AUCIELLO IRON WORKS, INC. v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD(1996)
The day after petitioner Auciello Iron Works's outstanding contract offer was accepted by its employees' collective-bargaining representative (Union), Auciello disavowed the agreement because of its good-faith doubt, based on knowledge acquired before the offer's acceptance, that a majority of its employees supported the Union. The National Labor Relations Board ruled, inter alia, that Auciello's withdrawal from it was an unfair labor practice in violation of the National Labor Relations Act and ordered that the agreement be reduced to a formal written instrument. The First Circuit enforced the order as reasonable.
The Board reasonably concluded that an employer commits an unfair labor practice when it disavows a collective-bargaining agreement because of a good-faith doubt about a union's majority status at the time the contract was made, when the doubt arises from facts known to the employer before the union accepted its contract offer. Pp. 4-10.
(a) In its efforts to achieve the Act's object of industrial peace and stability fostered by collective-bargaining relationships, see e.g., Fall River Dyeing & Finishing Corp. v. NLRB, 482 U.S. 27, 38 , the Board has held that a union is entitled to, inter alia, a conclusive presumption of majority status during a collective-bargaining agreement's term, up to three years, see, e.g,. NLRB v. Burns Int'l Security Services, Inc., 406 U.S. 272, 290 , n. 12. Upon the contract's expiration, the employer may rebut the presumption of majority status by showing that it has a good-faith doubt, founded on a sufficient objective basis, of the union's majority support. NLRB v. Curtin Matheson Scientific, Inc., 494 U.S. 775, 778 . Auciello's assertion that an employer may raise the latter defense even after a contract period has apparently begun to run upon a union's acceptance of an outstanding offer is rejected. Pp. 4-6.
(b) The same need for repose that first prompted the Board to adopt the rule presuming a union's majority status during its collective-bargaining agreement's term also led the Board in this case to rule out an exception for the benefit of an employer with doubts arising from facts antedating the contract. The Board's judgment in the matter is entitled to prevail. Auciello's argument for case-by-case determinations of the appropriate time for asserting a good-faith doubt in place of the Board's bright-line rule cutting off the opportunity at the moment of apparent contract formation fails to point up anything unreasonable in the Board's position. Its approach generally allows companies an adequate chance to act on their preacceptance doubts before contract formation, and Auciello's view would encourage bad-faith bargaining by employers. The Board could reasonably conclude that giving employers flexibility in raising their good-faith doubts would not be worth skewing bargaining relationships by such one-sided leverage, and the fact that any collective-bargaining agreement might be vulnerable to such a postformation challenge would hardly serve the Act's goal of achieving industrial peace by promoting stable collective-bargaining relationships. Moreover, rejection of the Board's position is not compelled by the statutory right of employees to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing and to refrain from doing so. The Board is entitled to suspicion when faced with an employer's benevolence as its workers' champion against their certified union, and there is nothing unreasonable in giving a short leash to an employer as vindicator of its employees' organizational freedom. Pp. 6-9.
reversal; its rule concerning recognition agreements is not inconsistent with this decision. The Board reasonably found an employer's precontractual, good-faith doubt inadequate to support an exception to the conclusive presumption arising at the moment a collective-bargaining contract offer has been accepted. Pp. 9-10. 60 F. 3d 24, affirmed.
Souter, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
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In January 1989, the Board's General Counsel issued an administrative complaint charging Auciello with violation of Section(s) 8(a)(1) and (5) of the NLRA. 1 An administrative law judge found that a contract existed between the parties and that Auciello's withdrawal from it violated the Act. 303 N. L. R. B. 562 (1991). The Board affirmed the administrative law judge's decision 2 ; it treated Auciello's claim of good-faith doubt as irrelevant and ordered Auciello to reduce the collective-bargaining agreement to a formal written instrument. Ibid. But when the Board applied to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for enforcement of its order, the Court of Appeals declined on the ground that the Board had not adequately explained its refusal to consider Auciello's defense of good-faith doubt about the Union's majority status. 980 F. 2d 804 (1992). On remand, the Board issued a supplemental opinion to justify its position, 317 N. L. R. B. 364 (1995), and the Court of Appeals thereafter enforced the order as resting on a "policy choice [both] . . . reasonable and . . . quite persuasive." 60 F. 3d 24, 27 (CA1 1995). We granted certiorari, 516 U. S. ___ (1996), and now affirm.
