We are asked to decide
A special examiner of the appellee Department of Employment and Training (DET), that department's Board of Appeals, and the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, all concluded that the workers were not disqualified. We agree and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.
On 1 December 1984 the collective bargaining agreement between appellant, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Inc. (Sinai), and District 1199E, National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, RWDSU, AFL-CIO (the Union), expired according to its terms. The expiration was preceded by a series of negotiations between Sinai and the Union and also by a 23 November notice from the Union to Sinai that the former intended to call a strike on 4 December. Sinai responded by sending notices to its employee Union members telling them, among other things, that if they honored the call to strike, they could be permanently replaced. Among those to whom this information was sent were the approximately 43 individual appellees (Claimants) who are parties to this appeal.
The strike began on 4 December. The next day Sinai sent mailgrams to all strikers, including the Claimants, advising that their current jobs were available, and requesting them to return to those jobs "immediately." The strikers were warned "[i]f you do not return, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits under Maryland law." On 7 December Sinai sent notices to the strikers, including the Claimants, that on 11 December it would "begin to hire permanent replacements for strikers who have not returned to work by that date." These notices further explained:
None of the Claimants accepted this invitation. By noon on 11 December all of them were permanently replaced. The strike ended late that same day when the Union ratified a new contract with Sinai. During the brief strike, Sinai continued to operate; there was no "stoppage of work" within the meaning of Art. 95A, § 6(e).
After the termination of the strike, the Claimants, then without jobs, filed for unemployment compensation benefits. Sinai opposed their claims, contending that they had voluntarily quit their jobs, thus producing a disqualification under § 6(a), and that they had refused an offer of suitable employment, thus producing a disqualification under § 6(d). When those arguments were rejected, first administratively and then judicially, Sinai renewed them here, after we issued a writ of certiorari while the case was pending in the Court of Special Appeals. 307 Md. 754, 517 A.2d 102 (1986).
Voluntarily Leaving Work — Art. 95A, § 6(a)
Article 95A, § 6 in pertinent part provides:
Sinai asserts that subsection (a) disqualifies the Claimants because when they did not return to work after being warned they would be permanently replaced (and thus lose their jobs), they voluntarily terminated their employment with the hospital. It argues that the Claimants abandoned their employment by pursuing a course of conduct which resulted in the severance of them from their employment — a constructive voluntary leaving.
Whether the doctrine of constructive voluntary leaving is recognized in Maryland has not been decided by this Court. In Allen v. Core City Target Y. Program, 275 Md. 69, 82-83, 338 A.2d 237, 245-246 (1975), we assumed the doctrine might be "applicable under appropriate circumstances" but held that the facts in that case did "not bring it within that doctrine." Nor did we adopt the doctrine in Md. Emp. Sec. Bd. v. Poorbaugh, 195 Md. 197, 72 A.2d 753 (1950). There the claimant left his job because he did not like working in cold weather, and failed to return for some four months after the employer had invited him to do so or face loss of his job. We held, under those circumstances, that Poorbaugh had voluntarily left work without good cause. In any event, the facts in both Allen and Poorbaugh are totally different from those before us here — most notably because neither of those cases involved a labor dispute.
In Allen, we concluded that the phrase "due to leaving work voluntarily" has "a plain, definite and sensible meaning, free of ambiguity; it expresses a clear legislative intent that to disqualify a claimant from benefits the evidence must establish that the claimant, by his or her own choice, intentionally, of his or her own free will, terminated the employment." 275 Md. at 79, 338 A.2d at 243. Quoting from Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language (2d ed. 1974), Black's Law Dictionary (Rev. 4th ed. 1968), and Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (1967), respectively, we noted that "voluntary" is defined as:
We note that in this case the special referee found as a fact (and this factual finding was accepted by the Board of Appeals) that "at the time the claimants separated from their employment they did not do so with any intention other than to obtain a satisfactory collective bargaining agreement." Indeed, many courts have indicated that a labor dispute does not produce the kind of severance of the employment relationship that is contemplated by the "voluntary leaving" provision of subsection (a). As the Supreme Court of Hawaii reasoned:
Inter-Island Resorts, Ltd. v. Akahane, 46 Haw. 140, 158, 377 P.2d 715, 725 (1962) (permanently replaced strikers not disqualified from benefits). See also T.R. Miller Mill Company v. Johns, 261 Ala. 615, 75 So.2d 675, 680 (1954); Mark Hopkins, Inc. v. Cal. Emp. Comm., 24 Cal.2d 744, 748-749, 151 P.2d 229, 231 (1944); Coates v. Bingham Mechanical & Metal Products, Inc., 96 Idaho 606, 607, 533 P.2d 595, 596 (1975); Knight-Morley Corp. v. Mich. Emp. Sec. Comm., 352 Mich. 331, 336, 89 N.W.2d 541, 544 (1958); Producer's Produce Co. v. Indust. Comm., 365 Mo. 996, 291 S.W.2d 166, 177 (1956); Penflex, Inc. v. Bryson, 506 Pa. 274, 287-288, 485 A.2d 359, 365-366 (1984); Trapeni v. Dept. of Emp. Sec., 142 Vt. 317, 324-325, 455 A.2d 329, 333 (1982); Standard Materials, Inc. v. Admn'r, Div. of Emp. Sec., 401 So.2d 400, 401 (La. App. 1981); Tri-State Motor Transit Co. v. Indust. Comm., 509 S.W.2d 217, 220 (Mo. App. 1974); and Norris v. Texas Employment Comm., 688 S.W.2d 125, 128 (Tex. Ct. App. 1985) (all but Coates, Trapeni, and Norris involving permanently replaced strikers). But see Baughman v. Jarl Extrusions, Inc., 648 S.W.2d 954 (Tenn. App. 1982).
