In Curren v. Galen (152 N.Y. 33) this court considered a contract similar to the one we are here discussing to be void, but the reason for the decision was later explained in Jacobs v. Cohen (183 N.Y. 207) to be the malice, ill-will and injury intended the employee or plaintiff in the case; that the purpose was to prevent him from obtaining any employment. Such, of course, is not the purpose of this contract.Summary of this case from Williams v. Quill
Argued January 29, 1897
Decided March 2, 1897
W.A. Sutherland and D.C. Feely for appellants. A.G. Warren for respondent.
In the decision of the question before us we have to consider whether the agreement upon which the defendants rely in defense of this action, and to justify their part in the dismissal of the plaintiff from his employment, was one which the law will regard with favor and uphold, when compliance with its requirements is made a test of the individual's right to be employed. If such an agreement is lawful, then it must be conceded that the defendants are entitled to set it up as a defense to the action; forasmuch as they allege that what they did was in accordance with its terms.
In the general consideration of the subject, it must be premised that the organization, or the co-operation, of workingmen is not against any public policy. Indeed, it must be regarded as having the sanction of law, when it is for such legitimate purposes as that of obtaining an advance in the rate of wages or compensation, or of maintaining such rate. (Penal Code, sec. 170.) It is proper and praiseworthy, and, perhaps, falls within that general view of human society, which perceives an underlying law that men should unite to achieve that which each by himself cannot achieve; or can achieve less readily. But the social principle which justifies such organizations is departed from, when they are so extended in their operation as either to intend, or to accomplish, injury to others. Public policy and the interests of society favor the utmost freedom in the citizen to pursue his lawful trade or calling, and if the purpose of an organization or combination of workingmen be to hamper, or to restrict, that freedom, and, through contracts or arrangements with employers, to coerce other workingmen to become members of the organization and to come under its rules and conditions, under the penalty of the loss of their position, and of deprivation of employment, then that purpose seems clearly unlawful and militates against the spirit of our government and the nature of our institutions. The effectuation of such a purpose would conflict with that principle of public policy which prohibits monopolies and exclusive privileges. It would tend to deprive the public of the services of men in useful employments and capacities. It would, to use the language of Mr. Justice BARRETT in People ex rel. Gill v. Smith (5 N.Y. Cr. Rep. at p. 513), "impoverish and crush a citizen for no reason connected in the slightest degree with the advancement of wages, or the maintenance of the rate."
Every citizen is deeply interested in the strict maintenance of the constitutional right freely to pursue a lawful avocation, under conditions equal as to all, and to enjoy the fruits of his labor, without the imposition of any conditions not required for the general welfare of the community. The candid mind should shrink from the results of the operation of the principle contended for here; for there would certainly be a compulsion, or a fettering, of the individual, glaringly at variance with that freedom in the pursuit of happiness, which is believed to be guaranteed to all by the provisions of the fundamental law of the state. The sympathies, or the fellow-feeling which, as a social principle, underlies the association of workingmen for their common benefit, are not consistent with a purpose to oppress the individual who prefers by single effort to gain his livelihood. If organization of workingmen is in line with good government, it is because it is intended as a legitimate instrumentality to promote the common good of its members. If it militates against the general public interest, if its powers are directed towards the repression of individual freedom, upon what principle shall it be justified? In Regina v. Rowlands (17 Ad. Ellis [N.S.], 671) the question involved was of the right by combination to prevent certain workingmen from working for their employers and, thereby, to compel the latter to make an alteration in the mode of conducting their business. The Court of Queen's Bench, upon a motion for a new trial for misdirection of the jury by Mr. Justice ERLE below, approved of his charge, and we quote from his remarks. He instructed the jury that "a combination for the purpose of injuring another is a combination of a different nature, directed personally against the party to be injured, and the law allowing them to combine for the purpose of obtaining a lawful benefit to themselves gives no sanction to combinations which have for their immediate purpose the hurt of another. The rights of workmen are conceded; but the exercise of free will and freedom of action, within the limits of the law, is also secured equally to the masters. The intention of the law is, at present, to allow either of them to follow the dictates of their own will, with respect to their own actions, and their own property, and either, I believe, has a right to study to promote his own advantage, or to combine with others to promote their mutual advantage."
The organization of the local assembly in question by the workingmen in the breweries of the city of Rochester may have been perfectly lawful in its general purposes and methods and may, otherwise, wield its power and influence usefully and justly, for all that appears. It is not for us to say, nor do we intend to intimate, to the contrary; but so far as a purpose appears from the defense set up to the complaint that no employe of a brewing company shall be allowed to work for a longer period than four weeks, without becoming a member of the Workingmen's Local Assembly, and that a contract between the local assembly and the Ale Brewers' Association shall be availed of to compel the discharge of the independent employé, it is, in effect, a threat to keep persons from working at the particular trade and to procure their dismissal from employment. While it may be true, as argued, that the contract was entered into, on the part of the Ale Brewers' Association, with the object of avoiding disputes and conflicts with the workingmen's organization, that feature and such an intention cannot aid the defense, nor legalize a plan of compelling workingmen, not in affiliation with the organization, to join it, at the peril of being deprived of their employment and of the means of making a livelihood.
In our judgment, the defense pleaded was insufficient, in law, upon the face thereof, and, therefore, the demurrer thereto was properly sustained.
The judgment appealed from should be affirmed, with costs.
All concur, except HAIGHT, J., not sitting.