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Two provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C.S. § 151 et seq., combine to impose on employers a duty to bargain over wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. First, § 8(a) of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C.S. § 158(a), defines the activities constituting unfair labor practices by an employer. In relevant part, it specifies that it is an unfair labor practice for an employer to refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of his employees. Second, a definitional provision, § 8(d) of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C.S. § 158(d), specifies that to bargain collectively is the performance of the mutual obligation of the employer and the representative of the employees to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.
The Dubuque Packing Company, a processor and packager of beef and pork, began losing money at its Dubuque, Iowa, home plant. On June 10, 1981 , Dubuque announced that it was considering relocating--rather than closing--its hog kill and cut department, and that it was also considering relocating up to 900 Dubuque plant pork processing jobs. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union ("UFCW") responded by requesting detailed financial information from Dubuque, which the company refused to provide. Over the next few months, Dubuque and the UFCW continued to negotiate over Dubuque's proposed relocation of its pork processing operations. On October 1, 1981, Dubuque opened a hog kill and cut operation at its newly acquired Rochelle, Illinois, plant and, two days later, eliminated approximately 530 hog kill and cut jobs at the Dubuque plant. By 1982, the Dubuque plants in Iowa and Rochelle were closed and sold. Subsequently, the UFCW filed unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”), claiming that Dubuque had refused to bargain in good faith as to both the consummated relocation and the proposed one, objecting especially to the company's alleged duplicity and its refusal to disclose financial data. The Administrative Law Judge held that Dubuque committed no unfair labor practice because it as under no duty to negotiate over its decision to relocate. On remand, the Board found that a duty to bargain had existed and had been breached. The Board, however, declined to apply its new test to the threatened relocation of Dubuque's pork processing operations, finding that issue to be beyond the scope of the court's remand instructions. Both Dubuque and the UFCW petitioned for review of the Board rulings adverse to them, while the NLRB cross-petitioned for the enforcement of its order.
Did Dubuque’s relocation of its hog kill and cut operation constitute a mandatory subject of bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act?
The Court noted that while parties to collective bargaining agreements were free to bargain about any legal subject, Congress has imposed on employers and unions "a mandate or duty" to bargain about certain issues, like wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Any unilateral change as to a subject within this category would violate the statutory duty to bargain and was subject to the Board's remedial order. In this case, the Court held that given the labor law amendments and the United States Supreme Court precedent, Dubuque has a duty to negotiate the relocation of its hog kill and cut operation. According to the Court, employers may be required to negotiate management decisions where the benefit, for labor-management relations and the collective-bargaining process, would outweigh the burden placed on the conduct of the business. The Court further held that the Board err in refusing to review UFCW’s claim on the threatened relocation of Dubuque's pork processing operations and remanded the case, with the requirement that the Board investigate if Dubuque violated federal labor law in the particular instance.