The reasoning of these cases is straightforward. In an economic strike, strikers do not intend to sever the employment relationship; they intend just the opposite. By striking they hope to achieve improvements in pay, benefits, or other working conditions — improvements that will accrue to their advantage when they return to work. As a federal judge put it long ago:
Iron Molders' Union v. Allis-Chalmers Co., 166 F. 45, 52-53 (7th Cir.1908) (Grosscup, J., concurring). See also Fierst and Spector, Unemployment Compensation in Labor Disputes, 49 Yale L.J., 461, 464 (1940).
What is more, a number of courts have concluded or indicated that permanently replaced strikers have in effect been discharged from employment, as opposed to having left work voluntarily. This is so even when the replacement follows a notice like that sent by Sinai in this case. In such circumstances the severance of the employment relationship is the result of an affirmative act by the employer. See, e.g., Ruberoid Co. v. Cal. Unempl. Ins. App. Bd., 59 Cal.2d 73, 27 Cal.Rptr. 878, 378 P.2d 102 (1963); Marathon Elec. Mfg. Co. v. Indust. Comm., 269 Wis. 394, 69 N.W.2d 573 (1955); Building Products Co. v. Ariz. Dept. of Econ. Sec., 124 Ariz. 437, 604 P.2d 1148 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1980). See also Knight-Morley Corp. v. Mich. Em. Sec. Comm.; Producers Produce Co. v. Indust. Comm.; Penflex, Inc. v. Bryson; and Tri-State Motor Transit Co. v. Indust. Comm., all supra. But we need not decide the constructive voluntary leaving issue; that is, whether the special examiner's intent finding was supported by evidence. Nor need we determine whether Sinai's replacement of Claimants was tantamount to their discharge, as the circuit court decided. There is another and more fundamental reason why Claimants are not disqualified under subsection (a). It is that subsections (a) and (e) are mutually exclusive. The examiner and the Board of Appeals both so held as a matter of law, and we believe they were correct.
Subject to exceptions not applicable here, § 6(e) disqualifies a claimant "[f]or any week with respect to which the [Secretary] finds that his unemployment is due to a stoppage of work, other than a lockout, which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises at which he is or was last employed...." This subsection was before us in Employment Security Administration v. Browning-Ferris Industries, 292 Md. 515, 438 A.2d 1356 (1982), in which the specific question presented was the meaning of the phrase "stoppage of work." Browning-Ferris, the employer, contended that "stoppage of work" referred to cessation of productive activity by employees; since its employees were on strike, it thought that a disqualifying stoppage had occurred. We disagreed, holding that "the phrase `stoppage of work' in § 6(e) refers to the curtailment of the employer's operations." 292 Md. at 524, 438 A.2d at 1362.
We then turned to Browning-Ferris's contention "that § 2 of [Art. 95A] creates a general voluntariness disqualification which is incorporated into § 6(e), and which compels the conclusion that employees who voluntarily stop work to participate in a strike are ineligible for unemployment benefits."
Elaborating on this theme, Chief Judge Murphy went on to opine that Browning-Ferris's § 2 argument "would render the `voluntarily leaving work' provision of § 6(a) superfluous." And he noted that "[t]he consensus of states which have interpreted the `voluntarily leaving work' and `labor dispute disqualification' provisions have held that they are mutually exclusive," supporting this statement by quotation from Inter-Island Resorts v. Akahane, and citation to numerous other cases. Browning-Ferris, 292 Md. at 526-527, 438 A.2d at 1363. The question of whether § 6(a) and § 6(e) are mutually exclusive is now squarely presented to us.
