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Law School Case Brief

NLRB v. City Disposal Sys., Inc. - 465 U.S. 822, 104 S. Ct. 1505 (1984)

Rule:

The National Labor Relations Board's longstanding "Interboro doctrine" is that an individual's assertion of a right grounded in a collective-bargaining agreement is recognized as "concerted activity" and therefore accorded the protection of 29 U.S.C.S. § 157.

Facts:

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act provides that employees shall have the right to join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively, and "to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." The collective-bargaining agreement between respondent City Disposal Systems, Inc. and the union representing its truckdrivers provides that respondent shall not require employees to operate any vehicle that is not in safe operating condition, and that "[it] shall not be a violation of this Agreement where employees refuse to operate such equipment unless such refusal is unjustified." One of respondent's employees (James Brown) was discharged when he refused to drive a truck that he honestly and reasonably believed to be unsafe because of faulty brakes. After the union declined to prosecute Brown's grievance under the bargaining agreement, he filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), challenging his discharge. An Administrative Law Judge concluded that, even though Brown acted alone in asserting a contractual right, his refusal to operate the truck constituted "concerted [activity]" protected by § 7, 29 U.S.C.S. § 157and that respondent had therefore committed an unfair labor practice in discharging him. The NLRB adopted the Administrative Law Judge's findings and conclusions and ordered Brown's reinstatement with back-pay, applying its longstanding "Interboro doctrine," which was based on the conclusions that an individual's reasonable and honest assertion of a right contained in a collective-bargaining agreement is an extension of the concerted action that produced the agreement, and that the assertion of such a right affects the rights of all employees covered by the agreement. However, the Court of Appeals denied enforcement of the NLRB's order, finding that Brown's refusal to drive the truck was an action taken solely on his own behalf and thus was not a concerted activity within § 7's meaning.

Issue:

Was Brown’s refusal to drive a truck he believed to be unsafe a concerted activity, thus, protected by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

Concluding that NLRB's decision was reasonable, the United States Supreme Court reversed the appellate court and remanded. According to the court, when Brown refused to drive a truck he believed to be unsafe, he was in effect reminding his employer of the commitment it made to all employees in the collective bargaining agreement. Thus, his action constituted concerted activity.

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