Chas Wolff Packing Company v. Court of Industrial Relations of Kansas (262 U.S. 522)

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United States Supreme Court

262 U.S. 522

Chas Wolff Packing Company  v.  Court of Industrial Relations of Kansas

 Argued: April 27, 1923. --- Decided: June 11, 1923

[Syllabus from pages 522-523 intentionally omitted]

This case involves the validity of the Court of Industrial Relations Act of Kansas. Chapter 29, Special Session, Laws of 1920. The act declares the following to be affected with a public interest: First, manufacture and preparation of food for human consumption; second, manufacture of clothing for human wear; third, production of any substance in common use for fuel; fourth, transportation of the foregoing; 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. After 60 days, either party may ask for a readjustment, and then the order is to continue in effect for such reasonable time as the court shall fix, or until changed by agreement of the parties. The Supreme Court of the state may review such orders, and in case of disobedience to an order that court may be appealed to for enforcement.

The Charles Wolff Packing Company, the plaintiff in error, is a corporation of Kansas engaged in slaughtering hogs and cattle and preparing the meat for sale and shipment. It has $600,000 capital stock and total annual sales of $7,000,000. More than half its products are sold beyond the state. It has 300 employees. There are many other packing houses in Kansas, of greater capacity. This is considered a small one.

In January, 19 1, the president and seretary 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. That court appointed a commissioner to consider the record, to take additional evidence, and report his conclusions. He found that the company had lost $100,000 the previous year, and that there was no sufficient evidence of an emergency or danger to the public from the controversy to justify action by the industrial court. The Supreme Court overruled his report and held that the evidence showed a sufficient emergency.

The prescribed schedule of wages and the limitation of hours and the rate of pay required for overtime resulted in an increase in wages of more than $400 a week.

It appeared from the evidence that the company and plant were under the control of, and in business association with, what were called 'The Allied Packers' who have plants in various cities and compete with the socalled Big Five Packers, the largest in the country; that the products of the Wolff Packing Company are sold in active competition with such products made by other concerns throughout the United States. It appeared, further, that about the time of this controversy a strike was threatened in the packing houses of the Big Five, which the President of the United States used his good offices to settle. The chief executive of the Wolff Company testified that there had been no difficulty in securing all the labor it desired at the reduced rates offered. 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 challenged as in conflict with the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment that no state shall deprive any person of liberty or property without due process of law.

Messrs. D. R. Hite and John S. Dean, both of Topeka, Kan., for plaintiff in error.

Messrs. John G. Egan, of Topeka, Kan., and Chester I. Long, of Wichita, Kan., for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 526-533 intentionally omitted]

Mr. CHIEF JUSTICE TAFT, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).