We are, of course, dealing with a question of legislative intent. We should first attempt to ascertain that intent from the statutory language, reading pertinent parts of the legislative language together, giving effect to all of those parts if we can, and rendering no part of the law surplusage. Md. Port Adm. v. Brawner Contracting Co., 303 Md. 44, 492 A.2d 281 (1985); Management Personnel Serv. v. Sandefur, 300 Md. 332, 478 A.2d 310 (1984). We may also consider the particular problem or problems the legislature was addressing, and the objectives it sought to attain. Tucker v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co., 308 Md. 69, 517 A.2d 730 (1986); Bledsoe v. Bledsoe, 294 Md. 183, 448 A.2d 353 (1982). And in this regard, we should bear in mind the remedial nature of unemployment compensation, from which flow the principles that such laws should be read liberally in favor of eligibility, and that disqualification provisions are to be strictly construed. Allen, 275 Md. at 75, 338 A.2d at 241; Saunders v. Unemp. Comp. Board, 188 Md. 677, 53 A.2d 579 (1947).
Subsection (e) does not in express terms preclude the application of subsection (a) when unemployment results from a labor dispute. But its language, and the general structure of § 6, strongly suggest that reading. The section deals with eight bases for disqualification. Three of these have to do with circumstances in which the claimant's economic situation produced by unemployment is at least to some degree alleviated by the receipt of other benefits: receipt of other state or federal unemployment compensation (subsection (f)); receipt of renumeration from pensions (subsection (g)); and receipt of "dismissal payment[s]" (subsection (h)). That is, they operate to disqualify, at least to some extent, when the claimant has some monetary resources available; those subsections have little or nothing to do with the underlying reason for the unemployment.
Labor disputes, as we have seen, present circumstances that are unusual in terms of unemployment compensation. Unlike the rather standard employer-employee situations considered in subsections (a), (b), and (c) (quitting and discharge), they involve hybrid circumstances in which the usual relationship of employer and employee does not operate in the normal way either factually or legally; the extensive body of federal labor relations law bears witness to this observation. See generally, Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 141, §§ 151-158, §§ 171-183 (1982); Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-159 (1982). For example, the hiring of replacement workers may be permissible under federal labor law, Belknap, Inc. v. Hale, 463 U.S. 491, 103 S.Ct. 3172, 77 L.Ed.2d 798 (1983), but that same law may make it an unfair labor practice not to rehire, under some circumstances, the strikers once the labor dispute has ended. See NLRB v. Fleetwood Trailer Co. Inc., 389 U.S. 375, 88 S.Ct. 543, 19 L.Ed.2d 614 (1967).
We are not concerned here with questions of federal labor law; we refer to it merely to illustrate the complexity inherent in labor disputes, and to note that because of this, it is understandable that the legislature has adopted special provisions to govern unemployment compensation where labor disputes exist. Indeed, other jurisdictions have acknowledged this distinctive feature of the unemployment compensation scheme. "A reading of the disqualification provisions of the Unemployment Compensation Law establishes that the Legislature intended to treat labor activities differently than individual conduct or other concerted activity." Penflex, 506 Pa. at 294, 485 A.2d at 369. "Rather, it must have intended that a person who left work because of a labor dispute be treated differently than one who left for other reasons and without good cause attributable to the employer." Trapeni, 142 Vt. at 324, 455 A.2d at 332.
In subsection (e), the General Assembly declared that in general when there is a labor dispute, one participating in it is only disqualified from unemployment compensation benefits when there is a stoppage of work. There was no stoppage of work here, within the meaning of that phrase as we defined it in Browning-Ferris.
In short, subsections (a) and (e) are mutually exclusive, as we indicated in Browning-Ferris, 292 Md. at 526, 438 A.2d at 1363. This is the legislative intent to be derived from a reading of subsection (e) in conjunction with the other provisions of § 6. Moreover, the determination of mutual exclusivity within § 6 promotes the general remedial design of the unemployment insurance law by strictly construing the disqualifying provisions of § 6 in favor of eligibility. It also accords with the principle that when a labor dispute exists, those concerned with administration of unemployment compensation should not be concerned with the underlying merits of the dispute. Browning-Ferris, 292 Md. at 526, 438 A.2d at 1362; Saunders, 188 Md. at 681, 53 A.2d at 580. See also T.R. Miller Mill Co., 261 Ala. at 618, 75 So.2d at 677; Sakrison, 66 Ariz. at 165-166, 185 P.2d at 530-531; Inter-Island Resorts, 46 Haw. at 157, 377 P.2d at 724; Intertown, 328 Mich. at 366, 43 N.W.2d at 890; Penflex, 506 Pa. at 287, 485 A.2d at 365. When that principle is applied, it is apparent that an attempt to decide whether a striker, permanently replaced, left work voluntarily necessarily implicates the underlying merits of the dispute.
