 417 U.S. Page 254]

     under the merged corporation's collective-bargaining agreement. As Wiley was this Court's first experience with the difficult "successorship" question, its holding was properly cautious and narrow:

"We hold that the disappearance by merger of a corporate employer which has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with a union does not automatically terminate all rights of the employees covered by the agreement, and that, in appropriate circumstances, present here, the successor employer may be required to arbitrate with the union under the agreement." Id., at 548.

Mr. Justice Harlan, writing for the Court, emphasized "the central role of arbitration in effectuating national labor policy" and preventing industrial strife, and the need to afford some protection to the interests of the employees during a change of corporate ownership. Id., at 549.

The courts below recognized that the reasoning of Wiley was to some extent inconsistent with our more recent decision in NLRB v. Burns International Security Services, 406 U.S. 272 (1972). Burns was the successful bidder on a contract to provide security services at a Lockheed Aircraft plant, and took a majority of its employees from the ranks of the guards employed at the plant by the previous contractor, Wackenhut. In refusing to enforce the Board's order finding that Burns' failure to honor the substantive provisions of the collective-bargaining agreement negotiated with Wackenhut was an unfair labor practice, we emphasized that freedom of collective bargaining -- "'private bargaining under governmental supervision of the procedure alone, ...


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