Labor Board v. Cabot Carbon Co.
360 U.S. 203 (1959)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Labor Board v. Cabot Carbon Co., 360 U.S. 203 (1959)

National Labor Relations Board v. Cabot Carbon Co.,

No. 329

Argued March 24, 1959

Decided June 8, 1959

360 U.S. 203

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondents organized an "employee committee" at each of their numerous plants for the stated purposes of meeting regularly with management to consider and discuss problems of mutual interest, including grievances, and of handling grievances at nonunion plants and departments. In practice, such committees also made proposals and requests respecting such matters as seniority, job classification, job bidding, working schedules, holidays, vacations, sick leave, a merit system, wage corrections, and improvement of working conditions and facilities. A "central committee" consisting of the chairmen of the several plant committees also met annually at the head office with respondents' Director of Industrial Relations and made proposals and requests with respect to matters covering nearly the whole scope of the employment relationship which are commonly considered and dealt with in collective bargaining. After appropriate administrative proceedings, the National Labor Relations Board found that both the "employee committees" and the "central committee" were "labor organizations" within the meaning of § 2(5) of the National Labor Relations Act, and that respondents had dominated, interfered with, and supported them in violation of § 8(a)(2), and it issued an appropriate cease and desist order.

Held: the order is sustained. Pp. 360 U. S. 204-218.

1. Such committees are "labor organizations" within the meaning of § 2(5) of the Act. Pp. 360 U. S. 210-218.

(a) Since such committees exist, in part at least, for the purpose of "dealing with employers concerning grievances . . . or conditions of work," they are not excluded from the definition of "labor organizations" in § 2(5) simply because they do not "bargain with" employers in the usual concept of collective bargaining. Pp. 360 U. S. 210-213.

(b) Consideration of the declared purposes and actual functions of these committees shows that they existed for the purpose, in part at least, of "dealing with employers concerning grievances,

Page 360 U. S. 204

labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of work, or conditions of work," and that, therefore, they are "labor organizations" within the meaning of § 2(5). Pp. 360 U. S. 213-215.

(c) There is nothing in the 1947 amendment of § 9(a) or its legislative history to indicate that Congress thereby eliminated, or intended to eliminate, such employee committees from the term "labor organization" as defined in § 2(5) and used in § 8(a)(2), or that authorizes an employer to engage in "dealing with" an employer-dominated "labor organization" as the representative of his employees concerning their grievances. Pp. 360 U. S. 215-218.

2. Since the Board's order does not forbid employers and employees from discussing matters of mutual interest concerning the employment relationship, but merely precludes the employers from dominating, interfering with or supporting the employee committees, it does not abridge freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment. P. 360 U. S. 218.

256 F.2d 281 reversed.

MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question for decision in this case is whether "Employee Committees" established and supported by respondents at each of their several plants for the stated purposes of meeting regularly with management to consider and discuss problems of mutual interest, including grievances, and of handling "grievances at nonunion plants and departments," are, in the light of their declared purposes and actual practices, "labor organizations"

Page 360 U. S. 205

within the meaning of § 2(5) of the National Labor Relations Act. [Footnote 1]

Respondents are affiliated corporations under the same general management, and maintain their principal office at Pampa, Texas. They are, and for many years have been, engaged in operating a number of plants, principally in Texas and Louisiana, primarily for the purposes of manufacturing and selling carbon black and oil field equipment. Pursuant to a suggestion of the War Production Board in 1943, respondents decided to establish an Employee Committee at each of their plants. To that end, respondents prepared, in collaboration with employee representatives from their several plants, a set of bylaws, stating the purposes, duties and functions of the proposed Employee Committees, for transmittal to and adoption by the employees in establishing such Committees. The bylaws were adopted by a majority of employees at each plant and by respondents, and, thus, the Employee Committees were established. Those bylaws, and certain related company rules, were later published by respondents in a company manual called "The Guide," and are still in effect.