There is a third presumption, though not a conclusive one. At the end of the certification year or upon expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement, the presumption of majority status becomes a rebuttable one. See NLRB v. Curtin Matheson Scientific, Inc., 494 U.S. 775, 778 (1990); see n. 6, infra. Then, an employer may overcome the presumption (when, for example, defending against an unfair labor practice charge) "by showing that, at the time of [its] refusal to bargain, either (1) the union did not in fact enjoy majority support, or (2) the employer had a `good-faith' doubt, founded on a sufficient objective basis, of the union's majority support." Curtin Matheson, supra, at 778 (emphasis in original). 4 Auciello asks this Court to hold that it may raise the latter defense even after a collective-bargaining contract period has apparently begun to run upon a union's acceptance of an employer's outstanding offer.
The Board's judgment in the matter is entitled to prevail. To affirm its rule of decision in this case, indeed, there is no need to invoke the full measure of the "considerable deference" that the Board is due, NLRB v. Curtin Matheson Scientific, Inc., supra, at 786, by virtue of its charge to develop national labor policy, Beth Israel Hospital v. NLRB, 437 U.S. 483, 500 -501 (1978), through interstitial rulemaking that is "rational and consistent with the Act." Curtin Matheson, supra, at 787.
It might be tempting to think that Auciello's doubt was expressed so soon after the apparent contract formation that little would be lost by vindicating that doubt and wiping the contractual slate clean, if in fact the company can make a convincing case for the doubt it claims. On this view, the loss of repose would be slight. But if doubts about the union's majority status would justify repudiating a contract one day after its ostensible formation, why should the same doubt not serve as well a year into the contract's term? Auciello implicitly agrees on the need to provide some cutoff, but argues that the limit should be expressed as a "reasonable time" to repudiate the contract. Brief for Petitioner 26-32. That is, it seeks case-by-case determinations of the appropriate time for asserting a good-faith doubt in place of the Board's bright-line rule cutting off the opportunity at the moment of apparent contract formation. Auciello's desire is natural, but its argument fails to point up anything unreasonable in the Board's position.
The Board's approach generally allows companies an adequate chance to act on their preacceptance doubts before contract formation, just as Auciello could have acted effectively under the Board's rule in this case. Auciello knew that the picket line had been crossed and that a number of its employees had expressed dissatisfaction with the Union at least nine days before the contract's acceptance, and all of the resignation forms Auciello received were dated at least five days before the acceptance date. During the week preceding the apparent formation of the contract, Auciello had at least three alternatives to doing nothing. It could have withdrawn the outstanding offer and then, like its employees, petitioned for a representation election. See 29 U. S. Employees, 475 U.S. 192, 198 (1986). 5 "[I]f the Board determines, after investigation and hearing, that a question of representation exists, it directs an election by secret ballot and certifies the result." Ibid. Following withdrawal, it could also have refused to bargain further on the basis of its good-faith doubt, leaving it to the Union to charge an unfair labor practice, against which it could defend on the basis of the doubt. Cf. Curtin Matheson, 494 U.S., at 778 . And, of course, it could have withdrawn its offer to allow it time to investigate while it continued to fulfil its duty to bargain in good faith with the Union. The company thus had generous opportunities to avoid the presumption before the moment of acceptance.
There may, to be sure, be cases where the opportunity requires prompt action, 6 but labor negotiators are not the least nimble, and the Board could reasonably have thought the price of making more time for the sluggish was too high, since it would encourage bad-faith bargaining. As Auciello would have it, any employer with genuine doubt about a union's hold on its employees would be invited to go right on bargaining, with the prospect of locking in a favorable contract that it could, if it wished, then challenge. Here, for example, if Auciello had acted before the Union's telegram by withdrawing its offer and declining further negotiation based on Rits doubt (or petitioning for decertification), flames would have been fanned, and if it ultimately had been obliged to bargain further, a favorable agreement would have been more difficult to obtain. But by saving its challenge until after a contract had apparently been formed, it could not end up with a worse agreement than the one it had. The Board could reasonably say that giving employers some flexibility in raising their scruples would not be worth skewing bargaining relationships by such one-sided leverage, and the fact that any collective-bargaining agreement might be vulnerable to such a postformation challenge would hardly serve the Act's goal of achieving industrial peace by promoting stable collective-bargaining relationships. Cf. Fall River Dyeing, 482 U.S., at 38 -39; Franks Bros. Co. v. NLRB, 321 U.S. 702, 705 (1944).
