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decided: April 25, 1960.



Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker, Stewart

Author: Harlan

[ 362 U.S. Page 411]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question we decide in this case is whether unfair labor practice complaints, whose charges against these petitioners were sustained by the National Labor Relations

[ 362 U.S. Page 412]

     Board, were barred by the six-month statute of limitations contained in § 10 (b) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, 61 Stat. 146, 29 U. S. C. § 160 (b). That section reads in pertinent part:

" Provided. . . no complaint shall issue based upon any unfair labor practice occurring more than six months prior to the filing of the charge with the Board and the service of a copy thereof upon the person against whom such charge is made . . . ."

On August 10, 1954, petitioners Bryan Manufacturing Company and the International Association of Machinists, AFL, entered into a collective bargaining agreement for a unit of Bryan's employees. The agreement, as later supplemented in certain respects not material to this litigation, contained the conventional provisions, of which two are relevant here: the "recognition" clause, by which the Union was recognized as "the sole and exclusive bargaining agency for all employees" in the unit; and the "union security" clause, by which all employees were required, subject to a 45-day grace period, to become and remain members of the Union. On August 30, 1955, a new agreement was entered into, with Bryan, the Union, and petitioner Local Lodge No. 1424, IAM, as signatories, replacing the old agreement and applying additionally to employees at a newly opened plant as well as to those covered by the original agreement.

When the original agreement was executed on August 10, 1954, the Union did not represent a majority of the employees covered by it.*fn1 Under §§ 7 and 8 of the Act*fn2

[ 362 U.S. Page 413]

     the Board has evolved the principle, not drawn in question here, that it is an unfair labor practice for an employer and a labor organization to enter into a collective bargaining agreement which contains a union security clause, if at the time of original execution the union does not represent a majority of the employees in the

[ 362 U.S. Page 414]

     unit.*fn3 The maintaining of such an agreement in force is a continuing violation of the Act, and the "majority status" of the union at any subsequent date -- including the date of execution of any renewals of the original agreement -- is immaterial, for it is presumed that subsequent acquisition of a majority status is attributable to the earlier unlawful assistance received from the original agreement.*fn4

In June and August 1955, 10 months and 12 months after the execution of the original agreement, charges were filed with the Board and served upon the petitioners, alleging the Union's lack of majority status at the time of execution and the consequent illegality of the continued enforcement of the agreement. Complaints were thereafter issued by the Board's General Counsel against the Union and the Company. Petitioners contended before the Board that the complaints were barred by the limitations proviso of § 10 (b), set forth above. The Board, two members dissenting, held that the complaints were not barred by limitations, 119 N. L. R. B. 502, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, one judge dissenting. 105 U. S. App. D.C. 102, 264 F.2d 575. We granted certiorari, 360 U.S. 916, because of the importance of the question in the proper administration of the National Labor Relations Act. For reasons given in this opinion

[ 362 U.S. Page 415]

     we hold that the complaints against these petitioners are barred by time.*fn5

We first note the opposing contentions of the parties. The Board starts with the premise that a collective bargaining agreement which contains a union security clause valid on its face, but which was entered into when the Union did not have a majority status, gives rise to two independent unfair labor practices, one being the execution of the agreement, the other arising from its continued enforcement. Conceding that a complaint predicated on the execution of the agreement here challenged was barred by limitations, the Board contends that its complaint was nonetheless timely since it was "based upon" the parties' continued enforcement, within the period of limitations, of the union security clause. It is then said that even though the former was itself time-barred, the unlawful execution of the agreement was nevertheless "relevant in determining whether conduct within the 6-month period was unlawful," 119 N. L. R. B., at 504; and that evidence as to it was admissible because § 10 (b) is a statute of limitations, and not a rule of evidence.

On the other hand, petitioners contend that, standing alone, the union security clause and its enforcement were wholly innocent; that they were tainted only by virtue of the original unlawful execution of the agreement; and that since a complaint based upon that unfair labor practice was barred by limitations, that event itself could not be utilized to infuse with illegality the otherwise legal union security clause or its enforcement. They say, in short, that to apply in this situation the doctrine that § 10 (b) is a statute of limitations, and not a rule of evidence, is to circumvent the purposes of the section, and

[ 362 U.S. Page 416]

     that acceptance of the Board's position would mean that the statute of limitations would never run in a case of this kind. We think petitioners' position represents the correct view of the matter.

It is doubtless true that § 10 (b) does not prevent all use of evidence relating to events transpiring more than six months before the filing and service of an unfair labor practice charge. However, in applying rules of evidence as to the admissibility of past events, due regard for the purposes of § 10 (b) requires that two different kinds of situations be distinguished. The first is one where occurrences within the six-month limitations period in and of themselves may constitute, as a substantive matter, unfair labor practices. There, earlier events may be utilized to shed light on the true character of matters occurring within the limitations period; and for that purpose § 10 (b) ordinarily does not bar such evidentiary use of anterior events.*fn6 The second situation is that where conduct

[ 362 U.S. Page 417]

     occurring within the limitations period can be charged to be an unfair labor practice only through reliance on an earlier unfair labor practice. There the use of the earlier unfair labor practice is not merely "evidentiary," since it does not simply lay bare a putative current unfair labor practice. Rather, it serves to cloak with illegality that which was otherwise lawful. And where a complaint based upon that earlier event is time-barred, to permit the event itself to be so used in effect results in reviving a legally defunct unfair labor practice.

The situation before us is of this latter variety, for the entire foundation of the unfair labor practice charged was the Union's time-barred lack of majority status when the original collective bargaining agreement was signed. In the absence of that fact enforcement of this otherwise valid union security clause was wholly benign.*fn7 The

[ 362 U.S. Page 418]

     Trial Examiner, whose findings were adopted by the Board, observed:

"The General Counsel concedes that the 6-month limitation of Section 10 (b) of the Act precludes currently finding the execution*fn8 of the 1954 agreement to be an unfair labor practice, and also precludes currently finding its enforcement to be an unfair labor practice . . . at any time prior to the . . . periods beginning 6 months prior to the . . . charges . . . . However, this concession in no way detracts from the crucial nature of the earlier events, because at the core of the General Counsel's contentions as to all of the unfair labor practices is his fundamental position that, because of the circumstances prevailing when made, the original union-security agreement of 1954 has never been valid or legal, since it has never met certain overriding requirements of Section 8 (a)(3) of the Act." 119 N. L. R. B., at 530. (Emphasis added, except as indicated.)*fn9

[ 362 U.S. Page 419]

     Where, as here, a collective bargaining agreement and its enforcement are both perfectly lawful on the face of things, and an unfair labor practice cannot be made out except by reliance on the fact of the agreement's original unlawful execution, an event which, because of limitations, cannot itself be made the subject of an unfair labor practice complaint, we think that permitting resort to the principle that § 10 (b) is not a rule of evidence, in order to convert what is otherwise legal into something illegal, would vitiate the policies underlying that section. These policies are to bar litigation over past events "after records have been destroyed, witnesses have gone elsewhere, and recollections of the events in question have become dim and confused," H. R. Rep. No. 245, 80th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 40,*fn10 and of course to stabilize existing bargaining relationships.

Our view of the matter is lent support by the attitude of the Board itself, whose previous decisions, albeit not always with unanimity among its members or even perhaps with perfect consistency, have recognized that evidentiary rules as to past events must be regarded differently in the two situations we have already depicted. Compare, e. g., Potlatch Forests, Inc., 87 N. L. R. B. 1193, where evidence ...

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