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U.S. Supreme Court

Metropolitan Edison Co. v. NLRB, 460 U.S. 693 (1983)

Metropolitan Edison Co. v. National Labor Relations Board

No. 81-1664

Argued January 11, 1983

Decided April 4, 1983

460 U.S. 693


Despite a no-strike clause in the collective bargaining agreement between petitioner employer and the Electrical Workers union, which represented over half of petitioner's employees, union members participated in four unlawful work stoppages between 1970 and 1974, and on each occasion petitioner disciplined the local union officials more severely than the other participants. Twice the union filed a grievance because of the disparate treatment accorded its officials, and in both cases the arbitrators upheld petitioner's actions, finding that union officials have an affirmative duty to uphold the bargaining agreement, the breach of which duty justified petitioner's imposition of more severe sanctions. Subsequently, in 1977, an unrelated union, the Operating Engineers, set up an informational picket line at the entrance to the site where petitioner was constructing a nuclear generating station. Electrical Workers union members refused to cross the picket line. Eventually, after a settlement between the Operating Engineers and petitioner was reached, the picket line came down and the union's members returned to work. Petitioner then disciplined all of its employees who had refused to cross the picket line by imposing 5- to 10-day suspensions, but imposed 25-day suspensions on two local Electrical Workers officials for failure to attempt to end the strike by crossing the picket line. The Electrical Workers union filed an unfair labor practice charge against petitioner, and the National Labor Relations Board affirmed the Administrative Law Judge's holding that the selective discipline of union officials violated § 8(a)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, which makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer

"by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization."

The Court of Appeals enforced the Board's order, holding that an employer may impose greater discipline on union officials only when the collective bargaining agreement specifies that the officials have an affirmative duty to prevent illegal work stoppages, and that, if the agreement does not provide for such a duty, any disparate treatment of union officials violates § 8(a)(3). The court rejected petitioner's argument that the two earlier arbitration chanrobles.com-red

Page 460 U. S. 694

awards were sufficient to impose a contractual duty on the union officials to cross the picket line.

Held: In the absence of an explicit contractual duty, the imposition of more severe sanctions on union officials than on other employees for participating in an unlawful work stoppage violates § 8(a)(3). Pp. 460 U. S. 699-710.

(a) Section 8(a)(3) not only proscribes discrimination that affects union membership, it also makes unlawful discrimination against employees who participate in concerted activities protected by § 7 of the Act. Holding union office clearly falls within such protected activities, and an employer's unilateral imposition of discipline on union officials inhibits qualified employees from holding office. While the disruptive effect of wildcat strikes makes it important to ensure compliance with no-strike clauses, it does not follow that an employer may assume that a union official is required to attempt to enforce a no-strike clause by complying with the employer's directions, and may impose a penalty on the official for declining to comply. The imposition of such a penalty violates § 8(a)(3). The Board's decision here furthers Congress' policy in seeking to avoid the dilemma presented to the union official whereby his failure to comply with the employer's direction would place his job in jeopardy but compliance might cause him to take actions that would diminish the respect and authority necessary to perform his job as a union official. Pp. 460 U. S. 699-705.

(b) While a union may waive the protection afforded union officials against the imposition of more severe sanctions than those imposed on other employees for participating in an unlawful work stoppage, no waiver occurred here. Such a waiver must be clear and unmistakable, and the two prior arbitration awards did not establish a pattern of decisions clear enough to convert the union's silence after those awards were made into a binding waiver. There is no showing that the parties intended to incorporate those awards into the subsequent agreement. Pp. 460 U. S. 705-710.

663 F.2d 478, affirmed. POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. chanrobles.com-red

Page 460 U. S. 695


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