Respondent is a manufacturer subject to the National Labor
Relations Act. After several of the eight nonunion employees in its
machine shop had complained individually about the coldness of the
shop during the winter, seven of them walked out together on an
extraordinarily cold day, saying that it was "too cold to work."
Respondent discharged them for violating a rule forbidding any
employee to leave without permission of the foreman. The National
Labor Relations Board found that they had acted in concert in
protest against respondent's failure to provide adequate heat in
their place of work, and that their discharge violated § 8(a)(1) of
the Act by interfering with their right under § 7 to act in concert
for mutual aid or protection, and it ordered respondent to
reinstate them with back pay.
the Board correctly interpreted and applied the
Act to the circumstances of this case, and the Court of Appeals
should have enforced its order. Pp. 370 U. S.
(a) These employees did not lose their right under § 7 to engage
in concerted activities merely because they did not present a
specific demand upon their employer to remedy a condition they
found objectionable. Pp. 370 U. S.
(b) The walkout involved here grew out of a "labor dispute"
within the meaning of § 2(a) of the Act. Pp. 370 U. S.
(c) The fact that respondent had an established rule forbidding
employees to leave their work without permission of the foreman was
not justifiable "cause" for their discharge within the meaning of §
10(c). Pp. 370 U. S.
291 F.2d 869 reversed.
Page 370 U. S. 10
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, with Chief Judge
Sobeloff dissenting, refused to enforce an order of the National
Labor Relations Board directing the respondent Washington Aluminum
Company to reinstate and make whole seven employees whom the
company had discharged for leaving their work in the machine shop
without permission on claims that the shop was too cold to work in.
] Because that
decision raises important questions affecting the proper
administration of the National Labor Relations Act, [Footnote 2
] we granted certiorari. [Footnote 3
The Board's order, as shown by the record and its findings,
rested upon these facts and circumstances. The respondent company
is engaged in the fabrication of aluminum products in Baltimore,
Maryland, a business having interstate aspects that subject it to
regulation under the National Labor Relations Act. The machine shop
in which the seven discharged employees worked was not insulated,
and had a number of doors to the outside that had to be opened
frequently. An oil furnace located in an adjoining building was the
chief source of heat for the shop, although there were two
gas-fired space heaters that contributed heat to a lesser extent.
The heat produced
Page 370 U. S. 11
by these units was not always satisfactory, and, even prior to
the day of the walkout involved here, several of the eight
machinists who made up the day shift at the shop had complained
from time to time to the company's foreman "over the cold working
conditions." [Footnote 4
January 5, 1959, was an extraordinarily cold day for Baltimore,
with unusually high winds and a low temperature of 11 degrees
followed by a high of 22. When the employees on the day shift came
to work that morning, they found the shop bitterly cold, due not
only to the unusually harsh weather, but also to the fact that the
large oil furnace had broken down the night before, and had not as
yet been put back into operation. As the workers gathered in the
shop just before the starting hour of 7:30, one of them, a Mr.
Caron, went into the office of Mr. Jarvis, the foreman, hoping to
warm himself but, instead, found the foreman's quarters as
uncomfortable as the rest of the shop. As Caron and Jarvis sat in
Jarvis' office discussing how bitingly cold the building was, some
of the other machinists walked by the office window "huddled"
together in a fashion that caused Jarvis to exclaim that "[i]f
those fellows had any guts at all, they would go home." When the
starting buzzer sounded a few moments later, Caron walked back to
his working place in the shop and found all the other machinists
"huddled there, shaking a little, cold." Caron then said to these
workers, " . . . Dave [Jarvis] told me if we had any guts, we would
go home. . . . I am going home, it is too damned cold to work."
Caron asked the other
Page 370 U. S. 12
workers what they were going to do, and, after some discussion
among themselves, they decided to leave with him. One of these
workers, testifying before the Board, summarized their entire
discussion this way: "And we had all got together and thought it
would be a good idea to go home; maybe we could get some heat
brought into the plant that way." [Footnote 5
] As they started to leave, Jarvis approached
and persuaded one of the workers to remain at the job. But Caron
and the other six workers on the day shift left practically in a
body in a matter of minutes after the 7:30 buzzer.
When the company's general foreman arrived between 7:45 and 8
that morning, Jarvis promptly informed him that all but one of the
employees had left because the shop was too cold. The company's
president came in at approximately 8:20 a.m. and, upon learning of
the walkout, immediately said to the foreman, " . . . if they have
all gone, we are going to terminate them." After discussion "at
great length" between the general foreman and the company president
as to what might be the effect of the walkout on employee
discipline and plant production, the president formalized his
discharge of the workers who had walked out by giving orders at 9
a.m. that the affected workers should be notified about their
discharge immediately, either by telephone, telegram or personally.
