U.S. Bulk Carriers, Inc. v. Arguelles, 400 U.S. 351 (1971)

Author: Justice Douglas

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U.S. Bulk Carriers, Inc. v. Arguelles, 400 U.S. 351 (1971)

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit for seaman’s wages accruing from services rendered in foreign commerce. Federal jurisdiction was claimed under 28 U.S.C. § 1333 which grants exclusive jurisdiction to the district courts in any "admiralty or maritime" case. A collective bargaining agreement contained provisions concerning wages payable when seamen were dismissed or when their employment was terminated; and it provided a grievance procedure and for arbitration of disputed claims. Those procedures were not pursued by the seaman. He sued in the federal court instead.

The District Court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the principles we announced in a series of decisions starting with Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, and extending to Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox, 379 U.S. 650, governed this maritime case and that the federal court had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the maritime claim but only to enforce the grievance procedure or an arbitration award that might be given. The Court of Appeals reversed by a divided vote, 408 F.2d 1065, and we granted certiorari, 398 U.S. 957.

The Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, 61 Stat. 136, provides a federal remedy to enforce grievance and arbitration provisions of collective bargaining agreements in an industry "affecting commerce," § 301(a), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a); and it is clear that "commerce" includes foreign commerce. 29 U.S.C. § 152(6). It is also clear that this employee’s basic wage and the overtime rate of pay were fixed or determinable by the collective bargaining agreement. And it is generally true, as stated in Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 184, that, when the employee’s claim

is based upon breach of the collective bargaining agreement, he is bound by terms of that agreement which govern the manner in which contractual rights may be enforced.

The question here is not the continuing validity of Lincoln Mills and its progeny. The question is a distinctly different one, and that is whether the earlier, express, and alternative method of collecting seamen’s wages contained in 46 U.S.C. § 596 has been displaced by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act or whether so far as seamen and their wages are concerned § 301 is only an optional method of resolving the controversy.

Title 46 U.S.C. § 596, which derives from the Act of July 20, 1790, § 6, 1 Stat. 133, provides in relevant part:

The master or owner of any vessel making coasting voyages shall pay to every seaman his wages within two days after the termination of the agreement under which he was shipped, or at the time such seaman is discharged, whichever first happens; and in case of vessel making foreign voyages, or from a port on the Atlantic to a port on the Pacific, or vice versa, within twenty-four hours after the cargo has been discharged, or within four days after the seaman has been discharged, whichever first happens; and in all cases the seaman shall be entitled to be paid at the time of his discharge on account of wages a sum equal to one-third part of the balance due him. Every master or owner who refuses or neglects to make payment in the manner hereinbefore mentioned without sufficient cause shall pay to the seaman a sum equal to two days’ pay for each and every day during which payment is delayed beyond the respective periods, which sum shall be recoverable as wages in an claim made before the court. . . .

(Italics added.)

Moreover, 46 U.S.C. § 597, which also derives from the 1790 Act, provides:

Every seaman on a vessel of the United States shall be entitled to receive on demand from the master of the vessel to which he belongs one-half part of the balance of his wages earned and remaining unpaid at the time when such demand is made at every port where such vessel, after the voyage has been commenced, shall load or deliver cargo before the voyage is ended, and all stipulations in the contract to the contrary shall be void:Provided, Such a demand shall not be made before the expiration of, nor oftener than once in five days nor more than once in the same harbor on the same entry. . . .

The statutory remedy speaks in terms of the amount of wages due and owing and the penalties for nonpayment, and it specifies the timetable within which the payments must be made. Section 596 speaks of a penalty for nonpayment recoverable "as wages in any claim made before the court." This implies a right to make the claim to the court and not a duty to make it before a grievance committee or before an arbiter. Hence, § 596 does not wholly jibe with § 301. We often must legislate interstitially{1} to iron out inconsistencies within a statute or to fill gaps resulting from legislative oversight or to resolve ambiguities resulting from a legislative compromise. It is earnestly urged that the grievance procedure established in the collective bargaining agreement can give effect to these payments and penalty provisions and that the agreement is therefore not in derogation of the ancient statutory remedy which Congress has provided.

Seamen from the start were wards of admiralty. See Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275, 287. In 1872, it was provided that the federal courts might appoint shipping commissioners "to superintend the shipping and discharge of seamen" in our merchant fleet. Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 2d Sess., 1836.{2} Commissioners indeed served, 46 U.S.C. § 541 (1940 ed.), as an administrative adjunct of the federal courts until July 16, 1946, when § 104 of Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1946 abolished them. 60 Stat. 1098. No other administrative agency was substituted. The federal courts remained as the guardians of seamen, the agencies chosen by Congress, to enforce their rights -- a guardian concept which, so far as wage claims are concerned, is not much different from what it was in the 18th century.

We reviewed the legislative history of § 301 in Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. at 451-456. The matter of foremost concern in Congress was the enforceability of collective bargaining agreements. The essence of § 301 was a new federal policy governed by federal law --

that federal courts should enforce these agreements on behalf of or against labor organizations and that industrial peace can be best obtained only in that way.

