441 U.S. 488 (1979), 77-1806, Ford Motor Co. v. National Labor Relations Board

Docket Nº:No. 77-1806
Citation:441 U.S. 488, 99 S.Ct. 1842, 60 L.Ed.2d 420
Party Name:Ford Motor Co. v. National Labor Relations Board
Case Date:May 14, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 488

441 U.S. 488 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 1842, 60 L.Ed.2d 420

Ford Motor Co.

v.

National Labor Relations Board

No. 77-1806

United States Supreme Court

May 14, 1979

Argued February 28, 1979

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner provides its employees with in-plant cafeteria and vending machine services. The services are managed by an independent caterer, but petitioner has the right to review and approve the quality, quantity, and prices of the food served. When petitioner notified respondent union, which represents the employees, that the cafeteria and vending machine prices were to be increased, the union requested bargaining over the prices and services. Petitioner refused to bargain, and the union then filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging a refusal to bargain contrary to § 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The duty of management and unions to bargain under § 8(a)(5) is defined by § 8(d) as the obligation to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and "other terms and conditions of employment." Taking its consistent view that in-plant food prices and services are "other terms and conditions of employment," the NLRB sustained the charge and ordered petitioner to bargain. The Court of Appeals enforced the order.

[99 S.Ct. 1845] Held: In-plant cafeteria and vending machine food and beverage prices and services are "terms and conditions of employment" subject to mandatory collective bargaining under §§ 8(a)(5) and 8(d) of the NLRA. Pp. 494-503.

(a) Since Congress has assigned to the NLRB the primary task of marking out the scope of the statutory language and duty to bargain, and since the NLRB has special expertise in classifying bargaining subjects as "terms and conditions of employment," its judgment as to what is a mandatory bargaining subject is entitled to considerable deference. Pp. 494-496.

(b) The NLRB's judgment is subject to judicial review, but if its construction of the statute is reasonably defensible, it should not be rejected merely because the courts might prefer another view of the statute. Here, the NLRB's view is not an unreasonable or unprincipled construction of the statute and should be accepted and enforced. Pp. 497-498.

Page 489

(c) Including within § 8(d) the prices of in-plant-supplied food and beverages serves the ends of the NLRA by funneling an area of common dispute between employers and employees into collective bargaining. Pp. 498-500

(d) In-plant food prices and services are an aspect of the relationship between petitioner and its employees, and no third-party interest is directly implicated. Therefore, the standard applied in Chemical & Alkali Workers v. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., 404 U.S. 157, as to whether the third-party concern "vitally affects" the "terms and conditions" of the bargaining unit employees' employment, has no application. Pp. 500-501.

(e) Petitioner's argument that in-plant food prices and services are too trivial to qualify as mandatory bargaining subjects is without merit, especially where both the NLRB and the bargaining unit employees have taken a contrary view. P. 501.

(f) Problems created by constantly shifting food prices can be anticipated and provided for in the collective bargaining agreement. To the extent that disputes are likely to be frequent and intense, more, not less, collective bargaining is the remedy. Pp. 501-502.

(g) To require petitioner to bargain over in-plant food service prices is not futile. Although the prices are set by the third-party caterer, petitioner retains the right to review and control such prices. In any event, an employer can always affect prices by initiating or altering a subsidy to a third-party supplier, such as that provided by petitioner in this case, and will typically have the right to change suppliers in the future. P. 503.

571 F.2d 993, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 503. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 504.

Page 490

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal question1 in this case is whether prices for in-plant cafeteria and vending machine food and beverages are "terms and conditions of employment" subject to mandatory collective bargaining under §§ 8(a)(5) and 8(d) of the National [99 S.Ct. 1846] Labor Relations Act. 49 Stat. 452, a amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 158(a)(5) and 158(d).2

Page 491

I

Petitioner, Ford Motor Co., operates an automotive parts stamping plant in Chicago Heights, Ill., employing 3,600 hourly rated production employees. These employees are represented in collective bargaining with Ford by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, and by its administrative component, Local 588, a respondent here.

For many years, Ford has undertaken to provide in-plant food services to its Chicago Heights employees.3 These services, which include both cafeterias and vending machines, are managed by an independent caterer, ARA Services, Inc.

Page 492

Under its contract with Ford, ARA furnishes the food, management, machines, and personnel in exchange for reimbursement of all direct costs and a 9% surcharge on net receipts.4 Ford has the right to review and approve the quality, quantity, and price of the food served.

Over the years, Ford and the Union have negotiated about food services. The National Labor Relations Board (Board) found:

Since 1967, the local contract has included provisions dealing with vending and cafeteria services. The contracts have covered the staffing of service lines, adequate cafeteria supervision, restocking and repairing vending machines, and menu variety. The 1974 local agreement also states,

the Company recognized its continuing responsibility for the satisfactory performance of the caterer and for the expeditious handling of complaints concerned with such performance.

Ford Motor Co. (Chicago Stamping Plant), 230 N.L.R.B. 716 (1977), enf'd, 571 F.2d 993 (CA7 1978). Ford, however, has always refused to bargain about the prices of food and beverages served in its in-plant facilities.

On February 6, 1976, Ford notified the Union that cafeteria and vending machine prices would be increased shortly by unspecified amounts. The Union requested bargaining over both price and services and also asked for information relevant to Ford's involvement in food services in order to assist bargaining. These requests were refused by Ford, which took the position that food prices and services are not terms or conditions of employment subject to mandatory bargaining.

Page 493

The Union then filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Board, alleging a refusal to bargain contrary to § 8(a)(5).5 The Board sustained the charge, ordering Ford to bargain on both food prices and services and to supply the Union with the relevant information requested. Ford Motor Co. (Chicago Stamping Plant), supra. In doing so, the Board reaffirmed its position, expressed in several prior cases, that prices of in-plant-supplied food and beverages are generally mandatory bargaining subjects, a position that had not been accepted by reviewing courts.6 The Board also noted that the circumstances of this case made it a particularly strong one for invoking the duty to bargain.7

Page 494

The case came before the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Ford's petition for review and the Board's cross-petition for enforcement. That court, while adhering to its prior decision in NLRB v. Ladish Co., 538 F.2d 1267 (1976), which had refused enforcement of a Board order to bargain about in-plant food prices, enforced the Board's order here because,

under the facts and circumstances of this case, in-plant cafeteria and vending machine food prices and services materially and significantly affect and have an impact upon terms and conditions of employment, and therefore are mandatory subjects of bargaining.

571 F.2d at 1000. The court was particularly influenced by the lack of [99 S.Ct. 1848] reasonable eating alternatives for employees, declaring that

[t]he food one must pay for and eat as a captive customer within the employer's plant can be viewed as a physical dimension of one's working environment.

Ibid.

Because of the importance of the issue and the apparent conflict between the decision below and decisions of other Circuits, see n. 6, supra, we granted certiorari. 439 U.S. 891 (1978). We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit enforcing the Board's order to bargain.

II

The Board has consistently held that in-plant food prices are among those terms and conditions of employment defined

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§ 8(d) and about which the employer and union must bargain under § 8(a)(5) and 8(b)(3). See n. 6, supra. Because it is evident that Congress assigned to the Board the primary task of construing these provisions in the course of adjudicating charges of unfair refusals to bargain, and because the "classification of bargaining subjects as `terms or conditions of employment' is a matter concerning which the Board has special expertise," Meat Cutters v. Jewel Tea Co., 381 U.S. 676, 685-686 (1965), its judgment as to what is a mandatory bargaining subject is entitled to considerable deference.

Section 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act, as originally enacted, declared it an unfair practice for the employer to...

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