CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.
Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg
MR. JUSTICE GOLDBERG delivered the opinion of the Court.
Since 1940 Congress, as an integral part of selective service legislation, has protected the reemployment rights of veterans.*fn1 The principle underlying this legislation is
that he who is "called to the colors [is] not to be penalized on his return by reason of his absence from his civilian job." Fishgold v. Sullivan Drydock & Repair Corp., 328 U.S. 275, 284. Petitioners, reemployed veterans, sued respondent railroad, their employer, in the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.*fn2 They claimed that they have been deprived of seniority rights to which they are entitled under the Universal Military Training and Service Act and the applicable collective bargaining agreement.
The District Court*fn3 held that petitioners were not entitled to the relief they sought. The Court of Appeals
for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. 306 F.2d 870. We granted certiorari, 372 U.S. 905, because of the importance of the question in administering the statute protecting veterans' reemployment rights. For the reasons stated below, we reverse the judgments of the Court of Appeals.
The facts are not in dispute. Petitioners were initially employed by respondent railroad as carmen helpers. At the time of their original employment and since, the railroad has suffered from a shortage of qualified journeymen carmen mechanics. The collective bargaining agreement between the union representing the carmen, the Brotherhood Railway Carmen of America, and the railroad has provided methods for alleviating this shortage.*fn4 Whenever the railroad is unable to employ persons presently qualified as carmen mechanics, the agreement provides for the advancement or "upgrading" of carmen helpers to provisional carman status. Representatives of the railroad and the union jointly select the helpers to be so advanced. A helper thus "upgraded" can then be employed by the railroad to perform the work of a journeyman carman mechanic and is entitled to be paid a carman mechanic's wage.
Under the labor agreement, however, the "upgraded" helper does not immediately acquire permanent seniority
as a journeyman. He retains his seniority as a helper until completing 1,040 days of actual work as a carman mechanic. At the end of that time the upgraded helper is considered a "qualified carman." He may then acquire a seniority date as a journeyman by making an election to that effect in writing.
Petitioners were upgraded from carmen helpers in accordance with the terms of the agreement. They were subsequently inducted into military service. At the time of his induction, Tilton had worked 145 days as a carman, Beck 851 days, and McClearn 21 days. Upon his honorable discharge from military service, each petitioner promptly returned to employment at the railroad, was reemployed as an upgraded carman, and thereafter satisfactorily completed the remainder of the 1,040-day work period necessary to qualify for journeyman status. Each, thereupon, immediately elected to acquire seniority as a journeyman carman mechanic. In each case, the railroad established petitioners' seniority as journeymen as of the date each actually completed the 1,040-day work period. As a result, petitioners had journeyman seniority junior to that of some carmen who had been upgraded to provisional carman status after petitioners were so advanced but who -- because they were not absent in military service -- were able to complete the 1,040-day service requirement before petitioners.
These nonveterans are now ahead of petitioners on the journeymen carmen's seniority roster and enjoy the advantages which seniority dictates, such as work ...