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Congress meant that economic weapons, whether of employer or employees, were not to be regulable by states any more than by the National Labor Relations Board, for neither states nor the Board is afforded flexibility in picking and choosing which economic devices of labor and management shall be branded as unlawful. Rather, both are without authority to attempt to introduce some standard of properly balanced bargaining power, or to define what economic sanctions might be permitted negotiating parties in an ideal or balanced state of collective bargaining.
During collective bargaining negotiations, the employer sought to change the provision of the agreement that defined the work day from a seven-and-one-half-hour day to an eight-hour day with overtime commencing only after the completion of 40 hours of work in one week. In opposition to that proposal, the union began refusing to work assigned overtime. In response, the employer filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB"), but the charge was dismissed on the ground that the refusal did not violate the NLRA and therefore was not conduct cognizable by the NLRB. The employer also filed an unfair labor practice complaint with respondent Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which held that such refusal, while neither protected nor prohibited by the NLRA, was an unfair labor practice under state law, and entered a cease-and-desist order against the union. The Wisconsin Circuit Court affirmed and entered a judgment enforcing the order, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the ban on overtime was not an activity protected by §§ 7, 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 157, 158 and, therefore, was not preempted by the Act. Certiorari was granted.
Was the ban on overtime work an activity that could be regulated by the state?
The Court held that the federal law pre-empted state jurisdiction not only where the conduct in question was arguably protected by or arguably prohibited by the amended National Labor Relations Act, but also where the conduct consisted of peaceful economic weapons in support of bargaining demands. In this case, the Court concluded that the union's concerted refusal to work overtime was peaceful conduct constituting activity that must be free of state regulation if the congressional intent in enacting the comprehensive federal law of labor relations was not to be frustrated. According to the Court, Congress meant that self-help economic activities, whether of employer or employee, were not to be regulable by States any more than by the NLRB, for neither States nor the NLRB was afforded flexibility in picking and choosing which economic devices of labor and management shall be branded as unlawful; rather, both were without authority to attempt to introduce some standard of properly 'balanced' bargaining power, or to define what economic sanctions might be permitted negotiating parties in an ‘ideal’ or ‘balanced’ state of collective bargaining. Accordingly, the Court reversed the affirmation of the state labor board's order.