The issue as to what unit is appropriate for collective bargaining is one for which no absolute rule of law is laid down by statute, and none should be by decision. It involves of necessity a large measure of informed discretion, and the decision of the National Labor Relations Board, if not final, is rarely to be disturbed. A determination of a unit of representation can be so unreasonable and arbitrary as to exceed the Board's power.
The Packard Motor Car Company, petitioner, employs about 32,000 rank-and-file workmen. These employees are supervised by approximately 1,100 employees of foreman rank, consisting of about 125 "general foremen," 643 "foremen," 273 "assistant foremen," and 65 "special assignment men." Each general foreman is in charge of one or more departments, and under him in authority are foremen and their assistant foremen. The foremen as a group are highly paid and, unlike the workmen, are paid for justifiable absence and for holidays, are not docked in pay when tardy, receive longer paid vacations, and are given severance pay upon release by the Company. The foremen formed the Foremen's Association of America, an unaffiliated organization which represents supervisory employees exclusively. The National Labor Relations Board, respondent, found that the foremen constitute a unit appropriate for the purposes of collective bargaining within the meaning of Section 9(b) of the National Labor Relations Act, and consequently, certified the Foremen's Association as the bargaining representative. The Company asserted that foremen were not "employees" entitled to the advantages of the Labor Act, and refused to bargain with the union. After hearing on charge of unfair labor practice, the Board issued the usual cease-and-desist order. The Company resisted and challenged validity of the order. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the National Labor Relations Board and decreed the enforcement of the Board’s order requiring the petitioner company to bargain with a union of foremen.
As a class, are foremen entitled to the rights of self-organization, collective bargaining, and other concerted activities as generally assured to employees by the National Labor Relations Act?
Foremen and other supervisory employees are entitled as a class to the rights of self-organization, collective bargaining, and other concerted activities assured to employees generally by the National Labor Relations Act. According to the Court, the foremen are "employees" within the meaning of § 2(3) of the Act. Furthermore, the Court found no basis in the National Labor Relations Act for forbidding the foremen from the protection of the said Act when they took collective action to protect their collective interests. The Court explained that § 9(b) of the Act conferred broad discretion upon the Board to determine the appropriate bargaining units, and because the Board's determination in this case was supported by substantial evidence, and not so unreasonable and arbitrary as to exceed the Board's power, its determination that the foremen were an appropriate bargaining unit was upheld. Because the Court found no ambiguity in the Act, it refused to resort to legislative history to determine its meaning. The Court explained also that policy arguments concerning the wisdom of the legislation could not alter the Court's interpretation of the Act's plain provisions.