Appeal, No. 148, Jan. T., 1951, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Oct. T., 1949, No. 17, in case of Martin F. Haefele et al. v. Thomas Davis et al. Decree reversed.
Max Rosenn, with him Rosenn & Rosenn, for appellants.
Nelson A. Bryan and Thomas E. Harris, with them Frank P. Lenahan and Elliot Bredhoff, for appellees.
Before Stern, Stearne, Jones, Bell, Ladner and Chidsey, JJ.
This case involves the seniority rights of the three plaintiffs, appellants in this court. After preliminary objections were dismissed to the complaint which asked for an injunction against defendants restraining them from interfering with the seniority rights of the plaintiffs and their employment and asking for damages for previous interference, a hearing was held, findings of fact were made by the Chancellor, President Judge VALENTINE, and an order was made dismissing the bill of complaint.
All three of the plaintiffs have been employed by the Vulcan Iron Works for a number of years. All are machinists, and were members of the defendant Union. In February, 1945, plaintiff Martin F. Haefele, was upgraded to the position of foreman in this plant. In September, 1947, the other two plaintiffs were also upgraded to foremen. Because of a recession in business conditions all three plaintiffs were dismissed as foremen on June 15, 1949. They did not remain members of the Union when they became foremen. Due to the objections
of the defendant Union none of the plaintiffs have been reemployed by the company as machinists and the Union by official action has denied them membership.
Plaintiffs' position is that by reason of seniority rights they were entitled to be employed as machinists when they were downgraded. In support of this position they contend that when they were upgraded to the position of foremen they did not lose their previously acquired seniority rights. They do not take the position that the time spent as foremen counted toward their seniority.
The collective bargaining agreement executed between the Company and the Union provides as to seniority rights as follows: "Seniority shall cease upon (a) justifiable discharge; (b) voluntary quitting; (c) if the employee does not return to work within five days after written notice at address appearing on the Company's records. The Company shall notify the Union at the same time the employee is notified to return to work."
The case turns on the proper construction of the ambiguous phrase "voluntary quitting." In construing this phrase, a majority of the court regard as significant the finding of fact, which the court en banc added to those found by the chancellor, as follows: "20. During the negotiations for the collective bargaining agreements, the representatives of the Union proposed that a provision be inserted in the contract which would give a production worker, who was elevated to assistant or foreman, the right, in the event of a decrease in the personnel of the company, to resume his former employment as production ...