National Labor Relations Board v. Town & Country Electric, Inc.
Decided on Nov. 28, 1995; 516 US 85


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Anti-union discrimination

B. Legal Question Presented:

Can a worker be a company's "employee," within the terms of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), if at the same time, a union pays that worker to help the union organize the company?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

"In the course of holding that respondent company committed 'unfair labor practices' when it refused to interview or retain 11 job applicants because of their union membership, the National Labor Relations Board determined that all of the applicants were protected 'employee[s]' as that word is defined in the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 152(3), even though they intended to try to organize the company if they were hired and would have been paid by the union while they set about their organizing. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the statutory word 'employee' does not cover (and therefore the Act does not protect from antiunion discrimination) those who work for a company while a union simultaneously pays them to organize that company."

On appeal the US Supreme Court vacated and remanded the judgment of the Eighth Circuit.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
"The US Supreme Court has consistently recognized that job applicants, as well as hired employees are included in the term 'employee' under § 2(3) of the NLRA. Employees who may have a financial or associational relation with the union are not excluded from the definition of an 'employee,' although several other categories were explicitly excluded by Congress from NLRA protection. The holding below would deny legitimacy to the operation of unions and would invite abuses during the firing and hiring process, actions that have been condemned by this Court. The decision below has also greatly changed the balance struck by this Court when weighing employee's rights to speak and associate against the employer's managerial and property interests. The employer in this case has failed to demonstrate a legitimate reason to justify the withholding of statutory protection. The only asserted interest-- conflict between union sympathizers and the employer-- has been definitively rejected by both Congress and this Court." "The NLRA protects only bona fide employees, and an employee must be an agent of its master, and no one person may be simultaneously an agent of two masters with conflicting interests. The persons in question were subject to the union, and the union's interests conflict with those of the targeted non-union employer. The holding below does not thwart Congressional intent."


 

III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Brief of amici curiae urging reversal was filed by Steven R. Shapiro and Alan Hyde for the ACLU. James K. Pease, Jr., argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief for respondent Town & Country Electric, Inc., was Douglas E. Witte. Stephen D. Gordon, Laurence Gold, Laurence J. Cohen, Marsha S. Berzon, Mary Lynne Werlwas, and Scott A. Kronland filed briefs for respondent union.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"A worker may be a company's 'employee,' within the terms of the National Labor Relations Act, even if, at the same time, a union pays that worker to help the union organize the company."

The US Supreme Court vacated and remanded the judgment of the Eighth Circuit.

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • Breyer, S. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the Eighth Circuit's judgment; the Supreme Court vacated and remanded in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.