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AMERICAN SHIP BUILDING CO. v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD

decided: March 29, 1965.

AMERICAN SHIP BUILDING CO
v.
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT.

Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg

Author: Stewart

[ 380 U.S. Page 301]

 MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The American Ship Building Company seeks review of a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit enforcing an order of the National Labor Relations Board which found that the company had committed an unfair labor practice under §§ 8 (a)(1) and (3) of the National Labor Relations Act.*fn1 The question presented is that expressly reserved in Labor Board v. Truck Drivers Local Union, 353 U.S. 87, 93; namely, whether an employer commits an unfair labor practice under these sections of the Act when he temporarily lays off or "locks out" his employees during a labor dispute to bring economic pressure in support of

[ 380 U.S. Page 302]

     his bargaining position. To resolve an asserted conflict among the circuits*fn2 upon this important question of federal labor law we granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 814.

The American Ship Building Company operates four shipyards on the Great Lakes -- at Chicago, at Buffalo, and at Toledo and Lorain, Ohio. The company is primarily engaged in the repairing of ships, a highly seasonal business concentrated in the winter months when the freezing of the Great Lakes renders shipping impossible. What limited business is obtained during the shipping season is frequently such that speed of execution is of the utmost importance to minimize immobilization of the ships.

Since 1952 the employer has engaged in collective bargaining with a group of eight unions. Prior to the negotiations here in question, the employer had contracted with the unions on five occasions, each agreement having been preceded by a strike. The particular chapter of the collective bargaining history with which we are concerned opened shortly before May 1, 1961, when the unions notified the company of their intention to seek modification of the current contract, due to expire on August 1.

At the initial bargaining meeting on June 6, 1961, the company took the position that its competitive situation would not allow increased compensation. The unions countered with demands for increased fringe benefits and some unspecified wage increase. Several meetings were held in June and early July during which negotiations focussed upon the fringe benefit questions without any substantial progress. At the last meeting, the parties resolved to call in the Federal Mediation and Conciliation

[ 380 U.S. Page 303]

     Service, which set the next meeting for July 19. At this meeting, the unions first unveiled their demand for a 20-cents-an-hour wage increase and proposed a six-month extension of the contract pending continued negotiations. The employer rejected the proposed extension because it would have led to expiration during the peak season.

Further negotiations narrowed the dispute to five or six issues, all involving substantial economic differences. On July 31, the eve of the contract's expiration, the employer made a proposal; the unions countered with another, revived their proposal for a six-month extension, and proposed in the alternative that the existing contract, with its no-strike clause, be extended indefinitely with the terms of the new contract to be made retroactive to August 1.*fn3 After rejection of the proposed extensions, the employer's proposal was submitted to the unions' membership; on August 8 the unions announced that this proposal had been overwhelmingly rejected. The following day, the employer made another proposal which the unions refused to submit to their membership; the unions made no counteroffer and the parties separated without setting a date for further meetings, leaving this to the discretion of the conciliator.

Thus on August 9, after extended negotiations, the parties separated without having resolved substantial differences on the central issues dividing them and without having specific plans for further attempts to resolve them -- a situation which the trial examiner found was an impasse. Throughout the negotiations, the employer displayed anxiety as to the unions' strike plans, fearing that the unions would call a strike as soon as a ship entered the Chicago yard or delay negotiations into the winter to

[ 380 U.S. Page 304]

     increase strike leverage. The union negotiator consistently insisted that it was his intention to reach an agreement without calling a strike; however, he did concede incomplete control over the workers -- a fact borne out by the occurrence of a wildcat strike in February 1961. Because of the danger of an unauthorized strike and the consistent and deliberate use of strikes in prior negotiations, the employer remained apprehensive of the possibility of a work stoppage.

In light of the failure to reach an agreement and the lack of available work, the employer decided to lay off certain of its workers. On August 11 the employees received a notice which read: "Because of the labor dispute which has been unresolved since August 1, 1961, you are laid off until further notice." The Chicago yard was completely shut down and all but two employees laid off at the Toledo yard. A large force was retained at Lorain to complete a major piece of work there and the employees in the Buffalo yard were gradually laid off as miscellaneous tasks were completed. Negotiations were resumed shortly after these layoffs and continued for the following two months until a two-year contract was agreed upon on October 27. The employees were recalled the following day.

