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Law School Case Brief

Beth Israel Hosp. v. NLRB - 437 U.S. 483, 98 S. Ct. 2463 (1978)


A rule which the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) adopts is judicially reviewable for consistency with the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 151 to 168, and for rationality, but if it satisfies those criteria, the board's application of the rule, if supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, must be enforced.


A nonprofit hospital whose employees were covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 151 et. seq., had a written rule which, while allowing its employees to solicit and distribute literature to other employees during nonworking time in employee-only areas, prohibited such activities in patient-care and other work areas, as well as areas open to the public, including the hospital's cafeteria and coffee shop. Following an incident during which an employee who distributed a union newsletter in the hospital cafeteria had been told that she was in violation of the hospital's rule and would be dismissed if she did so again, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), acting on a union charge, issued an unfair labor practice complaint against the hospital. At a proceeding before an administrative law judge it was found that the hospital's issuance and maintenance of the rule violated 8(a)(1) of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C.S. § 158(a)(1)and that the disciplining of an employee for an infraction of the rule violated 8(a)(3) of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C.S. § 158(a)(3)). The NLRB affirmed, issuing an order which broadly required the hospital to cease and desist from interfering with concerted union activities and the exercise of employees' rights guaranteed in 7 of the Act (29 USCS 157), and which required the hospital to rescind its written rule prohibiting distribution of union literature and union solicitation in its cafeteria and coffee shop. On the NLRB's petition for enforcement of its order, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit refused to enforce that part of the NLRB's order broadly requiring the hospital to cease and desist, but enforced that part of the order requiring the hospital to rescind its rule by adding clarifying language, so that the hospital was required to rescind only that part of its rule prohibiting distribution and solicitation in the cafeteria and coffee shop, thus making it clear that the validity of the rule as applied to areas outside the cafeteria and coffee shop remained open. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari review.


Did the NLRB have the authority to formulate rules consistent with the NLRA and to fill the interstices of the broad statutory provisions?




The United States Supreme Court found that: (1) the NLRB was free to adopt a rule that, absent special circumstances, a particular employer restriction was presumptively an unreasonable interference with § 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C.S. § 157, rights constituting an unfair labor practice under § 8 (a)(1) of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C.S. § 158(a)(1); (2) nothing indicated a congressional policy inconsistent with the board's general approach to enforcement of § 7, 29 U.S.C.S. § 157 self-organizational rights in the hospital context; and (3) the NLRB had the task of applying the NLRA's general prohibitory language, and therefore, it had authority to formulate rules to fill the interstices of the broad statutory provisions.

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