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FALL RIVER DYEING & FINISHING CORP. v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD

decided: June 1, 1987.

FALL RIVER DYEING & FINISHING CORP
v.
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT.

Blackmun, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Marshall, Stevens, and Scalia, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and III of which White, J., joined. Powell, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, J., joined, post, p. 54.

Author: Blackmun

[ 482 U.S. Page 29]

 JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we are confronted with the issue whether the National Labor Relations Board's decision is consistent with NLRB v. Burns International Security Services, Inc., 406 U.S. 272 (1972). In Burns, this Court ruled that the new employer, succeeding to the business of another, had an obligation to bargain with the union representing the predecessor's employees. Id., at 278-279. We first must decide whether Burns is limited to a situation where the union only recently was certified before the transition in employers, or whether that decision also applies where the union is entitled to a presumption of majority support. Our inquiry then proceeds

[ 482 U.S. Page 30]

     to three questions that concern rules the Labor Board has developed in the successorship context. First, we must determine whether there is substantial record evidence to support the Board's conclusion that petitioner was a "successor" to Sterlingwale Corp., its business predecessor. Second, we must decide whether the Board's "substantial and representative complement" rule, designed to identify the date when a successor's obligation to bargain with the predecessor's employees' union arises, is consistent with Burns, is reasonable, and was applied properly in this case. Finally, we must examine the Board's "continuing demand" principle to the effect that, if a union has presented to a successor a premature demand for bargaining, this demand continues in effect until the successor acquires the "substantial and representative complement" of employees that triggers its obligation to bargain.

I

For over 30 years before 1982, Sterlingwale operated a textile dyeing and finishing plant in Fall River, Mass. Its business consisted basically of two types of dyeing, called, respectively, "converting" and "commission." Under the converting process, which in 1981 accounted for 60% to 70% of its business, see App. 149, Sterlingwale bought unfinished fabrics for its own account, dyed and finished them, and then sold them to apparel manufacturers. Id., at 123. In commission dyeing, which accounted for the remainder of its business, Sterlingwale dyed and finished fabrics owned by customers according to their specifications. Id., at 124. The financing and marketing aspects of converting and commission dyeing are different. Converting requires capital to purchase fabrics and a sales force to promote the finished products. Id., at 123. The production process, however, is the same for both converting and commission dyeing. Id., at 98.

In the late 1970's the textile-dyeing business, including Sterlingwale's, began to suffer from adverse economic conditions

[ 482 U.S. Page 31]

     and foreign competition. After 1979, business at Sterlingwale took a serious turn for the worse because of the loss of its export market, id., at 127-128, and the company reduced the number of its employees, id., at 192-195. Finally, in February 1982, Sterlingwale laid off all its production employees, primarily because it no longer had the capital to continue the converting business. Id., at 77-78, 104, 130-132. It retained a skeleton crew of workers and supervisors to ship out the goods remaining on order and to maintain the corporation's building and machinery. Id., at 147-148. In the months following the layoff, Leonard Ansin, Sterlingwale's president, liquidated the inventory of the corporation and, at the same time, looked for a business partner with whom he could "resurrect the business." Id., at 114-115, 146-147. Ansin felt that he owed it to the community and to the employees to keep Sterlingwale in operation. Id., at 103-104.

For almost as long as Sterlingwale had been in existence, its production and maintenance employees had been represented by the United Textile Workers of America, AFL-CIO, Local 292 (Union). Id., at 60-61. The most recent collective-bargaining agreement before Sterlingwale's demise had been negotiated in 1978 and was due to expire in 1981. By an agreement dated October 1980, however, in response to the financial difficulties suffered by Sterlingwale, the Union agreed to amend the 1978 agreement to extend its expiration date by one year, until April 1, 1982, without any wage increase and with an agreement to improve labor productivity. Id., at 353-355. In the months following the final February 1982 layoff, the Union met with company officials over problems involving this job action, and, in particular, Sterlingwale's failure to pay premiums on group-health insurance. Id., at 66-67, 86, 131. In addition, during meetings with Ansin, Union officials told him of their concern with Sterlingwale's future and their interest in helping to keep the

[ 482 U.S. Page 32]

     company operating or in meeting with prospective buyers. Id., at 67-68, 86, 146-147.

