National Labor Relations Board v. Co National Labor Relations Board v. Independent Union of Craftsmen, LINK-BELT

Citation311 U.S. 584,61 S.Ct. 358,85 L.Ed. 368
Decision Date06 January 1941
Docket NumberLINK-BELT,236,Nos. 235,s. 235
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Messrs. Robert H. Jackson, Atty. Gen., and Robert B. Watts, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Henry E. Seyfarth, of Chicago, Ill., for respondent Link-Belt Co.

Mr. Benjamin Wham, of Chicago, Ill., for respondent Independent Union of Craftsmen.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The court below refused to enforce certain portions of an order of the National Labor Relations Board, entered in proceedings1 under § 10 of the Act, 49 Stat. 449, 29 U.S.C.A. § 160, requiring an employer to cease and desist from dominating or interfering with a labor organization and to withdraw recognition from it as a collective bargaining representative of employees; and directing the employer to reinstate or to make whole certain employees2 against whom the Board found the employer had discriminated because of their union membership and activities. Enforcement of those portions of the order was refused because, in the view of the court below, they were not 'SUPPORTED BY EVIDENCE' AS REQUIRED BY § 10(e) of the act. the petition for writs of certiorari was granted because of the importance in an orderly administration of the Act of the mandate contained in § 10(e) that the findings of the Board as to the facts 'if supported by evidence, shall be conclusive.' See National Labor Relations Board v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 309 U.S. 206, 60 S.Ct. 493, 84 L.Ed. 704.

Disestablishment of Independent. Independent Union of Craftsmen was organized within a few days after the decision by this Court, on April 12, 1937, of National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 57 S.Ct. 615, 81 L.Ed. 893, 108 A.L.R. 1352, which upheld the constitutionality of the Act. From 1933 down to that date the employer, Link-Belt Co., had maintained a company union, apparently continuing to recognize it even after passage of the Act in 1935 and even though under the Act it was concededly an improper bargaining unit. In any event, that union remained in existence until Independent's membership drive was successfully concluded. The organization of Independent was conceived on April 12 and 13, 1937, by certain employees, who were disappointed at the decision upholding the constitutionality of the Act. Linde, who was a leader in organizing Independent, testified: 'A. The Wagner Act had been declared constitutional, and a group of us were dismayed, I am frank to admit, or we thought there was nothing for us to do. Q. Why were you dismayed? A. I will tell you, we had banked our hopes that it would be declared illegal, and immediately the labor unrest and trouble would have stopped and our company would proceed and all the other companies would proceed to enjoy the prosperity which we thought was coming at that time.' The membership drive took place in the main on April 14, 15, and 16, resulting in a membership of 760 out of about 1,000 employees. The constitution was drafted on April 17. On April 18, it was decided to seek dissolution of the old company union and recognition of Independent. Accordingly, on April 19 an agreement was reached between the employee representatives and plant manager Berry dissolving the old union; and he was asked to obtain exclusive recognition for Independent. That request was granted by the employer on April 21; and Independent held its first meeting on April 22.

An 'inside' union, as well as an 'outside' union, may be the product of the right of the employees to self-organization and to collective bargaining 'through representatives of their own choosing', guaranteed by § 7 of the Act. The question here is whether the Board was justified in concluding that Independent was not the result of the employees' free choice because the employer had intruded to impair their freedom.

Respondents point to numerous earmarks of independence which Independent evidences. They emphasize that after it was recognized it held many bargaining conferences and as a result obtained wage increases, changes in seniority policy, bonus payments for night workers, a better vacation policy, better lighting and air conditions, and improved safety measures—in fact, all of its major objectives except a closed shop. They stress the facts that it is not financed by the employer, that its meetings are held off company property, that its leadership is substantially different from the employee representation in the old company union, and that its genesis was a suggestion made not by the employer but by a group of employees.

In the latter connection they urge that the employees chose Independent because that was the type of labor organization which they honestly preferred; or as stated by one of the employees who led the membership drive, 'It was so big a feature that they (the employees) were all anxious to get on the band wagon and do something. That was the general attitude.' And they maintain that there was in fact no connection between Independent and the old company union; that the success of Independent's membership drive was not the result of any compulsion or belief as respects the employer's attitude.

It would indeed be a rare case where the finders of fact could probe the precise factors of motivation which underlay each employee's choice. Normally, the conclusion that their choice was restrained by the employer's interference must of necessity be based on the existence of conditions or circumstances which the employer created or for which he was fairly responsible and as a result of which it may reasonably be inferred that the employees did not have that complete and unfettered freedom of choice which the Act contemplates.

Here no one fact is conclusive. But the whole congeries of facts before the Board supports its findings.

The employer's attitude towards unions is relevant. As we have indicated, it maintained a company union both before and after the Act. And the court below sustained the Board's finding as to the employer's long-standing industrial espionage, through the National Metal Trades Association, which continued at least until an investigation was made late in 1936 by the LaFollette Committee of the Senate.3 Further, the employer evidenced hostility towards an 'outside' union. In 1936, plant manager Berry told the board of the company union that 'in the event outside people came into our plant and told us how to run the plant, then I had enough of industry.' At the hearing he testified that he meant 'that the Link Belt Company was able and had for many years ran their organization and we did not need outside people to tell us how to run the plant economically and efficiently.' In September, 1936, Salmons, an employee of 14 years standing, who was an employee representative in the company union and who became dissatisfied with it, initiated the formation of Amalgamated, an 'outside' organization.4 Amalgamated held its first organizing meeting on September 20, 1936. Salmons was discharged the next day by plant manager Berry for 'spreading union propaganda around here.' He was given half an hour to leave. The employer does not deny this but adds that Salmons was discharged because he engaged in union activities on company time. That he did solicit on company time seems clear, though it could hardly have been extensive as his foreman testified that he was not aware of it. Yet in his association with the company union, he apparently was allowed a similar freedom. That fact, his position of leadership in Amalgamated, the apparent absence of the customary warning, his somewhat precipitate discharge, the failure of the employer to discharge representatives of Independent who, as we shall see, solicited on company time with the knowledge and approval of at least some of the supervisors, made permissible the Board's conclusion that Salmons' activity on behalf of the 'outside' union was the basic cause of his discharge.5 On September 21, 1936, another employee, Novak, who had been employed by the company for over 11 years, was also discharged without warning by Berry, who believed, mistakenly it would seem, that Novak was a member of and solicitor for Amalgamated. Berry gave him half an hour to get out, after charging him with being 'an organizer and instigator for a union' a charge which Novak denied.6 The Board found and the court below sustained the finding that Novak was discharged in violation of the Act because of his alleged union activities. We agree.

Amalgamated, as well as Independent, solicited on company time. But a review of the record indicates that the instances of solicitation by Amalgamated on company time were scattered over a period of months and were apparently more sporadic than those of Independent. At least they do not appear to have had the magnitude and intensity of the acts of solicitation on company time by Independent. There is considerable testimony by members of the supervisory staff that they were instructed not to take sides in the union competition and not to allow solicitation on company time. Plant manager Berry testified on direct examination that those instructions were given after April 12, 1937; and on cross-examination he admitted that they were given only after April 19, 1937, at which time Independent had acquired a membership of 760 men. It is argued here that the employer warned solicitors for Independent and threatened them with dismissal for engaging in union activities on the company's time. And Froling, chairman of the company union and active solicitor for Inde- pendent, testified that he was wary about soliciting in the plant on company time in front of foremen, for although he did not remember any foreman warning him, he nevertheless was afraid of being discharged because of what had happened to Salmons on account of his...

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