This was done.
On these facts, the Board found that the conduct of the workers
was a concerted activity to protest the company's failure to supply
adequate heat in its machine shop, that such conduct is protected
under the provision of § 7 of the National Labor Relations Act,
which guarantees that "Employees shall have the right . . . to
engage in . . . concerted activities for the purpose of
Page 370 U. S. 13
bargaining or other mutual aid or protection," [Footnote 6
] and that the discharge of these
workers by the company amounted to an unfair labor practice under §
8(a)(1) of the Act, which forbids employers "to interfere with,
restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights
guaranteed in section 7." [Footnote
] Acting under the authority of § 10(c) of the Act, which
provides that, when an employer has been guilty of an unfair labor
practice, the Board can "take such affirmative action including
reinstatement of employees with or without back pay, as will
effectuate the policies of this Act," [Footnote 8
] the Board then ordered the company to
reinstate the discharged workers to their previous positions and to
make them whole for losses resulting from what the Board found to
have been the unlawful termination of their employment.
In denying enforcement of this order, the majority of the Court
of Appeals took the position that, because the workers simply
"summarily left their place of employment" without affording the
company an "opportunity to avoid the work stoppage by granting a
concession to a demand," their walkout did not amount to a
concerted activity protected by § 7 of the Act. [Footnote 9
] On this basis, they
Page 370 U. S. 14
held that there was no justification for the conduct of the
workers in violating the established rules of the plant by leaving
their jobs without permission, and that the Board had therefore
exceeded its power in issuing the order involved here because §
10(c) declares that the Board shall not require reinstatement or
back pay for an employee whom an employer has suspended or
discharged "for cause." [Footnote 10
We cannot agree that employees necessarily lose their right to
engage in concerted activities under § 7 merely because they do not
present a specific demand upon their employer to remedy a condition
they find objectionable. The language of § 7 is broad enough to
protect concerted activities whether they take place before, after,
or at the same time such a demand is made. To compel the Board to
interpret and apply that language in the restricted fashion
suggested by the respondent here would only tend to frustrate the
policy of the Act to protect the right of workers to act together
to better their working conditions. Indeed, as indicated by this
very case, such an interpretation of § 7 might place burdens upon
employees so great that it would effectively nullify the right to
engage in concerted activities which that section protects. The
seven employees here were part of a small group of employees who
were wholly unorganized. They had no bargaining representative and,
in fact, no representative of any kind to present their grievances
to their employer. Under these circumstances, they had to speak for
themselves as best they could. As pointed out above, prior to the
day they left the shop, several of them had repeatedly complained
to company officials about the cold working
Page 370 U. S. 15
conditions in the shop. These had been more or less spontaneous
individual pleas, unsupported by any threat of concerted protest,
to which the company apparently gave little consideration and which
it now says the Board should have treated as nothing more than "the
same sort of gripes as the gripes made about the heat in the
summertime." The bitter cold of January 5, however, finally brought
these workers' individual complaints into concert so that some more
effective action could be considered. Having no bargaining
representative and no established procedure by which they could
take full advantage of their unanimity of opinion in negotiations
with the company, the men took the most direct course to let the
company know that they wanted a warmer place in which to work. So,
after talking among themselves, they walked out together in the
hope that this action might spotlight their complaint and bring
about some improvement in what they considered to be the
"miserable" conditions of their employment. This we think was
enough to justify the Board's holding that they were not required
to make any more specific demand than they did to be entitled to
the protection of § 7.
Although the company contends to the contrary, we think that the
walkout involved here did grow out of a "labor dispute" within the
plain meaning of the definition of that term in § 2(9) of the Act,
which declares that it includes "any controversy concerning terms,
tenure or conditions of employment.
. . ." [Footnote 11
] The findings of the Board,
which are supported by substantial evidence and which were not
disturbed below, show a running dispute between the machine shop
employees and the company over the heating of the shop of cold days
-- a dispute which culminated in the decision of the
Page 370 U. S. 16
employees to act concertedly in an effort to force the company
to improve that condition of their employment. The fact that the
company was already making every effort to repair the furnace and
bring heat into the shop that morning does not change the nature of
the controversy that caused the walkout. At the very most, that
fact might tend to indicate that the conduct of the men in leaving
was unnecessary and unwise, and it has long been settled that the
reasonableness of workers' decisions to engage in concerted
activity is irrelevant to the determination of whether a labor
dispute exists or not. [Footnote
] Moreover, the evidence here shows that the conduct of these
workers was far from unjustified under the circumstances. The
company's own foreman expressed the opinion that the shop was so
cold that the men should go home. This statement by the foreman but
emphasizes the obvious -- that is, that the conditions of coldness
about which complaint had been made before had been so aggravated
on the day of the walkout that the concerted action of the men in
leaving their jobs seemed like a perfectly natural and reasonable
thing to do.
