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U.S. Supreme Court

National Assn of Glass Mfrs. v. United States, 263 U.S. 403 (1923)

National Assn of Window Glass Manufacturers v. United States

No. 353

Argued November 22, 23, 1923

Decided December 10, 1923

263 U.S. 403




1. Whether an agreement, between all the manufacturers of a commodity and a union representing all the labor obtainable for its manufacture violates the Sherman Law when it concerns only the way in which the labor shall be employed in production, and not sales or distribution, depends upon the particular facts. P. 263 U. S. 411.

2. The manufacturers of hand-blown window glass -- an article costing twice as much to produce, but sold at the same price, as window glass made with the aid of machines, the price of the latter necessarily fixing the price of the former -- finding the supply of workmen in their industry insufficient to run their factories continuously during the working season, and being unable to run undermanned without serious loss, made an arrangement with the workmen, through their union, whereby, in effect, all the available labor was apportioned to part of the factories for part of the season and to the others for the remainder, so that all the workmen were secured the advantage of continuous employment through all the season and each factory secured its share of labor for one period and closed down during the other. Held not a combination in unreasonable restraint of trade, assuming that it might affect interstate commerce. P. 263 U. S. 412.

287 F.2d 8 reversed.

Appeal from a decree of the district court which enjoined a combination of the appellants at the suit of the United States under the Sherman Law. chanrobles.com-red

Page 263 U. S. 411

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a proceeding brought by the United States under the Act of July 2, 1890, c. 647, § 4, 26 Stat. 209, to prevent an alleged violation of § 1, which forbids combinations in restraint of trade among the states. The defendants are all the manufacturers of hand-blown window glass, with certain of their officers, and the National Window Glass Workers, a voluntary association, its officers and members, embracing all the labor to be had for this work in the United States. The defendants established a wage scale to be in effect from September 25, 1922, to January 27, 1923, and from January 29, 1923, to June 11, 1923, and the feature that is the object of the present attack is that this scale would be issued to one set of factories for the first period and to another for the second, but that no factory could get it for both, and, without it, they could not get labor, and therefore must stop work. After a hearing, a final decree was entered enjoining the defendants from carrying out the above or any similar agreements so far as they might limit and prescribe the time during which the defendant manufacturers should operate their factories for hand-blown window glass. 287 F.2d 8.

This agreement does not concern sales or distribution; it is directed only to the way in which union labor, the only labor obtainable, it is true, shall be employed in production. If such an agreement can be within the Sherman Act, at least it is not necessarily so. United Mine Workers of America v. Coronado Coal Co., 259 U. S. 344, 259 U. S. 408. To determine its legality requires a consideration chanrobles.com-red

Page 263 U. S. 412

of the particular facts. Board of Trade of Chicago v. United States, 246 U. S. 231, 246 U. S. 238.

The dominant fact in this case is that, in the last quarter of a century, machines have been brought into use that dispense with the employment of the highly trained blowers and the trained gatherers needed for the handmade glass, and, in that and other ways, have enabled the factories using machines to produce window glass at half the cost of the handmade. The price for the two kinds is the same. It has followed, of course, that the companies using machines fix the price, that they make much the greater part of the glass in the market, and probably, as was testified for the defendants, that the hand-makers are able to keep on only by the sufferance of the others and by working longer hours. The defendants say, and it is altogether likely, that the conditions thus brought about and the nature of the work have driven many laborers away, and made it impossible to get new ones, for the work is very trying, requires considerable training, and is always liable to a reduction of wages if the machine industry lowers the price. The only chance for the handworkers has been when and where they could get cheap fuel, and therefore their tendency has been to follow the discoveries of natural gas. The defendants contend, with a good deal of force, that it is absurd to speak of their arrangements as possibly having any effect upon commerce among the states when manufacturers of this kind obviously are not able to do more than struggle to survive a little longer before they disappear, as human effort always disappears when it is not needed to direct the force that can be got more cheaply from water or coal.

But that is not all of the defendants' case. There are not twenty-five hundred men at present in the industry. The government says that this is the fault of the union; the defendants, with much greater probability, that it is the inevitable coming to pass. But, wherever the fault, if chanrobles.com-red

Page 263 U. S. 413

there is any, that is the fact with which the defendants had to deal. There were not men enough to enable the factories to run continuously during the working season, leaving out the two or three summer months in which the heat makes it impossible to go on. To work undermanned costs the same in fuel and overhead expenses as to work fully manned, and therefore means a serious loss. On the other hand, the men are less well off with the uncertainties that such a situation brings. The purpose of the arrangement is to secure employment for all the men during the whole of the two seasons, thus to give all the labor available to the factories, and to divide it equally among them. From the view that we take, we think it unnecessary to explain how the present system sprang from experience during the war, when the government restricted production to one-half of what it had been and an accident was found of work well, or to do more than advert to the defendants' contention that, with the means available, the production is increased. It is enough that we see no combination in unreasonable restraint of trade in the arrangements made to meet the short supply of men.

Decree reversed.

Petition dismissed.