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MASTRO PLASTICS CORP. ET AL. v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD

February 27, 1956

MASTRO PLASTICS CORP. ET AL
v.
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Warren, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Minton, Harlan

Author: Burton

[ 350 U.S. Page 271]

 MR. JUSTICE BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents two principal questions: (1) whether, in the collective-bargaining contract before us, the union's undertaking "to refrain from engaging in any strike or work stoppage during the term of this agreement" waives not only the employees' right to strike for economic benefits but also their right to strike solely against unfair labor practices of their employers, and (2) whether § 8 (d) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended,*fn1 deprives individuals of their status as employees if, within the waiting period prescribed by § 8 (d) (4), they engage in a strike solely against unfair labor practices of their employers.

[ 350 U.S. Page 272]

     For the reasons hereafter stated, we answer each in the negative.

Mastro Plastics Corp. and French-American Reeds Manufacturing Co., Inc., petitioners herein, are New York corporations which, in 1949 and 1950, were engaged in interstate commerce, manufacturing, selling and distributing plastic articles, including reeds and other accessories for musical instruments. They operated in the City of New York within the same plant, under the same management and with the same employees. For collective bargaining, their employees were represented by Local 22045, American Federation of Labor, or by Local 3127, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, AFL. These locals occupied the same office and used the services of the same representatives. During the period in question, the right of representation of petitioners' employees was transferred back and forth between them for reasons not material here. Accordingly, they are referred to in this opinion as the "Carpenters."

In August 1950, Local 65 of the Wholesale and Warehouse Workers Union began a campaign among petitioners' employees in an effort to become their collective-bargaining representative. Petitioners bitterly opposed the movement, believing Local 65 to be Communist-controlled. Feeling that the Carpenters were too weak to cope successfully with Local 65, petitioners asked the Carpenters to transfer their bargaining rights to Local 318, International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulphite and Paper Mill Workers, AFL. When the Carpenters declined to do so, petitioners selected a committee of employees to visit 318, obtain membership cards and seek members for that union. The cards were distributed during working hours and petitioners paid their employees for time spent in the campaign, including attendance at a meeting of 318. Petitioners' officers and supervisors instructed

[ 350 U.S. Page 273]

     employees to sign these cards and indicated that those refusing to do so would be "out."

September 28, Local 65 filed with the National Labor Relations Board its petition for certification as bargaining representative. October 24, Local 318 intervened in the representation proceedings and asked that it be certified. However, many employees revoked their applications for membership in 318 and reaffirmed their adherence to the Carpenters. This was followed on October 31 by the Carpenters' refusal to consent to an election on the ground that petitioners had unlawfully assisted 318 in the campaign.*fn2

November 10, 1950, a crisis developed when the president of petitioners summarily discharged Frank Ciccone, an employee of over four years' standing, because of the latter's activity in support of the Carpenters and his opposition to 318. We accept the finding of the National Labor Relations Board that petitioners "discriminatorily discharged, and thereafter refused to reinstate, Frank Ciccone because of his organizational activities in support of the . . . [Carpenters]."*fn3 This discharge at once precipitated the strike which is before us and which the Board found "was clearly caused and prolonged by the cumulative effects of the [petitioners'] unfair labor practices culminating in the discriminatory discharge of Ciccone."*fn4

[ 350 U.S. Page 274]

     There was no disorder but the plant was virtually shut down until December 11 and it was March 9, 1951, before the Carpenters, on behalf of petitioners' employees, made an unconditional request to return to work. Petitioners ignored that request and neither Ciccone nor any of the other 76 striking employees has been reinstated.

While the strike against petitioners' unfair labor practices continued, the collective-bargaining contract between petitioners and the Carpenters approached its expiration date of November 30, 1950, and, apart from the above-described organizational controversy, the Carpenters had taken timely steps to secure modification of their agreement. October 10, they had delivered to petitioners a notice (dated September 29, 1950) "requesting modification" of the contract.*fn5 They thus had started the statutory negotiating period running as prescribed by

[ 350 U.S. Page 275]

     the above-mentioned § 8 (d).*fn6 The Carpenters met several times with petitioners and pressed their demands for changes in the contract but the expiration date passed without any agreement being reached.

[ 350 U.S. Page 276]

     In January 1951, the Carpenters initiated the present proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board by charging petitioners with unfair labor practices. Acting on those charges, the Board's general counsel filed a complaint alleging petitioners' support of Local 318 and discharge of numerous employees, including Ciccone, as violations of § 8 (a) (1), (2) and (3) of the Act.*fn7

[ 350 U.S. Page 277]

     Petitioners admitted that they had discharged the employees in question and had not rehired them. They denied, however, that in so doing they had committed any unfair labor practices. Their first affirmative defense was that the waiver of the right to strike, expressed by their employees in their collective-bargaining contract, applied to strikes not only for economic benefits but to any and all strikes by such employees, including strikes directed solely against unfair labor practices of the employer.

Petitioners' other principal defense was that the existing strike began during the statutory waiting period initiated by the employees' request for modification of the contract and that, by virtue of § 8 (d) of the Act,*fn8 the strikers had lost their status as employees. That defense turned upon petitioners' interpretation of § 8 (d), applying it not only to strikes for economic benefits but to any and all strikes occurring during the waiting period, including strikes solely against unfair labor practices of the employer.

The trial examiner made findings of fact sustaining the complaint and recommended that petitioners be ordered to cease and desist from the interference complained of and be required to offer to Ciccone and the 76 other discharged employees full reinstatement, together with back pay for Ciccone from November 10, 1950, and for the other employees from March 9, 1951. See 103 N.L.R.B. 511, 526-563. With minor modifications, the Board adopted the examiner's findings and conclusions and issued the recommended order. 103 N.L.R.B. 511. The chairman and one member dissented in part.

The Court of Appeals, with one judge dissenting in part, accepted the Board's findings of fact and conclusions of law and enforced the Board's order. 214 F.2d 462. Since then, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reached a similar conclusion. Labor Board v. Wagner

[ 350 U.S. Page 278]

     See Labor Board v. Rice Milling Co., 341 U.S. 665, 673. While we assume that the employees, by explicit contractual provision, could have waived their right to strike against such unfair labor practices and that Congress, by explicit statutory provision, could have deprived strikers, under the circumstances of this case, of their status as employees, the questions before us are whether or not such a waiver was made by the Carpenters in their 1949-1950 contract and whether or not such a deprivation of status was enacted by Congress in § 8 (d) of the Act, as amended in 1947.

I. Does the collective-bargaining contract waive the employees' right to strike against the unfair labor practices committed by their employers? The answer turns upon the proper interpretation of the particular contract before us. Like other contracts, it must be read as a whole and in the light of the law relating to it when made.

". . . we have two declared congressional policies which it is our responsibility to try to reconcile. The one seeks to preserve a competitive business economy; the other to preserve the rights of labor to organize to better its conditions through the agency of collective bargaining. We must determine here how far Congress intended activities under one of these policies to neutralize the results envisioned by the other." Allen Bradley Co. v. Local Union No. 3, 325 U.S. 797, 806.

This contract was made in the light of that declared policy. A similar dual purpose is emphasized as follows in § 1 of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended:

"It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they

[ 350 U.S. Page 280]

     have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection." 61 Stat. 137, 29 U.S.C. § 151. See also, the declaration of policy in § 1 (b) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, 61 Stat. 136, 29 U.S.C.§ 141 (b).

The two policies are complementary. They depend for their foundation upon assurance of "full freedom of association." Only after that is assured can the parties turn to effective negotiation as a means of maintaining "the normal flow of commerce and . . . the full production ...


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