Law School Case Brief
Lechmere, Inc. v. NLRB - 502 U.S. 527, 112 S. Ct. 841 (1992)
An employer may not always bar nonemployee union organizers from his property, his right to do so remains the general rule. To gain access, the union has the burden of showing that no other reasonable means of communicating its organizational message to the employees exists or that the employer’s access rules discriminate against union solicitation.
A retail store was located in a shopping plaza within the metropolitan area of Hartford, Connecticut. All of the store’s 200 employees lived in the Hartford metropolitan area; none of them lived on the store owner’s property. The store owner was a joint owner of the shopping plaza’s parking lot, which was separated from a public highway by a 46-foot-wide grassy strip, almost all of which was public property. In a campaign to organize the store employees, a union inserted a full-page advertisement in a Hartford newspaper, but the advertisement drew little response. Subsequently, union organizers who were not store employees entered the parking lot and placed handbills on the windshields of cars parked in a corner of the lot that was used mostly by the store employees. Each time this occurred, store personnel asked the organizers to leave and the handbills were removed.
The organizers relocated to the grassy strip, from where they displayed picket signs over a period of 7 months. The organizers were able to secure the names and addresses of 41 employees, approximately 20 percent of the total. The union sent four mailings to these employees and made some attempts to contact them by phone or by home visits. These efforts resulted in only one signed union authorization card. Alleging that the store owner had violated § 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) (29 U.S.C.S. § 158(a)(1)) by barring the organizers from the parking lot, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). An administrative law judge ruled in the union’s favor. The NLRB, affirming, applied a standard under which the employees’ rights under § 7 of the NLRA (29 U.S.C.S. § 157)—which guaranteed employees the right of self-organization—were balanced against the store owner’s property rights, and the availability of reasonably effective alternative means of communication was considered. The NLRB found that the union had no such alternative means available; and held that the store owner was required by § 7 to grant access to the organizers. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit denied the store owner’s petition for review and enforced the NLRB’s order.
Under § 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, did the store owner commit an unfair labor practice by barring the union organizers from the parking lot of the store?
The United States Supreme Court reversed the decision of the appellate court and denied enforcement of the NLRB’s order. According to the Court, under § 7 of the NLRA, an employer cannot be compelled to allow distribution of union literature by nonemployee organizers on the employer's property, unless the location of the plant and the living quarters of the employees place the employees beyond the reach of reasonable union efforts to communicate with them through the usual channels. Taking off from this point, the Court ruled that the store owner did not commit an unfair labor practice given the fact that the employees did not reside on the store owner’s property, and as such, they were presumptively not beyond the reach of the union’s message. The Court posited that the fact that the employees lived in a large metropolitan area did not, in itself, render the employees inaccessible so as to justify the trespass by the organizers on the store owner’s property.
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