J. R. Norton Co. v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd.

Citation160 Cal.Rptr. 710,603 P.2d 1306,26 Cal.3d 1
Decision Date12 December 1979
Docket NumberR,AFL-CI
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties, 603 P.2d 1306, 88 Lab.Cas. P 55,233 J. R. NORTON COMPANY, INC., Petitioner, v. AGRICULTURAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Respondent; UNITED FARM WORKERS OF AMERICA,eal Party in Interest. L.A. 31027.

Dressler, Stoll & Jacobs, Charley M. Stoll, Newport Beach, James L. Leathers, Glendale, Ariz., and Donald G. Dressler, Newport Beach, for petitioner.

Thomas F. Olson, William S. Marrs, Berkeley, Wm. J. Thomas, Thomas, Snell, Jamison, Russell, Williamson & Asperger, Jay V. Jory, Howard A. Sagaser, Doty, Quinlan, Kershaw & Fanucchi, William A. Quinlan, Fresno, David E. Smith, Littler, Mendelson, Fastiff & Tichy, George J. Tichy II, Jordan L. Bloom, Lloyd W. Aubry, Jr., and Kathleen M. Kelly, San Francisco, as amici curiae on behalf of petitioner.

Marvin J. Brenner, Thomas M. Sobel, Edwin Lowry and Gary Williams, Sacramento, for respondent.

Jerome Cohen, Sanford N. Nathan, Tom Dalzell, Ellen Greenstone, Michael Heumann, Linton Joaquin, George C. Lazar, Salinas, Dianna C. Lyons, Sacramento, John Rice-Trujillo and Kirsten Zerger, Salinas, for real party in interest.

MOSK, Justice.

In 1975, the California Legislature enacted the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA or Act). (Lab.Code, § 1140 et seq.) The Legislature modeled the Act in large part after the comprehensive federal labor relations statutes, the National Labor Relations Act and the Taft-Hartley Act (NLRA), and it established the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB or Board), which possesses authority and responsibilities comparable to those exercised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), as the agency in charge of the Act's implementation and administration.

In accordance with the policies expressed in the NLRA (29 U.S.C. § 151), the ALRA declares inter alia that "It is hereby stated to be the policy of the State of California to encourage and protect the right of agricultural employees to full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing . . . for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." (Lab.Code, § 1140.2.) A central feature in the promotion of this policy is the Act's procedure for agricultural employees to elect representatives "for the purpose of collective bargaining with respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of employment, or other conditions of employment." (Id., § 1156 et seq.)

This case arises from a challenge to the validity of a representation election. Two principal issues are presented. The first concerns the scope of the Board's discretion to dismiss summarily objections to the election of a representative labor organization under Labor Code section 1156.3, subdivision (c). That section provides that "Upon receipt of" a petition objecting to the conduct of an election, the Board "shall conduct a hearing to determine whether the election shall be certified." The second issue requires us to examine the circumstances in which Labor Code section 1160.3 authorizes the Board to impose the "make-whole" remedy when it dismisses an employer's objections to the conduct of an election, and the employer subsequently refuses to bargain with the elected labor organization in order to obtain judicial review of the Board's action.

We hold that the Legislature did not intend section 1156.3, subdivision (c), to be construed so broadly that it requires the Board to hold a full evidentiary hearing in cases in which the objecting party has failed to establish a prima facie case for setting an election aside. And, after examining the declarations provided by the party challenging the representation election in this case, we conclude the Board did not abuse its discretion by summarily dismissing its objections for failure to set forth a prima facie claim.

We further hold that section 1160.3 does not authorize the Board to impose the make-whole remedy as a matter of course in cases in which an employer has refused to bargain in order to obtain judicial review of the Board's dismissal of his challenge to an election certification. As explained below, the make-whole remedy serves an important compensatory objective when an employer, claiming he is merely challenging the validity of an election, refuses to bargain as a dilatory tactic designed to stifle self-organization by his employees. Blanket imposition of such relief, however, unduly emphasizes compensation by ignoring the important interest in ensuring that legitimate objections to election misconduct are pursued. It thus may ultimately undermine the employees' right to select "representatives of their own choosing" in many cases, because it has a strong potential for deterring the prosecution of legitimate claims in which a reasonable basis exists for contending that an election does not truly express the will of the employees, despite the Board's ruling to the contrary. As a result, we hold that a per se rule requiring make-whole relief whenever an employer ultimately does not prevail in its election challenge is an abuse of the ALRB's discretion.


