Mastro Plastics Corp v. National Labor Relations Board

Decision Date27 February 1956
Docket NumberNo. 19,19
Citation100 L.Ed. 309,350 U.S. 270,76 S.Ct. 349
PartiesMASTRO PLASTICS CORP. and French-American Reeds Manufacturing Co., Inc., Petitioners, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 351 U.S. 980, 76 S.Ct. 1043.

Mr. Bernard H. Fitzpatrick, New York City, for petitioners.

Mr. Dominick L. Manoli, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents two principal questions: (1) whether, in the collective-bargaining contract before us, the union's undertaking 'to refrain from engaging in any strike or work stoppage during the term of this agreement' waives not only the employees' right to strike for economic benefits but also their right to strike solely against unfair labor practices of their employers, and (2) whether § 8(d) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended,1 deprives individuals of their status as employees if, within the waiting period prescribed by § 8(d)(4), they engage in a strike solely against unfair labor practices of their em- ployers. For the reasons hereafter stated, we answer each in the negative.

Mastro Plastics Corp. and French-American Reeds Manufacturing Co., Inc., petitioners herein, are New York corporations which, in 1949 and 1950, were engaged in interstate commerce, manufacturing, selling and distributing plastic articles, including reeds and other accessories for musical instruments. They operated in the City of New York within the same plant, under the same management and with the same employees. For collective bargaining, their employees were represented by Local 22045, American Federation of Labor, or by Local 3127, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, AFL. These locals occupied the same office and used the services of the same representatives. During the period in question, the right of representation of petitioners' employees was transferred back and forth between them for reasons not material here. Accordingly, they are referred to in this opinion as the 'Carpenters.'

In August 1950, Local 65 of the Wholesale and Warehouse Workers Union began a campaign among petitioners' employees in an effort to become their collective-bargaining representative. Petitioners bitterly opposed the movement, believing Local 65 to be Communist-controlled. Feeling that the Carpenters were too weak to cope successfully with Local 65, petitioners asked the Carpenters to transfer their bargaining rights to Local 318, International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers, AFL. When the Carpenters declined to do so, petitioners selected a committee of employees to visit 318, obtain membership cards and seek members for that union. The cards were distributed during working hours and petitioners paid their employees for time spent in the campaign, including attendance at a meeting of 318. Petitioners' officers and supervisors instructed employees to sign these cards and indicated that those refusing to do so would be 'out.'

September 28, Local 65 filed with the National Labor Relations Board its petition for certification as bargaining representative. October 24, Local 318 intervened in the representation proceedings and asked that it be certified. However, many employees revoked their applications for membership in 318 and reaffirmed their adherence to the Carpenters. This was followed on October 31 by the Carpenters' refusal to consent to an election on the ground that petitioners had unlawfully assisted 318 in the campaign.2

November 10, 1950, a crisis developed when the president of petitioners summarily discharged Frank Ciccone, an employee of over four years' standing, because of the latter's activity in support of the Carpenters and his opposition to 318. We accept the finding of the National Labor Relations Board that petitioners 'discriminatorily discharged, and thereafter refused to reinstate, Frank Ciccone because of his organizational activities in support of the * * * (Carpenters).'3 This discharge at once precipitated the strike which is before us and which the Board found 'was clearly caused and prolonged by the cumulative effects of the (petitioners') unfair labor practices culminating in the discriminatory discharge of Ciccone.'4 There was no disorder but the plant was virtually shut down until December 11 and it was March 9, 1951, before the Carpenters, on behalf of petitioners' employees, made an unconditional request to return to work. Petitioners ignored that request and neither Ciccone nor any of the other 76 striking employees has been reinstated.

