Lechmere, Inc. v. NLRB
Annotate this Case
502 U.S. 527 (1992)
OCTOBER TERM, 1991
LECHMERE, INC. v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT
No. 90-970. Argued November 12, 1991-Decided January 27, 1992
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) guarantees employees "the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations," § 7, and makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer "to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees" in the exercise of their § 7 rights, § 8(a)(1). Petitioner Lechmere, Inc., owns and operates a retail store located in a shopping plaza in a large metropolitan area. Lechmere is also part owner of the plaza's parking lot, which is separated from a public highway by a 46-foot-wide grassy strip, almost all of which is public property. In a campaign to organize Lechmere employees, nonemployee union organizers placed handbills on the windshields of cars parked in the employees' part of the parking lot. After Lechmere denied the organizers access to the lot, they distributed handbills and picketed from the grassy strip. In addition, they were able to contact directly some 20% of the employees. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge with respondent National Labor Relations Board (Board), alleging that Lechmere had violated the NLRA by barring the organizers from its property. An Administrative Law Judge ruled in the union's favor, recommending that Lechmere, inter alia, be ordered to cease and desist from barring the organizers from the parking lot. The Board affirmed, relying on its ruling in Jean Country, 291 N. L. R. B. 11, that in all access cases the Board should balance (1) the degree of impairment of the § 7 right if access is denied, against (2) the degree of impairment of the private property right if access is granted, taking into consideration (3) the availability of reasonably effective alternative means of exercising the § 7 right. Id., at 14. The Court of Appeals enforced the Board's order.
Held: Lechmere did not commit an unfair labor practice by barring nonemployee union organizers from its property. Pp. 531-541.
(a) By its plain terms, the NLRA confers rights only on employees, not on unions or their nonemployee organizers. Thus, as a rule, an employer cannot be compelled to allow nonemployee organizers onto his property. NLRB v. Babcock & Wilcox Co., 351 U. S. 105, 113. Babcock's holding was neither repudiated nor modified by this Court's decisions in Central Hardware Co. v. NLRB, 407 U. S. 539, and Hudgens v.
NLRB, 424 U. S. 507. See also Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Carpenters, 436
(b) At least as applied to nonemployee union organizers, Jean Country is inconsistent with this Court's past interpretation of § 7. Babcock's teaching is straightforward: § 7 simply does not protect nonemployee union organizers except in the rare case where "the inaccessibility of employees makes ineffective the reasonable attempts by nonemployees to communicate with them through the usual channels." 351 U. S., at 112. It is only when reasonable access to employees is infeasible that it becomes appropriate to balance § 7 and private property rights. Pp. 535-538.
(c) The facts in this case do not justify application of Babcock's inaccessibility exception. Because Lechmere's employees do not reside on its property, they are presumptively not "beyond the reach" of the union's message. Nor does the fact that they live in a large metropolitan area render them "inaccessible." Because the union failed to establish the existence of any "unique obstacles" that frustrated access to Lechmere's employees, the Board erred in concluding that Lechmere committed an unfair labor practice by barring the nonemployee organizers from its property. Pp.539-541.
914 F.2d 313, reversed.
THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 541. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 548.
Robert P. Joy argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Keith H. McCown and Benjamin Smith.
Michael R. Dreeben argued the cause for respondent.
With him on the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Acting Deputy Solicitor General Wright, Norton J. Come, and Linda Sher. *
*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America et al. by John S. Irving, Stephen A. Bokat, and Robert J. Verdisco; for the Council on Labor Law Equality by Gerard C. Smetana and Michael E. Avakian; for the Food Marketing Institute by Eugene D. Ulterino; for the International Council of Shopping Centers, Inc., by Stephanie McEvily and Edward J. Sack; and for the National Retail Federation by John W Noble, Jr., and Edward
J. William Gagne, George R. Murphy, Peter J. Ford, David Silberman, and Laurence Gold filed a brief for the American Federation of Labor