CSS Menu Style Css3Menu.com

Custom Search
 

The Wolff Packing Company vs. The Kansas Court Of Industrial Relations [1923]

 

Writ of Error to Supreme Court of Kansas.

TAFT, C. J. This case involves the validity of the Court of Industrial Relations Act of Kansas (1920). The act declares the following to be affected with a public interest: First, manufacture and preparation of food for human consumption; . . . fifth, public utilities and common carriers. The act vests an industrial court of three judges with power, upon its own initiative or on complaint, to summon the parties and hear any dispute over wages or other terms of employment in any such industry, and if it shall find the peace and health of the public imperiled by such controversy, it is required to make findings and fix the wages and other terms for the future conduct of the industry....

The Charles Wolff Packing Co., the plaintiff in error, is a corporation of Kansas engaged in slaughtering hogs and cattle and preparing the meat for sale and shipment....

In January, 1921, the president and secretary of the Meat Cutters Union filed a complaint with the Industrial Court against the Packing Company, respecting the wages its employees were receiving The Company appeared and answered and a hearing was had. The Court made findings, including one of an emergency, and an order as to wages, increasing them over the figures to which the company had recently reduced them. The Company refused to comply with the order, and the Industrial Court then instituted mandamus proceedings in the Supreme Court to compel compliance.... The Industrial Court conceded that the Wolff Company could not operate on the schedule fixed without a loss, but relied on the statement by its president that he hoped for more prosperous times.

The Packing Company brings this case here on the ground that the validity of the Industrial Court Act was upheld, although as in conflict with the provision of the 14th Amendment that no State shall deprive any person of liberty or property without due process of law....
The necessary postulate of the Industrial Court Act is that the state, representing the people, is so much interested in their peace, health, and comfort, that it may compel those engaged in the manufacture of food and clothing, and the production of fuel, whether owners or workers, to continue in their business and employment on terms fixed by an agency of the state, if they cannot agree. Under the construction adopted by the state supreme court, the act gives the Industrial Court authority to permit the owner or employer to go out of the business if he shows that he can only continue on the terms fixed at such heavy loss that collapse will follow; but this privilege, under the circumstances. is generally illusory. A laborer dissatisfied with his wages is permitted to quit, but he may not agree with his fellows to quit, or combine with others to induce them to quit.

These qualifications do not change the essence of the act. It curtails the right of the employer, on the one hand, and that of the employee, on the other, to contract about his affairs. This is part of the liberty of the individual protected by the guaranty of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment....

It is manifest from an examination of the cases cited . . that the mere declaration by a legislature that a business is affected with a public interest is not conclusive of the question whether its attempted regulation on that ground is justified. The circumstances of its alleged change from the status of a private business and its freedom from regulation into one in which the public have come to have an interest, are always a subject of judicial inquiry....

It has never been supposed, since the adoption of the Constitution, that the business of the butcher, or the baker, the tailor, the woodchopper, the mining operator, or the miner, was clothed with such a public interest that the price of his product or his wages could be fixed by state regulation....

To say that a business is clothed with a public interest is not to determine what regulation is permissible in view of the private rights of the owner. The extent to which an inn or cab system may be regulated may differ widely from that allowable as to a railroad or other common carrier. It is not a matter of legislative discretion solely. It depends upon the nature of the business, on the feature which touches the public, and on the abuses reasonably to be feared. To say that business is clothed with a public interest is not to import that the public may take over its entire management and run it at the expense of the owner. The extent to which regulation may reasonably go varies with different kinds of business The regulation of rates to avoid monopoly, is one thing. The regulation of wages is another. A business may be of such character that only the first is permissible, while another may involve such a possible danger of monopoly on the one hand, and such disaster from stoppage on the other, that both come within the public concern and power of regulation.

If, as, in effect, contended by counsel for the state, the common callings are clothed with a public interest by a mere legislative declaration, which necessarily authorizes full and comprehensive regulation within legislative discretion there must be a revolution in the relation of government to general business. This will be running the public-interest argument into the ground.... It will be impossible to reconcile such result with the freedom of contract and of labor secured by the

14th Amendment.
This brings to the nature and purpose of the regulation under the Industrial Court Act. The avowed object is continuity of food, clothing, and fuel supply. By sec. 6 reasonable continuity and efficiency of the industries specified are declared to be necessary for the public peace, health, and general welfare, and all are forbidden to hinder, limit, or suspend them. Sec. 7 gives the Industrial Court power, in case of controversy between employers and workers which may endanger the continuity or efficiency of service, to bring the employer and employee before it, and after hearing and investigation, to fix the terms and conditions between them. The employer is bound by this act to pay the wages fixed; and while the worker is not required to work at the wages fixed, he is forbidden on penalty of fine or imprisonment, to strike against them, and thus is compelled to give up that means of putting himself on an equality with his employer which action in concert with his fellows gives him....

The minutely detailed government supervision, including that of their relations to their employees, to which the railroads of the country have been gradually subjected by Congress through its power over interstate commerce, furnishes no precedent for regulation of the business of the plaintiff, whose classification as public is, at the best, doubtful. It is not too much to say that the ruling in Wilson v. New went to the borderline, although it concerned an interstate common carrier in the presence of a nation-wide emergency and the possibility of great disaster. Certainly there is nothing to justify extending the drastic regulation sustained in that exceptional case to the one before Us.

We think that Industrial Court Act . . . in conflict with the 14th Amendment. Judgement reversed.