346 U.S. 464 (1953), 15, National Labor Relations Board v. Local Union No. 1229,

Docket Nº:No. 15
Citation:346 U.S. 464, 74 S.Ct. 172, 98 L.Ed. 195
Party Name:National Labor Relations Board v. Local Union No. 1229,
Case Date:December 07, 1953
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 464

346 U.S. 464 (1953)

74 S.Ct. 172, 98 L.Ed. 195

National Labor Relations Board

v.

Local Union No. 1229,

No. 15

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 7, 1953

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

Argued October 12, 1953

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Upon the facts of this case, the discharge of certain employees by their employer did not constitute an unfair labor practice within the meaning of §§ 8(a)(1) and 7 of the Taft-Hartley Act; their discharge was "for cause" within the meaning of § 10(c) of that Act, and the action of the Labor Board in not requiring their reinstatement is here sustained. Pp. 465-478.

(a) In the circumstances of this case, in which the employer was an operator of a radio and television station, the distribution by the employees in question of handbills which made public a disparaging attack upon the quality of the employer's television broadcasts, but which had no discernible relation to a pending labor controversy, was adequate cause for the discharge of these employees. Pp. 467-477.

(b) The fortuity of the coexistence of a labor dispute affords these employees no substantial defense. Pp. 476-477.

(c) There is no occasion to remand this cause to the Board for further specificity of findings, for even if the employees' attack were treated as a concerted activity within § 7 of the Act, the means used by them in conducting the attack deprived them of the protection of that section when read in the light and context of the purpose of the Act. Pp. 477-478.

91 U.S.App.D.C. 333, 202 F.2d 186, set aside.

Upon review of an order of the National Labor Relations Board, 94 N.L.R.B. 1507, the Court of Appeals remanded the cause to the Board for further findings. 91 U.S.App.D.C. 333, 202 F.2d 186. This Court granted certiorari. 345 U.S. 947. Order of Court of Appeals set aside, and cause remanded to that court with instructions to dismiss, p. 478.

Page 465

BURTON, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue before us is whether the discharge of certain employees by their employer constituted an unfair labor practice, within the meaning of §§ 8(a)(1) and 7 of the Taft-artley Act,1 justifying their reinstatement by the National Labor Relations Board. For the reason that their discharge was "for cause" within the meaning of § 10(c) of that Act,2 we sustain the Board in not requiring their reinstatement.

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In 1949, the Jefferson Standard Broadcasting Company (here called the company) was a North Carolina corporation engaged in interstate commerce. Under a license from the Federal Communications Commission, it operated at Charlotte, North Carolina, a 50,000-att radio station, with call letters WBT. It broadcast 10 to 12 hours daily by radio and television. The television service, which it started July 14, 1949, representing an investment of about $500,000, was the only such service in the area. Less than 50% of the station's programs originated in Charlotte. The others were piped in over leased wires, generally from New York, California, or Illinois from several different networks. Its annual gross revenue [74 S.Ct. 174] from broadcasting operations exceeded $100,000, but its television enterprise caused it a monthly loss of about $10,000 during the first four months of that operation, including the period here involved. Its rates for television advertising were geared to the number of receiving sets in the area. Local dealers had large inventories of such sets ready to meet anticipated demands.

The company employed 22 technicians. In December, 1948, negotiations to settle the terms of their employment

Page 467

after January 31, 1949, were begun between representatives of the company and of the respondent Local Union No. 1229, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, American Federation of Labor (here called the union). The negotiations reached an impasse in January, 1949, and the existing contract of employment expired January 31. The technicians nevertheless continued to work for the company and their collective bargaining negotiations were resumed in July,3 only to break down again July 8. The main point of disagreement arose from the union's demand for the renewal of a provision that all discharges from employment be subject to arbitration and the company's counterproposal that such arbitration be limited to the facts material to each discharge, leaving it to the company to determine whether those facts gave adequate cause for discharge.

July 9, 1949, the union began daily peaceful picketing of the company's station. Placards and handbills on the picket line charged the company with unfairness to its technicians and emphasized the company's refusal to renew the provision for arbitration of discharges. The placards and handbills named the union as the representative of the WBT technicians. The employees did not strike. They confined their respective tours of picketing to their off-uty hours, and continued to draw full pay. There was no violence or threat of violence, and no one has taken exception to any of the above conduct.

But on August 24, 1949, a new procedure made its appearance. Without warning, several of its technicians

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launched a vitriolic attack on the quality of the company's television broadcasts. Five thousand handbills were printed over the designation "WBT Technicians." These were distributed on the picket line, on the public square two or three blocks from the company's premises, in barbershops, restaurants, and busses. Some were mailed to local businessmen. The handbills made no reference to the union, to a labor controversy, or to collective bargaining. They read:

IS CHARLOTTE A SECOND-CLASS CITY?

You might think so from the kind of Television programs being presented by the Jefferson Standard Broadcasting Co. over WBTV. Have you seen one of their television programs lately? Did you know that all the programs presented over WBTV are on film, and may be from one day to five years old. There are no local programs presented by WBTV. You cannot receive the local baseball games, football games, or other local events, because WBTV does not have the proper equipment to make these pickups. Cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington receive such programs nightly. Why doesn't the Jefferson Standard Broadcasting Company purchase the needed equipment to bring you the same type of programs enjoyed by other leading American cities? Could it be that they consider Charlotte a second-lass community, and only entitled to the pictures now being presented to them?

[74 S.Ct. 175] WBT TECHNICIANS

This attack continued until September 3, 1949, when the company discharged ten of its technicians whom it charged with sponsoring or distributing these handbills.

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The company's letter discharging them tells its side of the story.4

September 4, the union's picketing resumed its original tenor, and, September 13, the union filed with the Board a charge that the company, by discharging the above-entioned ten technicians, had engaged in an unfair labor practice. The General Counsel for the Board filed

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a complaint based on those charges and, after hearing, a trial examiner made detailed findings and a recommendation that all of those discharged be reinstated with back pay.5 94 N.L.R.B. 1507, 1527. The Board found that one of the discharged men had neither sponsored nor distributed the "second-lass City" handbill, and ordered his reinstatement with back pay. It then found that the other nine had sponsored or distributed the handbill, and held that the company, by discharging them for such conduct, had not engaged in an unfair labor practice. The Board accordingly did not order their reinstatement. One member dissented. Id. at 1507 et seq. Under § 10(f) of the Taft-artley Act,6 the union petitioned the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for a review of the Board's order and for such a modification of it as would reinstate all ten of the discharged technicians with back pay. That court remanded [74 S.Ct. 176] the cause to the Board for further consideration and for a finding as to the "unlawfulness" of the conduct of the employees which had led to their discharge.

Page 471

91 U.S. App.D.C. 333, 202 F.2d 186.7 We granted certiorari because of the importance of the case in the administration of the Taft-artley Act. 345 U.S. 947.

In its essence, the issue is simple. It is whether these employees, whose contracts of employment had expired, were discharged "for cause." They were discharged solely because. at a critical time in the initiation of the company's television service, they sponsored or distributed 5,000 handbills making a sharp, public, disparaging attack upon the quality of the company's product and its business policies in a manner reasonably calculated to harm the company's reputation and reduce its income. The attack was made by them expressly as "WBT Technicians." It continued ten days without indication of abatement. The Board found that --

It [the handbill] occasioned widespread comment in the community, and caused Respondent to apprehend a loss of advertising revenue due to dissatisfaction with its television broadcasting service.

In short, the employees in this case deliberately undertook to alienate their employer's customers by...

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