NLRB v. Bell Aerospace Co.
416 U.S. 267 (1974)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

NLRB v. Bell Aerospace Co., 416 U.S. 267 (1974)

National Labor Relations Board v. Bell Aerospace Company

No. 72-1598

Argued January 14, 1974

Decided April 23, 1974

416 U.S. 267

Syllabus

On a petition by a labor union for a representation election, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that the buyers employed by respondent company constituted an appropriate collective bargaining unit and directed an election. The NLRB stated that, even though the buyers might be "managerial employees," they were nevertheless covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in the absence of any showing that union organization of the buyers would create a conflict of interest in labor relations. Subsequently, the buyers voted for the union, and the NLRB certified it as their exclusive bargaining representative. The company refused to bargain, however, and was found guilty of an unfair labor practice and ordered to bargain. The Court of Appeals denied enforcement on the grounds that (1) it was not certain that the NLRB's decision rested on a factual determination that the buyers were not true "managerial employees", rather than on a new, and, in the court's view, erroneous, holding that the NLRB was free to regard all managerial employees as covered by the Act unless their duties met the conflict of interest touchstone, and (2) in view of its previous contrary decisions, the NLRB was required to proceed by rulemaking, rather than by adjudication in determining whether buyers are "managerial employees."

Held:

1. Congress intended to exclude from the protections of the NLRA all employees properly classified as "managerial," not just those in positions susceptible to conflicts of interest in labor relations. This is unmistakably indicated by the NLRB's early decisions, the purpose and legislative history of the Taft-Hartley amendments to the NLRA in 1947, the NLRB's subsequent construction of the Act for more than two decades, and the decisions of the courts of appeals. Pp. 416 U. S. 274-290.

2. The NLRB is not required to proceed by rulemaking, rather

Page 416 U. S. 268

than by adjudication, in determining whether buyers or some types of buyers are "managerial employees." Pp. 416 U. S. 290-295.

(a) The NLRB is not precluded from announcing new principles in an adjudicative proceeding, and the choice between rulemaking and adjudication initially lies within the NLRB's discretion. SEC v. Chenery Corp.,332 U. S. 194; NLRB v. Wyman-Gordon Co.,394 U. S. 759. P. 416 U. S. 294.

(b) In view of the large number of buyers employed in manufacturing, wholesale, and retail units, and the wide variety of buyers' duties, depending on the company or industry, any generalized standard would have no more than marginal utility, and the NLRB thus has reason to proceed with caution, and develop its standards in a case-by-case manner with attention to the specific character of the buyers' authority and duties in each company. P. 416 U. S. 294.

475 F.2d 485, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and DOUGLAS, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 416 U. S. 295.

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