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The U.S. Supreme Court will not infer from a general contractual provision that the parties intended to waive a statutorily protected right unless the undertaking is "explicitly stated." More succinctly, the waiver must be clear and unmistakable.
Despite a no-strike clause in the collective-bargaining agreement between Metropolitan Edison Company (Metropolitan) and the Electrical Workers union, which represented over half of Metropolitan's employees, union members participated in four unlawful work stoppages between 1970 and 1974, and on each occasion, Metropolitan disciplined the local union officials more severely than the other participants. Twice the union filed a grievance because of the disparate treatment accorded its officials, and in both cases the arbitrators upheld Metropolitan’s actions, finding that union officials have an affirmative duty to uphold the bargaining agreement, the breach of which duty justified Metropolitan’s imposition of more severe sanctions. Subsequently, in 1977, an unrelated union, the Operating Engineers, set up an informational picket line at the entrance to the site where Metropolitan was constructing a nuclear generating station. Electrical Workers union members refused to cross the picket line. Eventually, after a settlement between the Operating Engineers and Metropolitan was reached, the picket line came down and the union's members returned to work. Metropolitan then disciplined all of its employees who had refused to cross the picket line by imposing 5- to 10-day suspensions, but imposed 25-day suspensions on two local Electrical Workers officials for failure to attempt to end the strike by crossing the picket line. The Electrical Workers union filed an unfair labor practice charge against Metropolitan, and the National Labor Relations Board affirmed the Administrative Law Judge's holding that the selective discipline of union officials violated § 8(a)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, which makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer "by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization." The Court of Appeals enforced the Board's order, holding that an employer may impose greater discipline on union officials only when the collective-bargaining agreement specifies that the officials have an affirmative duty to prevent illegal work stoppages, and that if the agreement does not provide for such a duty, any disparate treatment of union officials violates § 8(a)(3). The court rejected Metropolitan’s argument that the two earlier arbitration awards were sufficient to impose a contractual duty on the union officials to cross the picket line.
May an employer discipline union officials more severely than other union employees for participating in an unlawful work stoppage absent an explicit contractual duty?
The Court held that greater discipline was not appropriate when the collective-bargaining agreement did not affirmatively require officials to prevent such stoppages. The Court held that absent such a duty and because officials did not take a leadership role in the stoppages, the disparate treatment of union officials violated § 158(a)(3). To rule otherwise would place officials in intolerable positions involving the threatened loss of their jobs or the loss of respect of union members. In rejecting the argument that added sanctions were justified because the officials had a duty to ensure compliance with the no-strike provision, the Court held that petitioner's disparate conduct was contrary to § 158(a)(3) by discouraging employees from seeking union office. The Court concluded that the officials did not waive this statutory protection by acquiescing to prior arbitration awards, as no explicitly stated waiver appeared in the labor agreement.