Acting in a case of high importance to organized labor, the Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide when -- if ever -- a national or international "parent" union may be held liable for "wildcat" strikes it doesn't authorize.

The case dates back to the period 1969 through 1973, when members of the United Mine Workers in southern West Virginia stopped work for the Carbon Fuel Co. 48 times -- 31 times because of disputes and 17 times in "sympathy" with strikers elsewhere.

The company filed a suit for damages, saying that the unauthorized stoppages violated no-strike clauses in two collective-bargaining agreements, the National Bituminous Coal Agreements of 1968 and 1971, and the federal Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 (Taft-Hartley).

The suit named as defendants the UMW, the international's District 17, and UMW Locals 6572, 7626, and 2236.

U.S. District Judge K. K. Hall instructed the jurors at the close of testimony that only if they decided that the parent union and the district hadn't taken "all reasonable means" to end the wildcat walkouts could they hold them liable for damages.

Ruling separately on each of the 48 trikes, the jury awarded damages of 722,347 against the locals, $206,548 against the international and $242,131 against the district.

Last September, however, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upset the awards against the UMW and District 17, as well as the sympathy strike awards against the locals. It preserved only the 31 other awards against the locals.

Holding that Hall's "all reasonable means" standard was erroneous, the appeals court said there was no evidence in the record that the parent union or the district had "instigated, supported, ratified or encouraged any of the work stoppages..." Indeed, the UMW says that it gave the "highest priority" to ending wildcat stoppages.

In its successful petition for Supreme Court review, Carbon Fuel argued that the UMW and District 17 had failed to take reasonable steps to prevent or end the strikes.

"If a union... can sign a collective bargaining agreement promising to refrain from striking over issues arbitrable under that agreement... and then, with impunity, do nothing when... locals repeatedly and flagrantly violate the promise, then the agreement is illusory," the company said.

And, the company argued, when nostrike pledges are violated, "the policy of our national labor laws to promote industrial peace through the execution and enforcement of agreements is defeated."

The court took these other actions:

Hearing Aid Ads

In a 1974 report, a Department of Health, Education, and Welfare task force said that misleading advertising and high-pressure sales were prevalent in the hearing aid industry, and prices sometimes were inflated. It also claimed that many persons are sold devices that can't help them or are of the wrong type, and that, because most persons with hearing problems see dealers before they see physicians, the problems go undiagnosed in thousands of cases.

Similar complaints were made earlier by six elderly residents of Santa Cruz County, Calif., in a lawsuit charging that advertisements -- some acle-Ear" and "Magic Ear" hearing acle-Ear" and "Magic Ear" hearing aids violated the state food and drug law.

The devices are made by one of the nation's largest manufacturers of hearing aids, Dahlbert Electronics Inc., which is owned by Detection Sciences Inc., both of Minneapolis.

The plaintiffs accused the Dahlberg dealer in Santa Cruz County of abusive sales practices and asked for an injunction to stop Dahlberg and Detection Sciences from continuing to advertise that their hearing aids would help persons with hearing loss caused by nerve deafness or nerve impairment.

The suit also asked the court to halt advertising of invitations to write to Minneapolis for more information. Such invitations induced responses from nearly 12,000 Californians in a 13 1/2-month period ending in February 1973.

In 1975, a trial judge granted the injunction. Affirming, a state appeals court said that the ads, some of them in national magazines, were "misleading in that they convey the impression that the hearing aid would have a curative or therapeutic effect." The state law expressly forbids hearing-aid ads claiming "any effect" on ear and auditory disorders or diseases, including hearing loss.

The appeals court also rejected the companies' arguments that the federal Medical Device Amendments of 1976 pre-empted a state from regulating hearing-aid ads, that the state ban on advertising "any effect" prevents truthfu claims that the aids have a compensatory effect in some cases of hearing loss and that the state law denies the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The federal government, invited by the Supreme Court to file a brief, urged the court to dismiss the companies' appeal. Yesterday, the court did so.


The court agreed to decide in a Louisiana case whether the federal Travel Act's ban on illegal interstate activities covers commercial bribery.