NLRB v. General Electric Company

Decision Date28 October 1969
Docket Number29576.,Dockets 29502,No. 337,338,337
Citation418 F.2d 736
PartiesNATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Petitioner, v. GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, Respondent, and International Union of Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO, Intervenor.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit


Eugene B. Granof, Bethesda, Md. (Arnold Ordman, Gen. Counsel, Dominick L. Manoli, Associate Gen. Counsel, Marcel Mallet-Prevost, Asst. Gen. Counsel, Warren M. Davison, Eugene B. Granof, N. L. R. B., on the brief), for petitioner.

David L. Benetar, New York City (David L. Benetar, Robert C. Isaacs, Michael I. Bernstein, Stanley Schair, Nordlinger, Riegelman, Benetar & Charney, New York City, on the brief), for respondent.

Ruth Weyand, Washington, D. C. (Irving Abramson, Washington, D. C., on the brief), for intervenor.

Before WATERMAN, FRIENDLY and KAUFMAN, Circuit Judges.

IRVING R. KAUFMAN, Circuit Judge.

Almost ten years after the events that gave rise to this controversy, we are called upon to determine whether an employer may be guilty of bad faith bargaining, though he reaches an agreement with the union, albeit on the company's terms. We must also decide if the company committed three specific violations of the duty to bargain by failing to furnish information requested by the union, by attempting to deal separately with IUE locals, and by presenting a personal accident insurance program on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.


In the wake of what it regarded as unsatisfactory negotiations with the General Electric Company (GE) during the summer and fall of 1960, the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, AFL-CIO (IUE) filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The General Counsel, on April 12, 1961, filed a complaint alleging that GE had committed unfair labor practices in violation of sections 8(a) (1), 8(a) (3), and 8(a) (5) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 158(a) (1), 158(a) (3), and 158(a) (5) (1964). Hearings were held before a trial examiner between July, 1961, and January, 1963, and included testimony, oral argument, and submission of briefs. The Trial Examiner issued his Intermediate Report on April 1, 1963, which found GE guilty of several unfair labor practices. GE and the IUE filed exceptions to the Intermediate Report, and on December 16, 1964, the NLRB agreed with the Trial Examiner. 150 N.L.R.B. 192 (1964).

There followed the race to the court-house that is an unhappy feature too often encountered in these matters. See Carrington, Crowded Dockets and the Courts of Appeals: The Threat to the Function of Review and the National Law, 82 Harv.L.Rev. 542, 598-600 (1969). Since GE does business in every state, every court of appeals has jurisdiction, if GE's petition for review is first filed there. See 29 U.S.C. § 160(f) (1964); 28 U.S.C. § 2112 (1964). The IUE claimed that it filed in the District of Columbia Circuit 14 seconds before GE handed its petition to the clerk in the Seventh Circuit. GE's version of course differed. The NLRB, admitting its confusion (not without reason, it would seem), suggested that since the question of timing was incapable of rational solution, the Second Circuit, where the unfair labor practices complained of occurred, would be the logical place to begin. The District of Columbia and Seventh Circuits agreed. IUE v. NLRB, 120 U.S.App.D.C. 45, 343 F.2d 327 (1965); GE v. NLRB, 58 LRRM 2694 (7th Cir. 1965). Another year was required to determine that the Union's proper status in the action was that of intervenor. NLRB v. General Electric Co., 59 LRRM 2094, 2095 (2d Cir. 1965), vacated and remanded, IUE v. NLRB, 382 U.S. 366, 86 S.Ct. 528, 15 L.Ed.2d 420 (1966), modified on remand, NLRB v. General Electric Co., 358 F.2d 292 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 898, 87 S.Ct. 201, 17 L.Ed. 2d 130 (1966). See International Union, United Auto., Aerospace, etc., Local 283 v. Scofield, 382 U.S. 205, 86 S.Ct. 373, 15 L.Ed.2d 272 (1965).