Nor do we find anything compelling in Auciello's contention that its employees' statutory right "to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing" and to refrain from doing so, 29 U. S. C. Section(s) 157, compels us to reject the Board's position. Although we take seriously the Act's command to respect "the free choice of employees" as well as to "promot[e] stability in collective-bargaining relationships," Fall River Dyeing, supra, at 38 (internal quotation marks omitted), we have rejected the position that employers may refuse to bargain whenever presented with evidence that their employees no longer support their certified union. "To allow employers to rely on employees' rights in refusing to bargain with the formally designated union is not conducive to [industrial peace], it is inimical to it." Brooks v. NLRB, 348 U.S. 96, 103 (1954). The Board is accordingly entitled to suspicion when faced with an employer's benevolence as its workers' champion against their certified union, which is subject to a decertification petition from the workers if they want to file one. There is nothing unreasonable in giving a short leash to the employer as vindicator of its employees' organizational freedom.
We hold that the Board reasonably found an employer's precontractual, good-faith doubt inadequate to support an exception to the conclusive presumption arising at the moment a collective-bargaining contract offer has been accepted. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
It is so ordered.
[ Footnote 1 ] Section 8(a) of the National Labor Relations Act provides:
Auciello has suggested that the contract itself was invalid ab initio because the union in fact lacked majority support at the time of acceptance. Because the substantiation required to make this showing is greater than that required to assert a good-faith doubt, see NLRB v. Curtin Matheson Scientific, Inc., 494 U.S. 775, 788 , n. 8 (1990), the Board has not taken a position on whether such a claim could excuse an employer's decision to repudiate an otherwise valid contract and disavow its duty to bargain with the union. Brief for Respondent 26, n. 7. Auciello concedes that it failed to advance this claim in its answer to the General Counsel's complaint, Tr. of Oral Arg. 6, 28, the Board never considered this question, and Auciello sought certiorari review only of the question whether an employer is bound by a union's acceptance in this context when "the Employer had a reasonable basis for a good faith doubt." Pet. for Cert. i. Accordingly, we conclude that this question is not properly before us and decline to address it.
[ Footnote 3 ] This presumption may be overcome only in unusual circumstances, see, e.g., Brooks v. NLRB, 348 U.S. 96, 98 -99 (1954) (union dissolution, inter alia); 3 T. Kheel, Labor Law Section(s) 13A.045., p. 13A-26 (1995); R. Gorman, Basic Text on Labor Law: Unionization and Collective Bargaining Section(s) 9, pp. 56-57 (1976), none of which is present here.
[ Footnote 4 ] Auciello maintains that Curtin Matheson requires reversal here since it appears that the employer in that case asserted its good-faith doubt after the union's acceptance of the contract offer. Brief for Petitioner 19-21. But the case is not authority on the issue of timing. The question presented was whether the Board "in evaluating an employer's claim that it had a reasonable basis for doubting a union's majority support, must presume that striker replacements oppose the union." Curtin Matheson, 494 U.S., at 777 (emphasis in original). We did not discuss or consider whether the timing of the employer's assertion should affect the outcome of that case, and the decision does not answer that question.
[ Footnote 5 ] We assume, without deciding, that the withdrawal of an offer under these circumstances could not serve as a basis for the filingof an unfair labor practice complaint, which might trigger the "blocking charge" rule that the Solicitor General concedes would be implicated by an employer's unlawful withdrawal of recognition. See Brief for Respondent 31, n. 10.
[ Footnote 6 ] We note that in the unusual circumstance in which evidence leading the employer to harbor such a doubt arises at the same time the union accepts the offer, the Board has agreed to examine such occurrences on a case-by-case basis. 317 N. L. R. B. 364, 374-375 (1995).