In essence, the bylaws state: that the purpose of the Committees is to provide a procedure for considering employees' ideas and problems of mutual interest to employees and management; [Footnote 2] that each plant Committee

Page 360 U. S. 206

shall consist of a stated number of employees (ranging from 2 to 3) whose terms shall be one year, and that retiring members, with the help of plant clerks, will conduct the nomination and election of their successors; that each plant Committee shall meet with the plant management at regular monthly meetings and at all special meetings called by management, shall assist the plant management in solving problems of mutual interest, and that time so spent will be considered time worked; and that

"It shall be the Committee's responsibility to: . . . Handle grievances at nonunion plants and departments according to procedure set up for these plants and departments. [Footnote 3]"

After a hearing, the trial examiner issued his intermediate report containing detailed findings of fact. The relevant findings, mainly based on undisputed evidence, may be summarized as follows: the Committees' bylaws were prepared and adopted in the manner, and contain the provisions, above stated. During the period here involved (from May, 1954, to the date of the hearing before the Board in June, 1956), the Employee Committees, in addition to considering and discussing with respondents' plant officials problems of the nature covered by the bylaws, made and discussed proposals and requests respecting many other aspects of the employee relationship, including seniority, job classifications, job bidding, makeup time, overtime records, time cards, a merit system, wage corrections, working schedules, holidays, vacations, sick leave, and improvement of working facilities and conditions. Respondents' plant officials participated in those discussions, and, in some instances, granted the Committees'

Page 360 U. S. 208

requests. [Footnote 5] Although not provided for in the bylaws, a "Central Committee," consisting of the chairmen of the several plant Committees, met annually with respondents' Director of Industrial Relations in Pampa, Texas, where, during the 1955 and 1956 meetings, the Central Committee made proposals and requests with respect to many matters covering nearly the whole scope of the employment relationship. [Footnote 6] The Director of Industrial Relations discussed those proposals and requests, their feasibility and economic consequences from respondents' point of view, and sought to reach some solution. In some instances, he expressed approval of requests or promised to see what could be done toward meeting them; in other instances, he suggested that the matter be taken up with local management; and in still other instances, he rejected the proposals and requests and explained his reasons for doing so.

Page 360 U. S. 209

The trial examiner also found that the Employee Committees have no membership requirements, collect no dues, and have no funds; that plant clerks assist the Committees in conducting their elections and do all of their clerical work; and that respondents pay all of the necessary expenses of the Committees. None of the Committees has ever attempted to negotiate a collective bargaining contract with respondents. From time to time, the Board has certified independent labor organizations as the exclusive bargaining agents for certain bargaining units of employees in approximately one-third of respondents' plants, and, as such agents for those bargaining units, the respective certified labor organizations have entered into collective bargaining contracts with respondents which, as they may have been amended, are still in effect. Since the respective dates of those collective bargaining contracts, the certified labor organizations and the Employee Committees have coexisted in those plants, but the functions of those Employee Committees have generally been reduced to plant efficiency, production promotion, and the handling of grievances for employees who are not included in the bargaining units.

"as the representative of any of [their] employees for the purpose of dealing with Respondents concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work."

The Board adopted the findings, conclusions and recommendations

Page 360 U. S. 210

of the trial examiner and entered its order accordingly. 117 N.L.R.B. 1633.

We turn first to the Court of Appeals' holding that an employee committee which does not "bargain with" employers in "the usual concept of collective bargaining" does not engage in "dealing with" employers, and is therefore not a "labor organization" within the meaning of § 2(5). Our study of the matter has convinced us that there is nothing in the plain words of § 2(5), in its legislative history, or in the decisions construing it, that supports that conclusion.

Section 2(5) includes in its definition of "labor organization" any

"employee representation committee or plan . . . which exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances,

Page 360 U. S. 211

labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work. [Footnote 7]"

(Emphasis added.) Certainly nothing in that section indicates that the broad term "dealing with" is to be read as synonymous with the more limited term "bargaining with." See e.g., Labor Board v. Jas. H. Matthews & Co., 156 F.2d 706, 708, and Indiana Metal Products Corp. v. Labor Board, 202 F.2d 613, 620-621. The legislative history of § 2(5) strongly confirms that Congress did not understand or intend those terms to be synonymous. When the original print of the 1935 Wagner bill (S.1958) was being considered in the Senate, the then Secretary of Labor proposed an amendment to § 2(5) which, if adopted, would have given that section the meaning now ascribed to it by the Court of Appeals. The proposal was that the term "bargaining collectively" be substituted for the term "dealing." [Footnote 8] But the proposal was not adopted. [Footnote 9] It is therefore quite clear that Congress, by adopting the broad term "dealing" and rejecting the more limited term "bargaining collectively," did not intend that the broad term "dealing with" should be limited to and mean only "bargaining with" as held by