On January 30, 1976, the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) filed a petition with the ALRB, seeking certification as the bargaining representative for agricultural employees of petitioner J. R. Norton Company (Norton). An election was held on February 6, 1976, and the UFW emerged as the clear winner. 1

Norton subsequently filed a timely petition pursuant to Labor Code section 1156.3, subdivision (c), and the applicable ALRB regulation (Cal.Admin.Code, tit. 8, § 20365). The petition set forth 17 objections that Norton alleged warranted setting aside the election. Acting in compliance with the procedural regulations promulgated by the Board (Id., § 20365, subd. (e)), the ALRB executive secretary reviewed the objections and accompanying declarations and determined, with respect to 15 of the 17 objections, that the employer had failed to satisfy the administrative requirements for establishing a prima facie case. (Id., subds. (a)-(d).) Accordingly, he summarily dismissed the 15 insufficient objections in a written order that stated the grounds for each dismissal (Id., subd. (e)); the remaining 2 objections were scheduled for hearing (Id., subd. (g)). Norton appealed to the ALRB from the executive secretary's dismissal of the 15 objections. (Id., §§ 20365, subd. (h), 20393.) The Board, after examining the objections and supporting declarations, affirmed the action of the executive secretary.

An investigative hearing was held soon thereafter concerning the employer's two remaining objections. (Id., § 20370.) On the basis of the evidence presented at the hearing, the examiner concluded that the employer's objections to the election were without merit and prepared an opinion recommending that the UFW be certified as the collective bargaining representative of Norton's employees. Norton filed exceptions to the examiner's conclusions and recommendations (Id., § 20370, subd. (d)), but the Board affirmed those conclusions and certified the UFW as the exclusive bargaining representative of Norton's employees. (J. R. Norton (May 23, 1977), 3 A.L.R.B. No. 66.)

Rather than accede to the ALRB's certification decision without judicial review, Norton refused to bargain with the UFW. The union consequently brought an unfair labor practice charge against Norton for refusal "to bargain collectively in good faith with (a certified) labor organization." (Lab.Code, § 1153, subd. (e).) Norton explains that although the ALRB had rejected its challenge to the representation election, Norton retained "good faith" doubts as to the validity of the election and desired to challenge the Board's decision in a judicial forum. Under the ALRA, as with the NLRA, an employer is afforded no right to obtain immediate judicial review of the Board's decision certifying a union; he can obtain judicial review only after he has been found guilty of an unfair labor practice in refusing to bargain with the union. (See, e. g., Nishikawa Farms, Inc. v. Mahony (1977) 66 Cal.App.3d 781, 136 Cal.Rptr. 233; A. F. of L. v. Labor Board (1940) 308 U.S. 401, 60 S.Ct. 300, 84 L.Ed. 347; Boire v. Greyhound Corp. (1964) 376 U.S. 473, 84 S.Ct. 894, 11 L.Ed.2d 849.) Norton claims it refused to bargain with the union simply because that course of action was the only means available to obtain judicial review of the ALRB certification decision. 2

Pursuant to stipulation by all the parties, the unfair labor practice charge was transferred directly to the Board. The Board found Norton's refusal to bargain was an unfair labor practice in violation of Labor Code section 1153, subdivision (e). (J. R. Norton Company, 4 A.L.R.B. (June 22, 1978) No. 39, p. 2.)

In its decision, the Board ordered Norton to take a variety of affirmative actions as remedial measures for its unlawful conduct. The principal remedial aspect of the order challenged in the instant proceeding is the provision embodying the make-whole remedy. On this point, the order reads: "In accordance with our Decision in Perry Farms, supra (4 A.L.R.B. (Apr. 26, 1978) No. 25), we shall order that the employer, rather than its employees, bear the costs of the delay, which has resulted from its failure and refusal to bargain with the union, by making its employees whole for any losses of pay and other economic benefits which they may have suffered as a result thereof . . . ." Pursuant to its regular practice, however, the Board did not specify a definite damage award at this stage; rather, it remanded the matter to the regional director for an initial determination, subject to Board review, of the employer's specific monetary obligation in this case.

After the entry of the Board's unfair labor practice order, the employer filed a petition for writ of review in the Court of Appeal. (Lab.Code, § 1160.8.) It urged the court to set aside the decision...

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