In late summer 1982, however, Sterlingwale finally went out of business. It made an assignment for the benefit of its creditors, id., at 115, 147, primarily Ansin's mother, who was an officer of the corporation and holder of a first mortgage on most of Sterlingwale's real property, id., at 113, and the Massachusetts Capital Resource Corporation (MCRC), which held a security interest on Sterlingwale's machinery and equipment, id., at 113-114. Ansin also hired a professional liquidator to dispose of the company's remaining assets, mostly its inventory, at auction. Id., at 115.

During this same period, a former Sterlingwale employee and officer, Herbert Chace, and Arthur Friedman, president of one of Sterlingwale's major customers, Marcamy Sales Corporation (Marcamy), formed petitioner Fall River Dyeing & Finishing Corp. Chace, who had resigned from Sterlingwale in February 1982, had worked there for 27 years, had been vice president in charge of sales at the time of his departure, and had participated in collective bargaining with the Union during his tenure at Sterlingwale. Id., at 189, 232. Chace and Friedman formed petitioner with the intention of engaging strictly in the commission-dyeing business and of taking advantage of the availability of Sterlingwale's assets and work force. Id., at 203-204, 223-224. Accordingly, Friedman had Marcamy acquire from MCRC and Ansin's mother Sterlingwale's plant, real property, and equipment, id., at 238-272, and convey them to petitioner, id., at 278-289.*fn1 Petitioner also obtained some of Sterlingwale's remaining inventory at the liquidator's auction. Id., at 200-202, 290-293. Chace became petitioner's vice president in charge of operations and Friedman became its president. Id., at 190, 232.

In September 1982, petitioner began operating out of Sterlingwale's former facilities and began hiring employees.

[ 482 U.S. Page 33]

     Although petitioner engaged exclusively in commission dyeing, the employees experienced the same conditions they had when they were working for Sterlingwale. The production process was unchanged and the employees worked on the same machines, in the same building, with the same job classifications, under virtually the same supervisors. App. 152-156, 205-206. Over half the volume of petitioner's business came from former Sterlingwale customers, and, in particular, Marcamy. Id., at 314-316.

On November 1, 1982, the Union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Board, alleging that in its refusal to bargain petitioner had violated §§ 8(a)(1) and (5) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 49 Stat. 452, as amended, 29 U. S. C. §§ 158(a)(1) and (5).*fn2 After a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decided that, on the facts of the case, petitioner was a successor to Sterlingwale. 272 N. L. R. B., at 840. He observed that petitioner therefore would have an obligation to bargain with the Union if the majority of petitioner's employees were former employees of Sterlingwale. He noted that the proper date for making this determination was not mid-April, when petitioner first had two shifts working, but mid-January, when petitioner had attained a "representative complement" of employees. Ibid. The ALJ acknowledged that a demand for bargaining from the Union was necessary to trigger petitioner's obligation to bargain, but noted that the Union's demand of October 1982, although premature, was "of a continuing nature." Ibid.

[ 482 U.S. Page 35]

     Thus, in the view of the ALJ, petitioner's duty to bargain arose in mid-January because former Sterlingwale employees then were in the majority and because the Union's October demand was still in effect. Petitioner thus committed an unfair labor practice in refusing to bargain. In a brief decision and order, the Board, with one member dissenting, affirmed this decision. Id., at 839.*fn3

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, also by a divided vote, enforced the order. 775 F.2d 425 (1985). The court first found, id., at 428-430, that the Board's determination that petitioner was Sterlingwale's successor was consistent with Burns and was "supported by substantial evidence in the record." 775 F.2d, at 430. The court observed: "The differences between [petitioner's] business and Sterlingwale's are not sufficiently significant to require a finding that the continuity of the enterprise, viewed from the employees' standpoint, was broken." Ibid. The court then noted that the Board's longstanding "substantial and representative complement" standard, id., at 431, which the ALJ applied in this case, is an attempt to establish a method for determining when a successor has to bargain with the predecessor's union in a situation where, at the moment of the transition between the old and new enterprises, it is not clear when the new employer will reach a "full complement of employees." Id., at 430-431. According to the court, the Board's determination that petitioner had "employed a substantial and representative complement of its workforce in mid-January" was reasonable. Id., at 431. Finally, the court found that the Board's rule treating a premature union demand for bargaining as a continuing demand also was reasonable and "practical" and entitled to deference. Id., at 432-433.*fn4

[ 482 U.S. Page 36]

     Because of the importance of the successorship issue in labor law, and because of our interest in the rules developed by the Board for successorship cases, we granted certiorari. 476 U.S. 1139 (1986).