Upon claims filed by the unions, the General Counsel of the Board issued a complaint charging the employer with violations of §§ 8 (a) (1), (3), and (5).*fn4 The trial examiner found that although there had been no work in the Chicago yard since July 19, its closing was not due to lack of work. Despite similarly slack seasons in the past, the employer had for 17 years retained a nucleus crew to do maintenance work and remain ready to take such work as might come in. The examiner went on to find that the employer was reasonably apprehensive

[ 380 U.S. Page 305]

     of a strike at some point. Although the unions had given assurances that there would be no strike, past bargaining history was thought to justify continuing apprehension that the unions would fail to make good their assurances. It was further found that the employer's primary purpose in locking out its employees was to avert peculiarly harmful economic consequences which would be imposed on it and its customers if a strike were called either while a ship was in the yard during the shipping season or later when the yard was fully occupied. The examiner concluded that the employer:

"was economically justified and motivated in laying off its employees when it did, and that the fact that its judgment was partially colored by its intention to break the impasse which existed is immaterial in the peculiar and special circumstances of this case. Respondent, by its actions, therefore, did not violate Section 8 (a)(1), (3), and (5) of the Act."

A three-to-two majority of the Board rejected the trial examiner's conclusion that the employer could reasonably anticipate a strike. Finding the unions' assurances sufficient to dispel any such apprehension, the Board was able to find only one purpose underlying the layoff: a desire to bring economic pressure to secure prompt settlement of the dispute on favorable terms. The Board did not question the examiner's finding that the layoffs had not occurred until after a bargaining impasse had been reached. Nor did the Board remotely suggest that the company's decision to lay off its employees was based either on union hostility or on a desire to avoid its bargaining obligations under the Act. The Board concluded that the employer "by curtailing its operations at the South Chicago yard with the consequent layoff of the employees, coerced employees in the exercise of their bargaining rights in violation of Section 8 (a)(1) of the Act,

[ 380 U.S. Page 306]

     and discriminated against its employees within the meaning of Section 8 (a)(3) of the Act."*fn5 142 N. L. R. B., at 1364-1365.

The difference between the Board and the trial examiner is thus a narrow one turning on their differing assessments of the circumstances which the employer claims gave it reason to anticipate a strike. Both the Board and the examiner assumed, within the established pattern of Board analysis,*fn6 that if the employer had shut down its yard and laid off its workers solely for the purpose of bringing to bear economic pressure to break an impasse and secure more favorable contract terms, an unfair labor practice would be made out. "The Board has held that, absent special circumstances, an employer may not during bargaining negotiations either threaten to lock out or lock out his employees in aid of his bargaining position. Such conduct the Board has held presumptively infringes upon the collective-bargaining rights of employees in violation of Section 8 (a)(1) and the lockout, with its consequent layoff, amounts to discrimination within the meaning of Section 8 (a)(3). In addition, the Board has held that such conduct subjects the Union and the employees it represents to unwarranted and illegal pressure and creates an atmosphere in which the free opportunity for negotiation contemplated by Section 8 (a)(5)

[ 380 U.S. Page 307]

     does not exist." Quaker State Oil Refining Corp., 121 N. L. R. B. 334, 337.

The Board has, however, exempted certain classes of lockouts from proscription. "Accordingly, it has held that lockouts are permissible to safeguard against . . . loss where there is reasonable ground for believing that a strike was threatened or imminent." Ibid. Developing this distinction in its rulings, the Board has approved lockouts designed to prevent seizure of a plant by a sitdown strike, Link-Belt Co., 26 N. L. R. B. 227; to forestall repetitive disruptions of an integrated operation by "quickie" strikes, International Shoe Co., 93 N. L. R. B. 907; to avoid spoilage of materials which would result from a sudden work stoppage, Duluth Bottling Assn., 48 N. L. R. B. 1335; and to avert the immobilization of automobiles brought in for repair, Betts Cadillac Olds, Inc., 96 N. L. R. B. 268. In another distinct class of cases the Board has sanctioned the use of the lockout by a multiemployer bargaining unit as a response to a whipsaw strike against one of its members. Buffalo Linen Supply Co., 109 N. L. R. B. 447, rev'd sub nom. Truck Drivers Union v. Labor Board, 231 F.2d 110, rev'd, 353 U.S. 87.*fn7

In analyzing the status of the bargaining lockout under §§ 8 (a)(1) and (3) of the National Labor Relations Act, it is important that the practice with which we are here concerned be distinguished from other forms of temporary separation from employment. No one would deny that an employer is free to shut down his enterprise temporarily

[ 380 U.S. Page 308]

     for reasons of renovation or lack of profitable work unrelated to his collective bargaining situation. Similarly, we put to one side cases where the Board has concluded on the basis of substantial evidence that the employer has used a lockout as a means to injure a labor organization or to evade his duty to bargain collectively. Hopwood Retinning Co., 4 N. L. R. B. 922; Scott Paper Box Co., 81 N. L. R. B. 535. What we are here concerned with is the use of a temporary layoff of employees solely as a means to bring economic pressure to bear in support of the employer's bargaining position, after an impasse has been reached. This is the only issue before us, and all that we decide.*fn8