Page 360 U. S. 212

the Court of Appeals. [Footnote 10] Construing § 2(5) of the original Wagner Act, the Courts of Appeals uniformly held that employee committees or plans, under whatever name called, that functioned similarly to those here, were "labor organizations" as defined in that statute. [Footnote 11] With full knowledge of the terms of § 2(5) of the original Wagner Act, [Footnote 12] and of its legislative history and judicial interpretation, Congress, in the Taft-Hartley Act, reenacted the section without change. [Footnote 13] Since that time, as before, the several Courts of Appeals have uniformly held that employee committees or plans, functioning similarly to those here, were "labor organizations" within the definition of § 2(5). [Footnote 14]

The Court of Appeals was therefore in error in holding that company-dominated Employee Committees, which exist for the purpose, in part at least (256 F.2d 285), "of dealing with employers concerning grievances . . . or conditions of

Page 360 U. S. 213

work," are not "labor organizations," within the meaning of § 2(5), simply because they do not "bargain with" employers in "the usual concept of collective bargaining." (Emphasis added.)

Consideration of the declared purposes and actual functions of these Committees shows that they existed for the purpose, in part at least, "of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work." It cannot be, and is not, disputed that, by the terms of the bylaws, which were accepted both by the employees and by respondents, the Employee Committees undertook the "responsibility to," and did,

"[h]andle grievances [with respondents on behalf of employees] at nonunion plants and departments according to grievance procedure set up [by respondents] for these plants and departments"

In 1947, the House passed H.R. 3020, known as the "Hartley Bill," which, among other things, proposed a new section, to be designated 8(d)(3), providing:

"(d) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the following shall not constitute or be evidence of an unfair labor practice under any of the provisions of this Act:"

"* * * *"

"(3) Forming or maintaining by an employer of a committee of employees and discussing with it matters of mutual interest, including grievances, wages, hours of employment, and other working conditions, if the Board has not certified or the employer has not recognized a representative as their representative under section 9. [Footnote 16]"

The Senate amended H.R. 3020 by substituting its own bill, S. 1126, known as the "Taft Bill." [Footnote 17] The Senate bill contained no provision corresponding to the new § 8(d)(3) proposed by the House, but it did propose an amendment to § 9(a) of the original Wagner Act (49 Stat. 453) by adding to the proviso of that section which read:

"Provided, That any individual employee or a group of employees shall have the right at any time to present grievances to their employer"

the words

"and to have such grievances adjusted, without the intervention of the bargaining representative, as long

Page 360 U. S. 216

as the adjustment is not inconsistent with the terms of a collective bargaining contract or agreement then in effect: Provided further, That the bargaining representative has been given opportunity to be present at such adjustment. [Footnote 18]"

Thereupon, the Senate requested a conference. [Footnote 19] The conferees later reported a new measure, taken partly from the House bill and partly from the Senate bill and containing some entirely new provisions. [Footnote 20] That bill, as finally agreed upon by the conferees, did not contain the House's proposed new § 8(d)(3) or any similar language, but it did contain the Senate's proposed amendment to § 9(a).

In reporting to the House, the House conferees stated with respect to the elimination of its proposed new § 8(d)(3) that:

"Section 8(d)(3) . . . in the House bill provided that nothing in the act was to be construed as prohibiting an employer from forming or maintaining a committee of employees and discussing with it matters of mutual interest, if the employees did not have a bargaining representative. This provision is omitted from the conference agreement, since the act, by its terms, permits individual employees and groups of employees to meet with the employer and section 9(a) of the conference agreement permits employers to answer their grievances. [Footnote 21] "

Page 360 U. S. 217

The bill so agreed upon by the conferees was passed by both Houses, and eventually became the law. [Footnote 22]

Notwithstanding the fact that Congress rejected the House proposal of a new section, to be designated § 8(d)(3), which, if adopted, would have permitted an employer to form or maintain a committee of employees and to discuss with it matters of mutual interest, including grievances, wages, hours of employment, and other working conditions, if there was no employee representative, respondents contend that Congress intended to accomplish the same purposes by its amendment to § 9(a), and that, in consequence, an employer whose employees have no bargaining representative may now legally form or maintain a committee of employees and discuss with it the matters referred to in the proposed § 8(d) (3) advocated by the House.