We hold, then, that when a labor dispute exists, and when, as here, the unemployment in question is the result of that dispute, subsection (a) has no applicability to the determination of qualification for unemployment compensation.
Failure to Accept Suitable Work — Art. 95A, § 6(d)
Sinai also asserts that the Claimants are disqualified under § 6(d) which, subject to certain exceptions, disqualifies a claimant who fails "without good cause, either to apply for available, suitable work, when so directed by the [Secretary], or to accept suitable work when offered to him...." Sinai argues that the Claimants were offered suitable work when it invited them to return to their old jobs under threat of permanent replacement. Their failure to accept this invitation, it contends, bars unemployment compensation benefits under subsection (d).
While the Claimants suggest that subsection (d) and (e) are, like (a) and (e), mutually exclusive,
Once again, we return to the structure of Art. 95A. Section 7(b) directs that a claim for benefits "shall be made in accordance with such regulations as the [Secretary] may prescribe." Other portions of § 7 describe a rather complex administrative procedure for handling claims, subject to the judicial review provided by subsection (h). But an early step in the claims procedure is the determination of initial eligibility called for by § 4. That section instructs, inter alia, that:
Thus, the legislative scheme contemplates (1) the filing of a claim and (2) an initial determination of eligibility by the Secretary. It is only after that occurs that issues of disqualification under § 6 can arise, for if the Secretary makes an initial determination of ineligibility under § 4(a), (b), or (c), there is nothing from which a claimant may be disqualified. If, on the other hand, the Secretary reviews a claim and finds initial eligibility, the question of disqualification does become important. But that cannot occur until a claim has been filed.
Sinai hypothesizes a case in which a claimant files claims in each of several weeks, and then, upon receiving an offer of suitable employment, declines to file a claim in that week, thus avoiding a potential subsection (d) disqualification. We are not persuaded that a claimant could so readily and fraudulently manipulate the system to his or her benefit, and there is no suggestion that this sort of conduct occurred here. Nor are we persuaded by the reasoning of the Arkansas Court of Appeals that "[a] claimant is not allowed to reject suitable employment and still remain eligible for unemployment compensation benefits simply because he has not yet filed a claim for them." Reynolds Metals Co. v. Couch, 8 Ark.App. 37, 41, 648 S.W.2d 497, 500 (1983). See also Dept. of Education v. Atwater, 417 So.2d 749, 751 (Fla.App. 1982) (Florida unemployment scheme "... does not countenance the imposition of a disqualification on the basis of a claimant's refusal of proffered employment while still gainfully employed ...").
Under Maryland's statutory scheme, the § 6(d) disqualification provision is potentially triggered only after the filing of a claim and an initial determination of eligibility. See State v. Wheatley, 192 Md. 44, 48-49, 63 A.2d 644, 646-647 (1948) (determination of eligibility is made at the time of claimant's application for benefits). As the Board of Appeals explained:
We believe this is an appropriate reading of legislative intent. The Board has consistently so held. Flowers v. T.S. Info. Systems, Inc. (224-BR-83); Tokar v. Frederick County Board of Educ. (158-BR-83); Hirons (152-BR-83); Kramp v. Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (1051-BR-82); Blake v. Sun Life of America (1162-BR-81); De Roo v. Anne Arundel County Board of Educ. (470-BR-81); Sipe v. Parsons (93-BH-81). While the Board's view of law is not binding on us, an agency's expertise in its particular field is entitled to deference. Balto. Gas & Elec. v. Public Serv. Comm., 305 Md. 145, 501 A.2d 1307 (1986); Valentine v. Board of License Comm'rs, 291 Md. 523, 435 A.2d 459 (1981). In this case, there is no compelling or urgent reason to depart from the Board's persuasive interpretation. Smith v. Higinbothom, 187 Md. 115, 48 A.2d 754 (1946).
Moreover, neither the legislature nor any Maryland appellate court has rejected that interpretation; indeed, the long-standing legislative acquiescence gives rise to a strong presumption that the interpretation is correct. Wash. Sub. San. Comm'n v. Mitchell & Best, 303 Md. 544, 559, 495 A.2d 30, 37 (1985).
Accordingly, we hold that even if Sinai's "offer" was one of suitable work, the Claimants are not disqualified under subsection (d), because they were not in claims status when that "offer" was made.
JUDGMENT AFFIRMED. APPELLANT TO PAY THE COSTS.