To establish that this practice is a violation of § 8 (a)(1), it must be shown that the employer has interfered with, restrained, or coerced employees in the exercise of some right protected by § 7 of the Act. The Board's position is premised on the view that the lockout interferes with two of the rights guaranteed by § 7: the right to bargain collectively and the right to strike. In the Board's view, the use of the lockout "punishes" employees for the presentation of and adherence to demands made by their bargaining representatives and so coerces them in the exercise of their right to bargain collectively. It is important to note that there is here no allegation that the employer used the lockout in the service of designs inimical to the process of collective bargaining. There was no evidence and no finding that the employer was hostile to its employees' banding together for collective bargaining or that the lockout was designed to discipline

[ 380 U.S. Page 309]

     them for doing so. It is therefore inaccurate to say that the employer's intention was to destroy or frustrate the process of collective bargaining. What can be said is that it intended to resist the demands made of it in the negotiations and to secure modification of these demands. We cannot see that this intention is in any way inconsistent with the employees' rights to bargain collectively.

Moreover, there is no indication, either as a general matter or in this specific case, that the lockout will necessarily destroy the unions' capacity for effective and responsible representation. The unions here involved have vigorously represented the employees since 1952, and there is nothing to show that their ability to do so has been impaired by the lockout. Nor is the lockout one of those acts which are demonstrably so destructive of collective bargaining that the Board need not inquire into employer motivation, as might be the case, for example, if an employer permanently discharged his unionized staff and replaced them with employees known to be possessed of a violent antiunion animus. Cf. Labor Board v. Erie Resistor Corp., 373 U.S. 221. The lockout may well dissuade employees from adhering to the position which they initially adopted in the bargaining, but the right to bargain collectively does not entail any "right" to insist on one's position free from economic disadvantage. Proper analysis of the problem demands that the simple intention to support the employer's bargaining position as to compensation and the like be distinguished from a hostility to the process of collective bargaining which could suffice to render a lockout unlawful. See Labor Board v. Brown, ante, p. 278.

The Board has taken the complementary view that the lockout interferes with the right to strike protected under

[ 380 U.S. Page 310]

     §§ 7 and 13 of the Act*fn9 in that it allows the employer to pre-empt the possibility of a strike and thus leave the union with "nothing to strike against." Insofar as this means that once employees are locked out, they are deprived of their right to call a strike against the employer because he is already shut down, the argument is wholly specious, for the work stoppage which would have been the object of the strike has in fact occurred.*fn10 It is true that recognition of the lockout deprives the union of exclusive control of the timing and duration of work stoppages calculated to influence the result of collective bargaining negotiations, but there is nothing in the statute which would imply that the right to strike "carries with it" the right exclusively to determine the timing and duration of all work stoppages. The right to strike as commonly understood is the right to cease work -- nothing more. No doubt a union's bargaining power would be enhanced if it possessed not only the simple right to strike but also the power exclusively to determine when work stoppages should occur, but the Act's provisions are not indefinitely elastic, content-free forms to be shaped in whatever manner the Board might think best conforms to the proper balance of bargaining power.

Thus, we cannot see that the employer's use of a lockout solely in support of a legitimate bargaining position is in any way inconsistent with the right to bargain collectively or with the right to strike. Accordingly, we conclude

[ 380 U.S. Page 311]

     that on the basis of the findings made by the Board in this case, there has been no violation of § 8 (a)(1).

Section 8 (a)(3) prohibits discrimination in regard to tenure or other conditions of employment to discourage union membership. Under the words of the statute there must be both discrimination and a resulting discouragement of union membership. It has long been established that a finding of violation under this section will normally turn on the employer's motivation. See Labor Board v. Brown, ante, p. 278; Radio Officers' Union v. Labor Board, 347 U.S. 17, 43; Labor Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 301 U.S. 1, 46. Thus when the employer discharges a union leader who has broken shop rules, the problem posed is to determine whether the employer has acted purely in disinterested defense of shop discipline or has sought to damage employee organization. It is likely that the discharge will naturally tend to discourage union membership in both cases, because of the loss of union leadership and the employees' suspicion of the employer's true intention. But we have consistently construed the section to leave unscathed a wide range of employer actions taken to serve legitimate business interests in some significant fashion, even though the act committed may tend to discourage union membership. See, e. g., Labor Board v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co., 304 U.S. 333, 347. Such a construction of § 8 (a)(3) is essential if due protection is to be accorded the employer's right to manage his enterprise. See Textile Workers v. Darlington Mfg. Co., ante, p. 263.

This is not to deny that there are some practices which are inherently so prejudicial to union interests and so devoid of significant economic justification that no specific evidence of intent to discourage union membership or other antiunion animus is required. In some cases, it may be that the employer's ...


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