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Law School Case Brief

NLRB v. Katz - 369 U.S. 736, 82 S. Ct. 1107 (1962)


The National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") is authorized to order the cessation of behavior which is in effect a refusal to negotiate, or which directly obstructs or inhibits the actual process of discussion, or which reflects a cast of mind against reaching agreement. Unilateral action by an employer without prior discussion with the union does amount to a refusal to negotiate about the affected conditions of employment under negotiation, and must of necessity obstruct bargaining, contrary to the congressional policy. It will often disclose an unwillingness to agree with the union. It will rarely be justified by any reason of substance. It follows that the NLRB may hold such unilateral action to be an unfair labor practice in violation of 29 U.S.C.S. § 158(a)(5), without also finding the employer guilty of over-all subjective bad faith.


The union that represented the workers for respondents Benne Katz, Alfred Finkel and Murray Katz, d/b/a Williamsburg Steel Products Company (collectively, "Employer") requested collective bargaining on several matters, including merit increases, general wage levels and increases and sick-leave. While negotiations were ongoing, and before any impasse had been reached, the Employer unilaterally, and without consulting the union, put into effect a new system of automatic wage increases, changes in sick-leave benefits and numerous individual merit increases. Ultimately, the union filed a complaint with petitioner National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") over the Employer's actions. The NLRB issued a cease-and-desist order, finding that the Employer's conduct constituted a violation of the duty to bargain collectively imposed by § 8 (a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.S. § 158(a)(5). The NLRB then filed a petition in a federal court of appeals seeking enforcement of the order. A divided panel of the court of appeals denied enforcement of the order on the ground that the Employer's acts did not violate § 8(a)(5). The NLRB was granted a writ of certiorari.


Did the Employer's unilateral actions violate § 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded the matter to that court with direction that the court enforce the NLRB's order. The Court ruled, inter alia, that the Employer's unilateral change in conditions of employment that were then under negotiation with the union was a violation of its statutory duty to bargain under 29 U.S.C.S. § 158(a)(5) because the change circumvented and frustrated the statutory objectives as much as did a flat refusal to bargain.

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