NLRB v. Amax Coal Co.
Annotate this Case
453 U.S. 322 (1981)
U.S. Supreme Court
NLRB v. Amax Coal Co., 453 U.S. 322 (1981)
National Labor Relations Board v. Amax Coal Co.
Argued April 28, 1981
Decided June 29, 1981
453 U.S. 322
Amax Coal Co. owns several deep-shaft coal mines in the Midwest, with respect to which it is a member of the Bituminous Coal Operators Association (BCOA), a national multiemployer group that bargains with the union representing Amax's employees. Under a collective bargaining contract with the union, Amax, along with other members of the BCOA, agreed to contribute to the union's national pension and welfare trust funds, which were established under § 302(c)(5) of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA). In accord with § 302(c)(5)(B), the trust funds are administered by three trustees, one selected by the union, one by members of the BCOA, and one by the other two. When Amax opened a surface mine in Wyoming, with respect to which it did not join the BCOA, Amax and the union negotiated a separate collective bargaining contract under which Amax contributed specified amounts of money to the national trust funds to benefit the employees at the surface mine. When this contract ended, the union struck the surface mine and others in an attempt to compel the mine owners to establish a multiemployer bargaining unit and to agree to a new contract under which the members of the new employer unit would contribute to the national trust funds. When subsequent separate negotiations between the union and Amax came to an impasse and the strike continued at the surface mine, Amax filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) unfair labor practice charges against the union. Amax claimed that any management-appointed trustee of the § 302(c)(5) trust fund was a collective bargaining "representative" of the employer within the meaning of § 8(b)(1)(B) of the National Labor Relations Act -- which makes it an unfair labor practice for a union "to restrain or coerce . . . an employer in the selection of his representatives for the purposes of collective bargaining or the adjustment of grievances" -- and that, therefore, since the management trustee of the national trust funds had
already been selected by the BCOA, the union's insistence that it participate in the national trust fund with regard to the surface mine employees constituted illegal coercion under § 8(b)(1)(B). The NLRB held that the union had not violated § 8(b)(1)(B). The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that management-appointed trustees of a § 302(c)(5) trust fund act as both fiduciaries of the employee beneficiaries and as agents of the appointing employers, and, insofar as is consistent with their fiduciary obligations, are expected to administer the trusts in such a way as to advance the employer's interests. The court accordingly concluded that the union had violated § 8(b)(1)(B) in exerting its economic power to induce Amax to participate in the national trust funds with respect to the surface mine employees.
Held: Employer-selected trustees of a § 302(c)(5) trust fund are not "representatives" of the employer "for the purposes of collective bargaining or the adjustment of grievances" within the meaning of § 8(b)(1)(B). Pp. 453 U. S. 328-338.
(a) The duty of the management-appointed trustee of a § 302(c)(5) fund is inconsistent with that of an agent of the appointing party. Given the established rule of the law of trusts that a trustee has an unwavering duty of complete loyalty to the beneficiary of a trust, to the exclusion of the interests of all other parties, and the use in § 302(c)(5) of such terms as "held in trust" and "for the sole and exclusive benefit of the employees . . . and their families and dependents," it must be inferred that Congress intended to incorporate the law of trusts, unless it has unequivocally expressed a contrary intent. Nothing in § 302(c)(5)'s language reveals any intent that a trustee should or may administer a trust fund in the interest of the party that appointed him, or that an employer may direct or supervise the decisions of the trustee he has appointed. And the LMRA's legislative history confirms that § 302(c)(5) was designed to reinforce, not to alter, a trustee's established duty. Pp. 453 U. S. 328-332.
(b) Whatever may have been implicit in Congress' view of a trustee of a § 302(c)(5) fund became explicit when Congress enacted the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which essentially codified the strict fiduciary standards that a § 302(c)(5) trustee must meet. And the ERISA's legislative history confirms that Congress intended to prevent such a trustee from being put in a position where he has dual loyalty. Pp. 453 U. S. 332-334.
(c) Section 8(b)(1)(B) was primarily enacted to prevent unions from forcing employers to join multiemployer bargaining units, or to dictate the identity of those who would represent employers in collective bargaining negotiations or settlement of employee grievances. A union's
power to strike or bargain to impasse to induce an employer to contribute to a multiemployer trust fund does not pose the danger Congress thereby sought to prevent. Moreover, union pressure to force an employer to contribute to an established trust fund does not amount to dictating to an employer who shall represent him in collective bargaining and the adjustment of grievances, because the trustees of a § 302(c)(5) trust fund simply do not, as such, engage in these activities. Pp. 453 U. S. 334-338.
614 F.2d 872, reversed and remanded.
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