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Law School Case Brief

NLRB v. J. Weingarten, Inc. - 420 U.S. 251, 95 S. Ct. 959 (1975)

Rule:

The responsibility to adapt the National Labor Relations Act to changing patterns of industrial life is entrusted to the National Labor Relations Board. A court impermissibly encroaches upon the Board's function in determining for itself that an employee has no need for union assistance at an investigatory interview. It is the province of the Board, not the courts, to determine whether or not the need exists in light of changing industrial practices and the Board's cumulative experience in dealing with labor-management relations. For the Board has the special function of applying the general provisions of the Act to the complexities of industrial life and its special competence in this field is the justification for the deference accorded its determination. 

Facts:

The representative of respondent J. Weingarten, Inc. ("employer") conducted an investigatory interview with one of the employer's workers regarding the employee's suspected theft of food from the employer. During the interview the employee requested that the union shop steward or some other union representative be called to the interview, but her several requests for such representation were denied. An unfair labor practice proceeding was brought, and petitioner National Labor Relations Board held that the employer's denial of the employee's request for union representation at the interview, which interview the employee reasonably believed might result in disciplinary action, constituted an unfair labor practice under 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C.S § 158(a)(1)) since the denial of representation at the interview interfered with, restrained, and coerced the individual right of employees, protected by 7 of the Act (29 U.S.C.S. § 157), to engage in concerted activities for mutual aid or protection. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, holding that the Board's present construction of 7 of the Act, contrary to its prior construction, was impermissible, refused to enforce the Board's order which directed that the employer cease and desist from requiring an employee to take part in an investigatory interview without union representation if the employee requested representation and reasonably feared disciplinary action.

Issue:

Does the action of an employee in seeking to have the assistance of his union representative at a confrontation with his employer fall within the literal wording of 7 of the Act that employees have the right to engage in "concerted activities" for the purpose of "mutual aid or protection?"

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed and remanded, directing the appellate court to enforce the Board's order. In an opinion by Brennan, J., expressing the view of six members of the court, it was held that the action of an employee in seeking to have the assistance of his union representative at a confrontation with his employer fell within the literal wording of 7 of the Act that employees have the right to engage in "concerted activities" for the purpose of "mutual aid or protection," and that notwithstanding that the Board's decision marked a departure from the Board's own precedents, the Board had (1) reached a fair and reasoned balance upon a question within its special competence, (2) arrived at a construction of 7 of the Act which did not exceed the reach of the section, and (3) adequately explicated the basis of its interpretation.

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