In order for the action to reach its present state of ripeness, this court consolidated GE's petition for review (No. 29576) with the Board's petition for enforcement (No. 29502). NLRB v. General Electric Co., 358 F.2d 292 (2d Cir. 1966), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 898, 87 S.Ct. 201 (1966). Another year and a half passed while the parties attempted to settle the case without recourse to further litigation. When a satisfactory settlement proved too elusive, they reentered the fray with renewed vigor, undiminished by the passage of time, two successive collective bargaining contracts (1963 and 1966), and by another suit over proper representation arising out of the 1966 negotiations. McLeod for and on Behalf of NLRB v. General Electric Co., 257 F.Supp. 690 (S.D.N.Y.), rev'd 366 F.2d 847 (2d Cir. 1966), remanded 385 U.S. 533, 87 S.Ct. 637, 17 L.Ed.2d 588 (1967). See also General Electric Co. v. NLRB, 412 F.2d 512 (2d Cir., June 9, 1969).


General Electric, a New York corporation, is the largest and perhaps best known manufacturer of electrical equipment, appliances, and the like. Its products — manufactured in all the 50 states — range from refrigerators to atomic energy plants, from submarines to light bulbs. In 1960, it employed about 250,000 men and women; of these only 120,000 were unionized. The IUE is an international union, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and had a total membership of about 300,000. In 1960 it represented some 70,000 of the 120,000 unionized GE employees, formally grouped in more than 105 bargaining units, and was far and away the largest single union with whom GE dealt. The next largest, the United Electrical Workers (UE), represented only 10,000 members, and the remaining 50,000 unionized employees were split among some 100-odd other unions or bargaining agents who dealt independently with GE. A high proportion of GE employees are supervisory or managerial personnel, who are available to the company in the event of a strike.

The present action has its roots deep in the history of prior negotiations and bargaining relationships. Before 1950, the major union was the UE. In 1946, negotiations reached an impasse and resulted in a serious and crippling strike. GE eventually capitulated, and agreed to a settlement that it later characterized as a "debacle," and beyond the company's ability to meet.

GE's response came in the form of a new approach to employee relations, urged by one of its vice presidents, Lemuel R. Boulware. Although GE generally objects to use of the term, describing it as a "hostile label," the tactic of "Boulwareism" associated with his name soon became the hallmark of the company's entire attitude towards its employees.1

In many respects, GE's negotiating policy after the 1946 strike followed a predictable course. The Company had been concerned over the antipathy many of the employees displayed during the strike. It decided that it was no longer enough to act in a manner that it thought becoming for a "good" employer; it had to insure that the employees recognized and appreciated the Company's efforts in their behalf. The problem was perceived as a failure to apply GE's highly successful consumer product merchandising techniques to the employment relations field.

The new plan was threefold. GE began by soliciting comments from its local management personnel on the desires of the work force, and the type and level of benefits that they expected. These were then translated into specific proposals, and their cost and effectiveness researched, in order to formulate a "product" that would be attractive to the employees, and within the Company's means. The last step was the most important, most innovative, and most often criticized. GE took its "product" — now a series of fully-formed bargaining proposals — and "sold" it to its employees and the general public. Through a veritable avalanche of publicity, reaching awesome proportions prior to and during negotiations, GE sought to tell its side of the issues to its employees. It described its proposals as a "fair, firm offer," characteristic of its desire to "do right voluntarily," without the need for any union pressure or strike. In negotiations, GE announced that it would have nothing to do with the "blood-and-threat-and-thunder" approach, in which each side presented patently unreasonable demands, and finally chose a middle ground that both knew would be the probable outcome even before the beginning of the bargaining. The Company believed that such tactics diminished the company's credibility in the eyes of its employees, and at the same time appeared to give the union credit for wringing from the Company what it had been willing to offer all along. Henceforth GE would hold nothing back when it made its offer to the Union; it would take all the facts into consideration, and make that offer it thought right under all the circumstances. Though willing to accept Union suggestions based on facts the Company might have overlooked, once the basic outlines of the proposal had been set, the mere fact that the Union disagreed would be no ground for change. When GE said firm, it meant firm, and it denounced the traditional give and take of the so-called auction bargaining as "flea bitten eastern type of cunning and dishonest but pointless haggling."

To bring its position home to its employees, GE utilized a vast network of plant newspapers, bulletins, letters, television and radio announcements, and personal contacts through management personnel.

Side by side with its policies of "doing right voluntarily" through a "firm, fair offer," GE also pursued a policy of guaranteeing uniformity among unions, and between union and non-union employees. Thus all unions received substantially the same offer, and unrepresented employees were assured that they would gain nothing through representation...

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