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Law School Case Brief

NLRB v. Wash. Aluminum Co. - 370 U.S. 9, 82 S. Ct. 1099 (1962)

Rule:

Employees do not necessarily lose their right to engage in concerted activities under § 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (Act) merely because they do not present a specific demand upon their employer to remedy a condition they find objectionable. The language of § 7 is broad enough to protect concerted activities whether they take place before, after, or at the same time such a demand is made. To compel the National Labor Relations Board to interpret and apply that language in a restricted fashion would only tend to frustrate the policy of the Act to protect the right of workers to act together to better their working conditions. Indeed, such an interpretation of § 7 might place burdens upon employees so great that it would effectively nullify the right to engage in concerted activities which § 7 protects. 

Facts:

After eight nonunion employees ("Employees") employed by respondent Washington Aluminum Company ("Employer") complained about the coldness of the shop during the winter, seven of them walked out together, saying that it was "too cold to work." The Employer discharged them for violating a rule forbidding any employee to leave without permission of the foreman. A charge was filed with petitioner National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB"). At a hearing, evidence indicated that, prior to the day of the walkout, the Employees had complained about the heating situation. The NLB found that the Employees' conduct was a concerted activity to protest the Employer's failure to supply adequate heat in its shop, that such conduct was protected under § 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (Act), and that the discharge amounted to an unfair labor practice under § 8(a)(1) of the Act. The NLRB ordered the Employer to reinstate the Employees to their previous positions and to make them whole for losses resulting from their unlawful termination. The NLRB further ordered the Employer to bargain collectively with the union, whose status as the majority bargaining representative at the Employer's shop turned on ballots cast by four of the seven workers. The Employer sought review of the NLRB's order, and a federal court of appeals refused to enforce the order. The NLRB was granted a writ of certiorari.

Issue:

Did the NLRB err when it declared that the discharge of the Employees was an unfair labor practice?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded the case to that court with directions to enforce the NLRB's order in its entirety. The Court found that the NLRB correctly interpreted and applied the Act. Because the Employees had no bargaining representative at that time, they were not required to make a more specific demand in order for the activity to fall under § 7 of the Act. The walkout grew out of a "labor dispute" within the plain meaning of § 2(9) of the Act. The activities of the seven Employees could not be classified as "indefensible" by any recognized standard of conduct. Indeed, concerted activities by employees for the purpose of trying to protect themselves from working conditions as uncomfortable as the testimony and NLRB's findings showed them to be were unquestionably activities to correct conditions that modern labor-management legislation treated as too bad to have to be tolerated in a humane and civilized society.

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