Steele and the Supreme Court’s Creation of the Union’s Duty of Fair Representation
On December 18, 1944 the Supreme Court of the United States issued its seminal decision in Steele v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. This chapter examines Steele and the efforts of Charles Hamilton Houston and his cocounsel, Arthur D. Shores and Joseph C. Waddy, to persuade the Court that black workers had a right to be free from and to challenge the racially discriminatory practices and conduct of their nominal union representative, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen. The argument that the Railway Labor Act of 1926 (RLA) imposed on unions a duty of fair representation presented an interesting question of statutory interpretation. As no such duty was expressly set forth in the text of the statute, the source of an employee's asserted right to freedom from discrimination by his or her union representative presented an interpretive and applicative puzzle.