473 U.S. 95 (1985), 83-1894, Pattern Makers' League of North America, AFL-CIO v. NLRB,

Docket Nº:No. 83-1894
Citation:473 U.S. 95, 105 S.Ct. 3064, 87 L.Ed.2d 68, 53 U.S.L.W. 4928
Party Name:Pattern Makers' League of North America, AFL-CIO v. NLRB,
Case Date:June 27, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court

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473 U.S. 95 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 3064, 87 L.Ed.2d 68, 53 U.S.L.W. 4928

Pattern Makers' League of North America, AFL-CIO



No. 83-1894

United States Supreme Court

June 27, 1985

Argued February 27, 1985

Reargued April 22, 1985




Petitioner national labor union's constitution provides that resignations from the union are not permitted during a strike. The union fined 10 members who, in violation of this provision, resigned during a strike by petitioner local unions and returned to work. Respondent employer representative thereafter filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (Board), claiming that such levying of fines constituted an unfair labor practice under § 8(b)(1)(A) of the National Labor Relations Act, which makes it an unfair labor practice for a union to restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of their § 7 rights. The Board agreed, and the Court of Appeals enforced the Board's order.

Held: In related cases this Court has invariably yielded to Board decisions on whether fines imposed by a union "restrained or coerced" employees. Moreover, the Board has consistently construed § 8(b)(1)(A) as prohibiting the fining of employees who have resigned from a union contrary to a restriction in the union constitution. Therefore, the Board's decision in this case is entitled to this Court's deference. Pp. 100-116.

(a) The Board was justified in concluding that, by restricting the right of employees to resign, the provision in question impaired the congressional policy of voluntary unionism implicit in § 8(a)(3) of the Act. Pp. 104-107.

(b) The proviso to § 8(b)(1)(A), which states that nothing in § 8(b) (1)(A) shall

impair the right of a labor organization to prescribe its own rules with respect to the acquisition or retention of membership therein,

was intended to protect union rules involving admission and expulsion, and not to allow unions to make rules restricting the right to resign. Accordingly, the Board properly concluded that the provision in question is not a "rule with respect to the retention of membership." Pp. 108-110.

(c) The legislative history does not support petitioners' contention that Congress did not intend to protect the right of union members to resign. Pp. 110-112.

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(d) No is there any merit to petitioners' argument that, because the common law does not prohibit restrictions on [105 S.Ct. 3066] resignation, the provision in question does not violate § 8(b)(1)(A). Pp. 112-114.

724 F.2d 57, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 116. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 117. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 133.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Pattern Makers' League of North America, AFL-CIO (League), a labor union, provides in its constitution that resignations are not permitted during a strike or when a strike is imminent. The League fined 10 of its members who, in violation of this provision, resigned during a strike and returned to work. The National Labor Relations Board held that these fines were imposed in violation of § 8(b)(1)(A) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 158(b)(1)(A). We granted a petition for a writ of certiorari in order to decide whether § 8(b)(1)(A) reasonably may be construed by the

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Board as prohibiting a union from fining members who have tendered resignations invalid under the union constitution.


The League is a national union composed of local associations (locals). In May, 1976, its constitution was amended to provide that

[n]o resignation or withdrawal from an Association, or from the League, shall be accepted during a strike or lockout, or at a time when a strike or lockout appears imminent.

This amendment, known as League Law 13, became effective in October, 1976, after being ratified by the League's locals. On May 5, 1977, when a collective bargaining agreement expired, two locals began an economic strike against several manufacturing companies in Rockford, Illinois, and Beloit, Wisconsin. Forty-three of the two locals' members participated. In early September, 1977, after the locals formally rejected a contract offer, a striking union member submitted a letter of resignation to the Beloit Association.1 He returned to work the following day. During the next three months, 10 more union members resigned from the Rockford and Beloit locals and returned to work. On December 19, 1977, the strike ended when the parties signed a new collective bargaining agreement. The locals notified 10 employees who had resigned that their resignations had been rejected as violative of League Law 13.2 The locals further informed the

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employees that, as union members, they were subject to sanctions for returning to work. Each was fined approximately the equivalent of his earnings during the strike.