II

Fifteen years ago in NLRB v. Burns International Security Services, Inc., 406 U.S. 272 (1972), this Court first dealt with the issue of a successor employer's obligation to bargain with a union that had represented the employees of its predecessor. In Burns, about four months before the employer transition, the security-guard employees of Wackenhut Corp. had chosen a particular union as their bargaining representative and that union had negotiated a collective-bargaining agreement with Wackenhut. Wackenhut, however, lost its service contract on certain airport property to Burns. Burns proceeded to hire 27 of the Wackenhut guards for its 42-guard operation at the airport. Burns told its guards that, as a condition of their employment, they must join the union with which Burns already had collective-bargaining agreements at other locations. When the union that had represented the Wackenhut employees brought unfair labor practice charges against Burns, this Court agreed with the Board's determination that Burns had an obligation to bargain with this union. We observed:

"In an election held but a few months before, the union had been designated bargaining agent for the employees in the unit and a majority of these employees had been hired by Burns for work in the identical unit. It is undisputed that Burns knew all the relevant facts in this regard and was aware of the certification and of the

[ 482 U.S. Page 37]

     existence of a collective-bargaining contract. In these circumstances, it was not unreasonable for the Board to conclude that the union certified to represent all employees in the unit still represented a majority of the employees and that Burns could not reasonably have entertained a good-faith doubt about that fact. Burns' obligation to bargain with the union over terms and conditions of employment stemmed from its hiring of Wackenhut's employees and from the recent election and Board certification." Id., at 278-279.

Although our reasoning in Burns was tied to the facts presented there, see id., at 274, we suggested that our analysis would be equally applicable even if a union with which a successor had to bargain had not been certified just before the transition in employers. We cited with approval, id., at 279 and 281, Board and Court of Appeals decisions where it "ha[d] been consistently held that a mere change of employers or of ownership in the employing industry is not such an 'unusual circumstance' as to affect the force of the Board's certification within the normal operative period if a majority of employees after the change of ownership or management were employed by the preceding employer." Id., at 279. Several of these cases involved successorship situations where the union in question had not been certified only a short time before the transition date. See, e. g., NLRB v. Auto Ventshade, Inc., 276 F.2d 303, 305 (CA5 1960); Tom-A-Hawk Transit, Inc. v. NLRB, 419 F.2d 1025, 1026 (CA7 1969).

Moreover, in defining "the force of the Board's certification within the normal operative period," 406 U.S., at 279, we referred in Burns to two presumptions regarding a union's majority status following certification. See id., at 279, n. 3. First, after a union has been certified by the Board as a bargaining-unit representative, it usually is entitled to a conclusive presumption of majority status for one year following the certification. See ibid., citing Brooks v. NLRB,

[ 482 U.S. Page 38348]

     U.S. 96, 98-99 (1954); see also 29 U. S. C. § 159(c)(3) ("No election shall be directed in any bargaining unit or any subdivision within which in the preceding twelve-month period, a valid election shall have been held"). Second, after this period, the union is entitled to a rebuttable presumption of majority support. 406 U.S., at 279, n. 3, citing Celanese Corp. of America, 95 N. L. R. B. 664, 672 (1951).

These presumptions are based not so much on an absolute certainty that the union's majority status will not erode following certification, as on a particular policy decision. The overriding policy of the NLRA is "industrial peace." Brooks v. NLRB, 348 U.S., at 103. The presumptions of majority support further this policy by "promot[ing] stability in collective-bargaining relationships, without impairing the free choice of employees." Terrell Machine Co., 173 N. L. R. B. 1480 (1969), enf'd, 427 F.2d 1088 (CA4), cert. denied, 398 U.S. 929 (1970). In essence, they enable a union to concentrate on obtaining and fairly administering a collective-bargaining agreement without worrying that, unless it produces immediate results, it will lose majority support and will be decertified. See Brooks v. NLRB, 348 U.S., at 100. The presumptions also remove any temptation on the part of the employer to avoid good-faith bargaining in the hope that, by delaying, it will undermine the union's support among the employees. See ibid.; see also R. Gorman, Labor Law 53 (1976).*fn5 The upshot of the presumptions is to permit unions

[ 482 U.S. Page 39]

     to develop stable bargaining relationships with employers, which will enable the unions to pursue the goals of their members, and this ...


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