This argument treats the amendment to § 9(a) as though Congress had adopted, rather than rejected as it did, the proposed § 8(d)(3) advocated by the House. And it overlooks the facts that the House Conference Report itself declared that "[t]he conference agreement does not make any change" in the definition of "labor organization," [Footnote 23] and that, as pointed out by Senator Taft, the conferees specifically rejected all attempts to "amend . . . the provisions in subsection 8(2) [of the original Wagner Act] relating to company-dominated unions," and had left its prohibitions "unchanged." [Footnote 24] The amendment to § 9(a) does not say that an employer may form or maintain an employee committee for the purpose of "dealing with" the employer, on behalf of employees, concerning grievances. On the contrary the amendment to § 9(a) simply provides, in substance, that

Page 360 U. S. 218

any individual employee or group of employees shall have the right personally to present their own grievances to their employer, and to have such grievances adjusted, without the intervention of any bargaining representative, as long as the adjustment is not inconsistent with the terms of any collective bargaining contract then in effect, provided that the bargaining representative, if there is one, has been given an opportunity to be present. It is thus evident that there is nothing in the amendment of § 9(a) that authorizes an employer to engage in "dealing with" an employer-dominated "labor organization" as the representative of his employees concerning their grievances.

We therefore conclude that there is nothing in the amendment of § 9(a), or in its legislative history, to indicate that Congress thereby eliminated or intended to eliminate such employee committees from the term "labor organization" as defined in § 2(5) and used in § 8(a)(2).

Respondents argue that to hold these employee committees to be labor organizations would prevent employers and employees from discussing matters of mutual interest concerning the employment relationship, and would thus abridge freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. But the Board's order does not impose any such bar; it merely precludes the employers from dominating, interfering with, or supporting such employee committees which Congress has defined to be labor organizations.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the cause is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.

[Footnote 1]

Section 2(5) of the National Labor Relations Act, 61 Stat. 138, 29 U.S.C. § 152(5):

"The term 'labor organization' means any organization of any kind, or any agency or employee representation committee or plan, in which employees participate and which exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work."

[Footnote 2]

Examples of the problems of mutual interest to employees and management to be considered at the Committee-Management meetings were stated in the bylaws to be, but were not limited to, safety; increased efficiency and production; conservation of supplies, materials, and equipment; encouragement of ingenuity and initiative; and grievances at nonunion plants or departments.

[Footnote 3]

As published in The Guide the established grievance procedure applicable to nonunion plants and departments provides, in summary, that in handling an employee's grievance it shall be the Committee's duty to consult with the Foreman, the Assistant Plant Superintendent and the Plant Superintendent, and consider all the facts. If, after having done so, the Committee believes that the employee has a just grievance it shall prepare in writing a formal statement of its supporting reasons and present it to the Plant Superintendent, who shall send copies of it, attaching his own report and recommendations, to the District Superintendent, the department head and Industrial Relations Department of the company. Within five days after receipt of such grievance, the District Superintendent or the department head, or both, shall meet with the Committee and plant management and discuss the problem and announce their decision. If the Committee still feels that the grievance has not been fairly settled, it may appeal to the General Manager, who, within five days, shall meet with the Committee and plant management and announce his decision.

[Footnote 4]

Section 8(a)(2) of the Act, 61 Stat. 140, 29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(2), provides:

"(a) It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employe --"

"* * * *"

"(2) to dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it; Provided, That subject to rules and regulations made and published by the Board pursuant to section 6, an employer shall not be prohibited from permitting employees to confer with him during working hours without loss of time or pay. . . ."

(Emphasis added.)

[Footnote 5]

Among other things, respondents' plant officials agreed to Employee Committee requests to change from a company to a plant seniority system in several plants where employees desired the change; to provide longer notice periods concerning jobs up for bid; to permit employees to report early and leave early on week ends; to establish an annual basis for allocating overtime; and to install vents in the roofs of warehouses.

[Footnote 6]

The subjects discussed by the Central Committee with respondents' Director of Industrial Relations at those meetings included Committee proposals and requests for: a vacation of 3 weeks for employees with 10 years' service; annual sick leave; a disability benefit plan; amendments in the practice of working on holidays; the establishment and financing by respondents of an employee educational program; the granting of leaves of absence to employees wishing to attend college; the furnishing to certain employees of work clothing; a change in policy to permit shiftmen to make up work days lost; the creation of more job classifications, with resulting higher wages; more opportunities for employees to transfer from one plant or department to another; payment of wages to employees while attending National Guard camps; making the working day of shiftworkers the same as that of the gangs with which they work; and a general wage increase.

