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An impasse is not sufficiently destructive of group bargaining to justify unilateral withdrawal. As a recurring feature in the bargaining process, impasse is only a temporary deadlock or hiatus in negotiations which in almost all cases is eventually broken, through either a change of mind or the application of economic force. An impasse may be brought about intentionally by one or both parties as a device to further, rather than destroy, the bargaining process. There is little warrant for regarding an impasse as a rupture of the bargaining relation which leaves the parties free to go their own ways. As the National Labor Relations Board sees it, permitting withdrawal at impasse would as a practical matter undermine the utility of multiemployer bargaining.
The union, the employer, and a multiemployer association began bargaining sessions. The negotiators agreed upon a proposed contract which was rejected by the union. Several subsequent meetings failed to break the impasse, and the union initiated a selective strike against the employer. The employer hired permanent replacements for all of its striking drivers and notified the multiemployer association that it was withdrawing with respect to negotiations because of the ongoing impasse with the union. Soon after the employer's withdrawal, the multiemployer association ended its lockout and agreed on a new contract with the union. The employer refused to acknowledge the contract. Consequently, plaintiff union filed suit against defendant employer alleging that the employer’s withdrawal from the bargaining unit constituted an unfair labor practice. The National Labor Relations Board (Board) affirmed the Administrative Law Judge's finding that no unusual circumstances excused such withdrawal, and ordered the employer to sign and implement retroactively the agreement concluded between the union and the employers' association. According to the Board, the refusal to sign such agreement constituted an unfair labor practice in violation of §§ 8(a)(5) and (1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The Court of Appeals enforced the Board's order. The employer appealed.
Did the bargaining impasse justify the employer’s unilateral withdrawal from the multiemployer bargaining unit?
The Court agreed with the court of appeals that the employer attempting such a withdrawal committed an unfair labor practice in violation of §§ 8(a)(5) and 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 158(a)(5) and 158(a)(1), by refusing to execute the collective bargaining agreement later executed by the union and the multiemployer association. According to the Court, an impasse in collective bargaining did not justify unilateral withdrawal from a multiemployer bargaining unit, as it was not sufficiently destructive of group bargaining. Permitting a withdrawal at impasse would as a practical matter undermine the utility of multiemployer bargaining. While no interim or separate agreements were executed in this case, the impasse did not initiate any right to execute an agreement inconsistent with the duty to abide by the results of group bargaining.