While the strike against petitioners' unfair labor practices continued, the collective bargaining contract between petitioners and the Carpenters approached its expiration date of November 30, 1950, and, apart from the above-described organizational controversy, the Carpenters had taken timely steps to secure modification of their agreement. October 10, they had delivered to petitioners a notice (dated September 29, 1950) 'requesting modification' of the contract.5 They thus had started the statutory negotiating period running as prescribed by the above-mentioned § 8(d).6 The Carpenters met several times with petitioners and pressed their demands for changes in the contract but the expiration date passed without any agreement being reached.

In January 1951, the Carpenters initiated the present proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board by charging petitioners with unfair labor practices. Acting on those charges, the Board's general counsel filed a complaint alleging petitioners' support of Local 318 and discharge of numerous employees, including Ciccone, as violations of § 8(a)(1), (2) and (3) of the Act.7

Petitioners admitted that they had discharged the employees in question and had not rehired them. They denied, however, that in so doing they had committed any unfair labor practices. Their first affirmative defense was that the waiver of the right to strike, expressed by their employees in their collective-bargaining contract, applied to strikes not only for economic benefits but to any and all strikes by such employees, including strikes directed solely against unfair labor practices of the employer.

Petitioners' other principal defense was that the existing strike began during the statutory waiting period initiated by the employees' request for modification of the contract and that, by virtue of § 8(d) of the Act,8 the strikers had lost their status as employees. That defense turned upon petitioners' interpretation of § 8(d), applying it not only to strikes for economic benefits but to any and all strikes occurring during the waiting period, including strikes solely against unfair labor practices of the employer.

The trial examiner made findings of fact sustaining the complaint and recommended that petitioners be ordered to cease and desist from the interference complained of and be required to offer to Ciccone and the 76 other discharged employees full reinstatement, together with back pay for Ciccone from November 10, 1950, and for the other employees from March 9, 1951. See 103 N.L.R.B. 511, 526—563. With minor modifications, the Board adopted the examiner's findings and conclusions and issued the recommended order. 103 N.L.R.B. 511. The chairman and one member dissented in part.

The Court of Appeals, with one judge dissenting in part, accepted the Board's findings of fact and conclusions of law and enforced the Board's order. 214 F.2d 462. Since then, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reached a similar conclusion. National Labor Relations Board v. Wagner Iron Works and Bridge, Structural & Ornamental Iron Workers Shopmen's Local 471 (AFL), 220 F.2d 126. Because of the importance of the issues in industrial relations and in the interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, we granted certiorari. 348 U.S. 910, 75 S.Ct. 297, 99 L.Ed. 714.

Apart from the issues raised by petitioners' affirmative defenses, the proceedings reflect a flagrant example of interference by the employers with the expressly protected right of their employees to select their own bargaining representative. The findings disclose vigorous efforts by the employers to influence and even to coerce their employees to abandon the Carpenters as their bargaining representatives and to substitute Local 318. Accordingly, unless petitioners sustain at least one of their affirmative defenses, they must suffer the consequences of their unfair labor practices violating § 8(a)(1), (2) or (3) of the Act, as amended.

In the absence of some contractual or statutory provision to the contrary, petitioners' unfair labor practices provide adequate ground for the orderly strike that occurred here. Under those circumstances, the striking employees do not lose their status and are entitled to reinstatement with back pay, even if replacements for them have been made.9 Failure of the Board to enjoin petitioners' illegal conduct or failure of the Board to sustain the right to strike against that conduct would seriously undermine the primary objectives of the Labor Act. See National Labor Relations Board v. International Rice Milling Co., 341 U.S. 665, 673, 71 S.Ct. 961, 965, 95 L.Ed. 1277. While we assume that the employees, by explicit contractual provision, could have waived their right to strike against such unfair labor practices and that Congress, by explicit statutory provision, could have deprived strikers, under the circumstances of this case, of their status as employees, the questions before us are whether or not such a waiver was made by the Carpenters in their 19491950 contract and whether or not such a deprivation of status was enacted by Congress in § 8(d) of the Act, as amended in 1947.

I. Does the collective-bargaining contract waive the employees' right to strike against the unfair labor practices committed by their employers? The answer turns...

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