The Rockford-Beloit Pattern Jobbers' Association (Association) had represented the employers throughout the collective bargaining process. It filed charges with the Board against the League and its two locals, the petitioners. Relying on § 8(b)(1)(A), the Association claimed that levying fines against employees who had resigned was an unfair labor practice.3 Following a hearing, an Administrative Law [105 S.Ct. 3067] Judge found that petitioners had violated § 8(b)(1)(A) by fining employees for returning to work after tendering resignations. Pattern Makers' League of North America, 265 N.L.R.B. 1332, 1339 (1982) (decision of G. Wacknov, ALJ). The Board agreed that § 8(b)(1)(A) prohibited the union from imposing sanctions on the 10 employees.4 Pattern Makers'

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League of North America, supra. In holding that League Law 13 did not justify the imposition of fines on the members who attempted to resign, the Board relied on its earlier decision in Machinists Local 127 (Dalmo Victor II), 263 N.L.R.B. 984 (1982), enf. denied, 725 F.2d 1212 (CA9 1984).5

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit enforced the Board's order. 724 F.2d 57 (1983). The Court of Appeals stated that, by restricting the union members' freedom to resign, League Law 13 "frustrate[d] the overriding policy of labor law that employees be free to choose whether to engage in concerted activities." Id. at 60. Noting that the "mutual reliance" theory was given little weight in NLRB v. Textile Workers, 409 U.S. 213 (1972), the court rejected petitioners' argument that their members, by participating in the strike vote, had "waived their Section 7 right to abandon the strike." 724 F.2d at 60-61. Finally, the Court of Appeals reasoned that, under Scofield

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v. NLRB, 394 U.S. 423 (1969), labor organizations may impose disciplinary fines against members only if they are "free to leave the union and escape the rule[s]." 724 F.2d at 61.

We granted a petition for a writ of certiorari, 469 U.S. 814 (1984), to resolve the conflict between the Courts of Appeals over the validity of restrictions on union members' right to resign.6 The Board has held that such restrictions are invalid and do not [105 S.Ct. 3068] justify imposing sanctions on employees who have attempted to resign from the union. Because of the Board's "special competence" in the field of labor relations, its interpretation of the Act is accorded substantial deference. NLRB v. Weingarten Inc., 420 U.S. 251, 266 (1975). The question for decision today is thus narrowed to whether the Board's construction of § 8(b)(1)(A) is reasonable. See NLRB v. City Disposal Systems, Inc., 465 U.S. 822, 830 (1984). We believe that § 8(b)(1)(A) properly may be construed as prohibiting the fining of employees who have tendered resignations ineffective under a restriction in the union constitution. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals enforcing the Board's order.



Section 7 of the Act, 29 U. S! C. § 157, grants employees the right to "refrain from any or all [concerted] . . . activities. . . ."7 This general right is implemented by

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§ 8(b)(1)(A). The latter section provides that a union commits an unfair labor practice if it "restrain[s] or coerce[s] employees in the exercise" of their § 7 rights.8 When employee members of a union refuse to support a strike (whether or not a rule prohibits returning to work during a strike), they are refraining from "concerted activity." Therefore, imposing fines on these employees for returning to work "restrain[s]" the exercise of their § 7 rights. Indeed, if the terms "refrain" and "restrain or coerce" are interpreted literally, fining employees to enforce compliance with any union rule or policy would violate the Act.

Despite this language from the Act, the Court in NLRB v. Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 175 (1967), held that § 8(b)(1)(A) does not prohibit labor organizations from fining current members. In NLRB v. Textile Workers, supra, and Machinists v. NLRB, 412 U.S. 84 (1973) (per curiam), the Court found as a corollary that unions may not fine former members who have resigned lawfully. Neither Textile Workers, supra, nor Machinists, supra, however, involved a provision like League Law 13, restricting the members' right to resign. We decide today whether a union is precluded from fining employees who have attempted to resign when resignations are prohibited by the union's constitution.9

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The Court's reasoning in Allis-Chalmers, supra, supports the Board's conclusion that petitioners in this...

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