Id. at 455. Enforcement by or against labor unions was the main burden of § 301, though standing by individual employees to secure declarations of their legal rights under the collective agreement was recognized. Id. at 456. Since the emphasis was on suits by unions and against unions, little attention was given to the assertion of claims by individual employees and none whatsoever concerning the impact of § 301 on the special protective procedures governing the collection of wages of maritime workers. We can find no suggestion in the legislative history of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 that grievance procedures and arbitration were to take the place of the old shipping commissioners or to assume part or all of the roles served by the federal courts protective of the rights of seamen since 1790.

It is earnestly urged that the literalness of the old statute should give way to the progressive philosophy of the new procedures.

It is said that arbitration would be most appropriate because "a familiarity with the customs and practices of shipping would be distinctly helpful in assessing the validity of the claims," and the "underlying wage claims [are] based on factual disputes." Resolving factual disputes is hardly uncommon in federal district courts. And while an arbitrator in the area may have expertise, for 180 years federal courts have been protecting the rights of seamen and are not without knowledge in the area.

It is also said that the informal, readily available grievance and arbitration procedures might defeat any overreaching and delay by the employer which § 596 was designed to reach. We do not hold that § 596 is the exclusive remedy of the seaman. He may, if he chooses, use the processes of grievance and arbitration. Yet, unlike Congress, we are not in a position to say that his interests usually will be best served through § 301, rather than through § 596.

The literal conflict between this ancient seaman’s statute and the relatively new grievance procedure is one which we think Congress, rather than this Court, should resolve. We do not sit as a legislative committee of revision. We know that this employee has a justiciable claim. We know it is the kind of claim that is grist for the judicial mill. We know that, in § 596, Congress allowed it to be recoverable when made to a court. We know that this District Court has the case properly before it under the head of maritime jurisdiction. We hesitate to route this claimant through the relatively new administrative remedy of the collective agreement and shut the courthouse door on him when Congress, since 1790, has said that it is open to members of his class.

What we decide today has nothing whatsoever to do with grievance claims of the maritime unions against employers or the claims of employers against them, for neither is touched by § 596. We deal only with the seaman’s personal wage claims.

Maritime unions, of course, like other unions, gain "prestige" by processing grievance claims. Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox, supra, at 653. And employer interests are served "by limiting the choice of remedies available to aggrieved employees." Ibid. In Maddox, there was no express exception governing individual claims of employees from § 301 grievance procedures, and we declined to carve one out under the circumstances there present. The circumstances here are quite different because of the express judicial remedy created by § 596. The reluctance in Maddox to redesign the statutory regime of § 301 makes us equally reluctant to redesign the statutory regime of § 596.

The chronology of the two statutes -- § 596 and § 301 -- makes clear that the judicial remedy was made explicit in § 596, and was not clearly taken away by § 301. What Congress has plainly granted we hesitate to deny. Since the history of § 301 is silent on the abrogation of existing statutory remedies of seamen in the maritime field, we construe it to provide only an optional remedy to them. We would require much more to hold that § 301 reflects a philosophy of legal compulsion that overrides the explicit judicial remedy provided by 46 U.S.C.§ 596.


MR. JUSTICE BLACK concurs in the judgment and opinion of the Court while still adhering to his dissent in Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox, 379 U.S. 650.


I recognize without hesitation that judges do and must legislate, but they can do so only interstitially; they are confined from molar to molecular motions.

Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 221 (Holmes, J., dissenting).

Mr. Justice Cardozo, in speaking of the construction of laws to achieve justice and harmony, said:

All departments of the law have been touched and elevated by this spirit. In some, however, the method of sociology works in harmony with the method of philosophy or of evolution or of tradition. Those, therefore, are the fields where logic and coherence and consistency must still be sought as ends. In others, it seems to displace the methods that compete with it. Those are the fields where the virtues of consistency must yield within those interstitial limits where judicial power moves.

Selected Writings 136 (Hall ed.1947).

2. And see Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 2d Sess., 1838, 1863, 2172, 2206, 3437, 3572, 3911.


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Chicago: Douglas, "Douglas, J., Lead Opinion," U.S. Bulk Carriers, Inc. v. Arguelles, 400 U.S. 351 (1971) in 400 U.S. 351 400 U.S. 352–400 U.S. 358. Original Sources, accessed July 12, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPRXHVE1NW6E3HV.

MLA: Douglas. "Douglas, J., Lead Opinion." U.S. Bulk Carriers, Inc. v. Arguelles, 400 U.S. 351 (1971), in 400 U.S. 351, pp. 400 U.S. 352–400 U.S. 358. Original Sources. 12 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPRXHVE1NW6E3HV.

Harvard: Douglas, 'Douglas, J., Lead Opinion' in U.S. Bulk Carriers, Inc. v. Arguelles, 400 U.S. 351 (1971). cited in 1971, 400 U.S. 351, pp.400 U.S. 352–400 U.S. 358. Original Sources, retrieved 12 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPRXHVE1NW6E3HV.