Nor can we accept the company's contention that, because it
admittedly had an established plant rule which forbade employees to
leave their work without permission of the foreman, there was
justifiable "cause" for discharging these employees, wholly
separate and apart from any concerted activities in which they
engaged in protest against the poorly heated plant. Section 10(c)
of the Act does authorize an employer to discharge employees for
"cause," and our cases have long recognized this right
Page 370 U. S. 17
on the part of an employer. [Footnote 13
] But this, of course, cannot mean that an
employer is at liberty to punish a man by discharging him for
engaging in concerted activities which § 7 of the Act protects. And
the plant rule in question here purports to permit the company to
do just that, for it would prohibit even the most plainly protected
kinds of concerted work stoppages until and unless the permission
of the company's foreman was obtained.
It is, of course, true that § 7 does not protect all concerted
activities, but that aspect of the section is not involved in this
case. The activities engaged in here do not fall within the normal
categories of unprotected concerted activities such as those that
are unlawful, [Footnote 14
violent, [Footnote 15
] or in
breach of contract. [Footnote
] Nor can they be brought under this Court's more recent
pronouncement which denied the protection of § 7 to activities
characterized as "indefensible" because they were there found to
show a disloyalty to the workers' employer which this Court deemed
unnecessary to carry on the workers' legitimate concerted
activities. [Footnote 17
The activities of these seven employees cannot be classified as
"indefensible" by any recognized standard of conduct. Indeed,
concerted activities by employees for the purpose of trying to
protect themselves from working conditions as uncomfortable as the
testimony and Board findings showed them to be in this case are
unquestionably activities to correct conditions which modern
labor-management legislation treats as too bad to have to be
tolerated in a humane and civilized society like ours.
Page 370 U. S. 18
We hold therefore that the Board correctly interpreted and
applied the Act to the circumstances of this case and it was error
for the Court of Appeals to refuse to enforce its order. The
judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the cause is
remanded to that court with directions to enforce the order in its
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER and MR. JUSTICE WHITE took no part in
the consideration or decision of this case.
291 F.2d 869. The Court of Appeals also refused to enforce
another Board order requiring the respondent company to bargain
collectively with the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding
Workers of America, AFL-CIO, as the certified bargaining
representative of its employees. Since the Union's status as
majority bargaining representative turns on the ballots cast in the
Board election by four of the seven discharged employees, the
enforceability of that order depends upon the validity of the
discharges being challenged in the principal part of the case. Our
decision on the discharge question will therefore also govern the
refusal to bargain issue.
49 Stat. 449, as amended, 61 Stat. 136, 29 U.S.C. § 151 et
368 U.S. 924.
The Board made a specific finding on this issue:
"We rely, inter alia,
upon . . . the credited testimony
of employees Heinlein, Caron, and George as to previous complaints
made to the Respondent's foremen over the cold working conditions,
and to the effect that the men left on the morning of January 5 in
protest of the coldness at the plant. . . ."
126 N.L.R.B. 1410, 1411.
The Trial Examiner expressly credited this testimony, and the
Board expressly relied upon it. 126 N.L.R.B. at 1411.
49 Stat. 452, as amended, 61 Stat. 140, 29 U.S.C. § 157. Section
7 in full is as follows:
"Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form,
join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively
through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in
other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining
or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to
refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent
that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring
membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment as
authorized in section 8(a)(3)."
49 Stat. 452, as amended, 61 Stat. 140, 29 U.S.C. §
49 Stat. 453-454, as amended, 61 Stat. 146-147, 29 U.S.C. §
291 F.2d at 877.
"No order of the Board shall require the reinstatement of any
individual as an employee who has been suspended or discharged, or
the payment to him of any back pay, if such individual was
suspended or discharged for cause."
49 Stat. 453-454, as amended, 61 Stat. 146-147, 29 U.S.C. §
49 Stat. 450, as amended, 61 Stat. 137-138, 29 U.S.C. § 152(9).
"The wisdom or unwisdom of the men, their justification or lack
of it, in attributing to respondent an unreasonable or arbitrary
attitude in connection with the negotiations cannot determine
whether, when they struck, they did so as a consequence of or in
connection with, a current labor dispute."
Labor Board v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co.,
304 U. S. 333
304 U. S.
See, e.g. Labor Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel
Corp., 301 U. S. 1
301 U. S. 45
Southern Steamship Co. v. Labor Board, 316 U. S.
Labor Board v. Fansteel Metallurgical Corp.,
306 U. S. 240
Labor Board v. Sands Manufacturing Co., 306 U.
Labor Board v. Local Union No. 1229, International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 346 U.
, 346 U. S.