Heinz Co v. National Labor Relations Board

Decision Date06 January 1941
Docket NumberNo. 73,73
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Earl F. Reed, and Charles M. Thorp, Jr., both of Pittsburgh, Pa., for petitioner.

Robert H. Jackson, Atty. Gen., and Charles Fahy, Asst. Sol. Gen., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

There questions are presented by the petition for certiorari in this case.

First. Whether there is support in the evidence for the finding of the National Labor Relations Board that petitioner has been guilty of the unfair labor practices defined by § 8(1) and (2) of the Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 158(1, 2), interference with the exercise by its employees of their rights of self-organization guaranteed by § 7 of the Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 157, and more particularly interference with the formation and organization of a labor union of its employees.

Second. Whether the National Labor Relations Board exceeded its authority in ordering the disestablishment of a labor union in whose organization petitioner had interfered, and

Third. Whether the Board could validly find that petitioner's refusal to join with representatives of the labor organization authorized to represent its employees in collective bargaining, in signing a written contract embodying the terms of their agreement concerning wages, hours and working conditions, constituted a refusal to bargain collectively in violation of § 8(5) of the Act, and whether the Board exceeded its authority in ordering petitioner to join in signing the agreement.

This is a proceeding brought by the National Labor Relations Board in the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to enforce the Board's order directing petitioner to cease certain unfair labor practices in which it found that petitioner had engaged, in connection with the organization of the Heinz Employees Association, a plant labor organization of petitioner's employees; to disestablish the Association; to recognize and bargain collectively with the Canning and Pickle Workers Local, Union No. 325, a labor organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor; and to sign a written contract embodying any agreement which petitioner and the Union may reach respecting wages, hours and working conditions of petitioner's employees. The court of appeals confirmed the findings of the Board and directed compliance with the Board's order without modification. 6 Cir., 110 F.2d 843. We granted certiorari, 310 U.S. 621, 60 S.Ct. 1102, 84 L.Ed. 1394, the questions raised by the petition being of public impor- tance in the administration of the Nation Labor Relations Act.

The Board found that during April and May, 1937, the two rival labor organizations, the Association and the Union, sought to organize petitioner's employees at its Pittsburgh plant. Petitioner's proposal that an election be held to determine which organization represented a majority of its employees was rejected by the Union which called a strike on May 24, 1937. The strike was ultimately settled by a written contract signed by petitioner, the Union, and the Association, which provided for an election, by the employees, under the supervision of a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board for the choice of an organization to represent them in collective bargaining. Meanwhile, and before the election, a majority of petitioner's two thousand employees at the Pittsburgh plant had signed petitions for membership in the Association, but upon the election held June 8, 1937, a majority of the employees cast their ballots for the Union. Petitioner has since recognized and bargained with the Union, but has refused to embody its agreement with the Union in a written contract.

Before the election the Union had lodged a complaint with the Board concerning the participation by petitioner in the attempted organization of the Association by petitioner's employees. The Board found that petitioner had been guilty of unfair labor practices by interfering in the organization of the Association, contrary to the Act. It found in detail that petitioner, through superintendent, foremen and other supervising employees, had interfered with, restrained and coerced its employees in the exercise of their rights to organize in violation of §§ 7, 8(1) of the Act; that it had dominated and interfered with the formation of the Association and contributed to its support within the meaning of § 8(2), and that it had refused to sign an agreement with the Union. On the basis of these and subsidiary findings which need not now be stated, the Board made its order, the terms of which so far as now relevant have already been set forth.

Petitioner's Responsibility for Unfair Labor Practices. It is unnecessary to make a detailed examination of the evidence supporting the Board's findings respecting unfair labor practices both because the court below, after a thorough examination of the record has confirmed the Board's findings, and because of the nature of petitioner's contention with respect to them. Petitioner does not deny that there is evidence supporting the findings that petitioner's superintendent, during the organization campaign, upbraided employees for attending Union meetings, threatened one with discharge if he joined the Union, spoke to them disparagingly of the Union and directed some of petitioner's foremen to enroll the employees in the Association; or that there was evidence supporting the finding that a general foreman working throughout petitioner's Pittsburgh plant was active in disparaging the Union and its members to employees, and in urging them to repudiate the Union organization, or that three other foremen in charge of particular buildings or departments were active in dissuading employees from joining the Union. All three spoke disparagingly of the Union, one at a meeting of employees which he had called; and two were active in questioning employees concerning their labor union sympathies. Two of them threatened employees with discharge or loss of work or privileges if the Union were recognized.

There was also evidence that other foremen or forewomen in charge of large groups of employees engaged in similar activities; and that some solicited employees to join the Association; that one of the three foremen induced an employee to solicit signatures to the Association petition during working hours without loss of pay and suggested the names of other employees to aid in this work. There was also evidence that leaders or supervisors of employee groups were allowed to go about the plant freely during working hours and without loss of pay to solicit memberships in the Association which was done in the presence of the foremen.

Petitioner does not seriously dispute this evidence or challenge the findings of the Board summarizing it. The contention is that the activities of these supervisors of employees are not shown to have been authorized or ratified by petitioner; that following a complaint by a representative of the Union, about May 1st, one of petitioner's officers instructed the superintendent that the employees had a right to organize and that he wished the supervising force to understand that they should not be interfered with in any way in organizing, and that on May 21st the officer in question called a meeting of the supervisory force at which he gave like instructions; that there is no evidence of like activities after this time and that since the election petitioner has consistently recognized and bargained with the Union. From all this petitioner concludes that it is not chargeable with any responsibility for the acts of its supervisory employees and that consequently the evidence does not support the findings of unfair labor practices on its part, or justify the Board's order prohibiting petitioner, its officers and agents from interfering with the administration of the Association or contributing to its support.

Notwithstanding the knowledge from the start of some of petitioner's officers, of the organization campaign, and notwithstanding the unusual excitement and activity in petitioner's plant attending it, we assume that all were unaware of the activities of its supervisory staff complained of, and did nothing to encourage them before the complaint of their activities made by a representative of the Union about May 1st. At that time the cam- paign for membership in the rival unions was at its height and resulted, as announced some three or four weeks later, in a majority of petitioner's employees signing as members of the Association.

It is conceded that petitioner's superintendent and foremen have authority to recommend the employment and discharge of workmen. It is in evidence that they can recommend wage increases and that the group leaders also issued orders directing and controlling the employees and their work, with authority to recommend their discharge. There is evidence supporting the Board's conclusion that the employees regarded the foremen and the group leaders as representatives of the petitioner and that a number of employees signed as members of the Association only because of the fear of loss of their jobs or of discrimination by the employer induced by the activities of the foremen and group leaders.

We do not doubt that the Board could have found these activities to be unfair labor practices within the meaning of the Act if countenanced by petitioner, and we think that to the extent that petitioner may seek or be in a position to secure any advantage from these practices they are not any the less within the condemnation of the Act because petitioner did not authorize or direct them. In a like situation we have recently held that the employer, whose supervising employees had, without his authority, so far as appeared, so participated in the organization activities of his employees as to prejudice their rights of self-organization, could not resist...

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