Beth Israel Hosp. v. NLRB
Annotate this Case
437 U.S. 483 (1978)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Beth Israel Hosp. v. NLRB, 437 U.S. 483 (1978)
Beth Israel Hospital v. National Labor Relations Board
Argued April 24 1978
Decided June 22, 1978
437 U.S. 483
Petitioner nonprofit hospital had a written rule that prohibited employees from soliciting and distributing literature except in certain employee locker rooms and certain adjacent restrooms. The cafeteria was the common gathering place of employees, and had been used by petitioner or with its approval for solicitation and distribution of literature to employees for various nonunion purposes. After an employee had made general distribution in the cafeteria to other employees of a union newsletter and had been warned that she had violated the hospital's rule, and would be dismissed if she did so again, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), following a charge by the union, issued an unfair labor practice complaint against petitioner. The NLRB applied to petitioner the rule that it had adopted in St. John's Hospital & School of Nursing, Inc., 222 N.L.R.B. 1150, that, since "the primary function of a hospital is patient care," and "a tranquil atmosphere is essential to the carrying out of that function," a hospital may be warranted in imposing more stringent restrictions on employee solicitation and distribution in immediate patient care areas than are generally permitted other employers, but the balance should be struck against such restrictions in other areas such as lounges and cafeterias, absent a showing of disruption to patients. The NLRB held that petitioner's ban violated § 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (Act), which, by amendments to the Act in 1974, was made applicable to employees of nonprofit health care institutions, and that the disciplining of employees for not observing the prohibition violated § 8(a)(3). The NLRB ordered petitioner to cease and desist from interfering with "concerted union activities" and employees' § 7 rights, and to rescind its written rule. The Court of Appeals accepted as settled law that restrictions on employee solicitation and distribution during nonworking hours are presumptively invalid absent special circumstances, and that, here, petitioner had not satisfied its burden of justifying the ban on protected activities in the eating areas. While narrowing the scope of the remedies ordered by the NLRB, the court upheld the NLRB's action rescinding that part of petitioner's rule applicable to those areas.
Held: The Court of Appeals
did not err in enforcing the NLRB's order to petitioner to rescind its rule as applied to the hospital's eating facilities. Pp. 437 U. S. 491-508.
(a) Freedom of employees effectively to communicate with one another regarding self-organization on the jobsite is essential to their right to self-organize and to bargain collectively established by § 7 of the Act, Republic Aviation Corp. v. NLRB, 324 U. S. 793, and, in the light of its experience, the NLRB is free to adopt a rule that, absent special circumstances, an employer's restriction on employee solicitation during nonworking time and distribution during such time in nonworking areas is presumptively an unreasonable interference with § 7 rights constituting an unfair labor practice under § 8(a)(1), without the necessity of proving the underlying generic facts that persuaded it to reach that conclusion. Pp. 437 U. S. 491-493.
(b) Nothing in the legislative history of the 1974 amendments shows a congressional policy inconsistent with the NLRB's approach to enforcement of § 7 organizational rights in the hospital context. Pp. 437 U. S. 496-500.
(c) The NLRB, by those amendments, is responsible for administering the federal national labor relations policy in the health care industry. Though the NLRB is no more an expert in that industry than it is in other enterprises within its jurisdiction, it is the NLRB's function to strike the balance in all areas within its jurisdiction between conflicting legitimate interests in order to effectuate the national labor policy. Hence, petitioner's argument that the NLRB lacks expertise to make judgments involving hospitals, and that the principle of limited judicial review should not apply in that area, is without merit. Pp. 437 U. S. 500-501.
(d) The NLRB's conclusion that "the possibility of any disruption in patient care resulting from solicitation or distribution of literature is remote" as applied to petitioner's cafeteria is rational and fully supported by the record, as indicated by much cogent evidence, including the facts that only 1.56% of the cafeteria's patrons are patients and that petitioner itself permitted nonunion solicitation and distribution in the cafeteria. Moreover, petitioner introduced no evidence of untoward effects on patients during the period when the rules permitted limited union solicitation in the cafeteria. Pp. 437 U. S. 501-505.
(e) Contrary to petitioner's argument, it is not irrational for the NLRB to uphold, as it has, a ban against solicitation in the dining area of a public restaurant, where such solicitation tends to upset patrons, while prohibiting a ban on such activity in a hospital cafeteria like petitioner's, 77% of whose patrons are employees, absent evidence that nonemployee patrons would be upset. That argument fails to consider that the NLRB's position struck the appropriate balance between organizational
and employer rights in the particular industry to which each solicitation rule applied. Pp. 437 U. S. 505-507.
554 F.2d 477, affirmed.
BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 437 U. S. 508, and POWELL, J., post, p. 437 U. S. 509, filed opinions concurring in the judgment, in which BURGER, C.J. and REHNQUIST, J., joined.