[Footnote 7]

"The term 'labor organization' is phrased very broadly in order that the independence of action guaranteed by section 7 . . . and protected by section 8 shall extend to all organizations of employees that deal with employers in regard to 'grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, or conditions of work.' This definition includes employee representation committees and plans in order that the employers' activities in connection therewith shall be equally subject to the application of section 8."

S.Rep. No. 573, 74th Cong., 1st Sess. 7, reprinted in 2 Legislative History of the National Labor Relations Act, 1935, p. 2306. (The latter publication will hereafter be cited, for example, as 2 Leg.Hist. (1935) 2306.)

[Footnote 8]

Hearings before Senate Committee on Education and Labor on S.1958, 74th Cong., 1st Sess. 66-67, reprinted in 1 Leg.Hist. (1935) 1442-1443.

[Footnote 9]

S.1958 (2d print), 74th Cong., 1st Sess. 4, reprinted in 2 Leg.Hist. (1935) 2287.

[Footnote 10]

See comparison of S. 2926 (73d Cong.) and S. 1958 (74th Cong.), pp. 1, 22-23, reprinted in 1 Leg.Hist. (1935) 1320, 1347.

[Footnote 11]

Labor Board v. American Furnace Co., 158 F.2d 376, 378; Labor Board v. Jas. H. Matthews & Co., 156 F.2d 706, 707-708; Labor Board v. C. Nelson Mfg. Co., 120 F.2d 444, 445. Compare Labor Board v. Pennsylvania Greyhound Lines,303 U. S. 261, 303 U. S. 268-269; Labor Board v. Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co.,308 U. S. 241, 308 U. S. 246-248.

[Footnote 12]

49 Stat. 450.

[Footnote 13]

61 Stat. 138, 29 U.S.C. § 152(5).

[Footnote 14]

Pacemaker Corp. v. Labor Board, 260 F.2d 880, 883 (where the Seventh Circuit expressly disagreed with the ruling below); Labor Board v. Standard Coil Products Co., 224 F.2d 465, 467-468; Labor Board v. Stow Mfg. Co., 217 F.2d 900, 903-904; Labor Board v. Sharples Chemicals, Inc., 209 F.2d 645, 651 652; Indiana Metal Products Corp. v. NLRB, 202 F.2d 613, 621; Harrison Sheet Steel Co. v. Labor Board, 194 F.2d 407, 410; Labor Board v. General Shoe Corp., 192 F.2d 504, 507. But see Labor Board v. Associated Machines, 219 F.2d 433.

[Footnote 15]

In Labor Board v. Jas. H. Matthews & Co., the court said:

"Respondent says that this Junior Board did not deal, it only recommended, and that final decision was with management. Final decision is always with management, although, when a claim is made by a well organized, good sized union, management is doubtless more strongly influenced in its decision than it would be by a recommendation of a board which it, itself, has selected, and which has been provided with no fighting arms."

156 F.2d at 708.

[Footnote 16]

H.R. 3020, 80th Cong., 1st Sess. 26, reprinted in 1 Leg.Hist. (1947) 183.

[Footnote 17]

S. 1126, 80th Cong., 1st Sess., reprinted in 1 Leg.Hist. (1947) 99.

[Footnote 18]

H.R. 3020, as amended by the Senate, 80th Cong., 1st Sess. 86, reprinted in 1 Leg.Hist. (1947) 244; now 61 Stat. 143, 29 U.S.C. § 159(a).

[Footnote 19]

93 Cong.Rec. 5298, reprinted in 2 Leg.Hist. (1947) 1522.

[Footnote 20]

H.R.Conf.Rep. No. 510, 80th Cong., 1st Sess., reprinted in 1 Leg.Hist. (1947) 505.

[Footnote 21]

H.R.Conf.Rep. No. 510, 80th Cong., 1st Sess. 45, reprinted in 1 Leg.Hist. (1947) 549.

[Footnote 22]

61 Stat. 136 et seq., 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.

[Footnote 23]

H.R.Conf.Rep. No. 510, 80th Cong., 1st Sess. 33, 1 Leg.Hist. (1947) 537.

[Footnote 24]

93 Cong.Rec. 6600, reprinted in 2 Leg.Hist. (1947) 1539.

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