481 U. S. 573
May 18, 1987
The NLRA prevents unions from coercing employers in the choice of a supervisor to represent the employer in collective bargaining or grievance adjustment. Two electrical companies failed to come to a collective bargaining agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union (IBEW). After this failure, IBEW fined the supervisors of both companies, both of whom were members of IBEW. They were fined for working at the behest of employers who were uncooperative in the mind of the union. The dispute in this case was whether these fines amount to coercing the employers in their choices of supervisors.
The Court ruled 6-3 that IBEW had not coerced the employers. Brennan wrote for the majority, and distinguished from earlier cases where fines imposed by unions on supervisors were ruled to be coercion. The difference was that those supervisors were actually involved in collective bargaining and grievance adjustment. When a supervisor was not currently involved in those activities, fines did not violate the NLRA. Brennan continued on, highlighting that coercion was especially impossible here, since the union had no official relation with the electric companies in light of the failure to come to a collective bargaining agreement. That fines might cause supervisors to quit, or feel pressured to favor the unions more did not matter, since the chain of causation was too attenuated.
Scalia concurred only in judgment. Based on the NLRA’s text, he felt that coercion could only happen when collective bargaining existed between the union and the employer. He faulted the Court for failing to adhere to that text in previous cases, and made these remarkable statements about the intrinsically corrupting nature of judicial precedent:
“The Board’s approach is the product of a familiar phenomenon. Once having succeeded, by benefit of excessive judicial deference, in expanding the scope of a statute beyond a reasonable interpretation of its language, the emboldened agency presses the rationale of that expansion to the limits of its logic. And the Court, having already sanctioned a point of departure that is genuinely not to be found within the language of the statute, finds itself cut off from that authoritative source of the law, and ends up construing not the statute, but its own construction. Applied to an erroneous point of departure, the logical reasoning that is ordinarily the mechanism of judicial adherence to the rule of law perversely carries the Court further and further from the meaning of the statute. Some distance down that path, however, there comes a point at which a later incremental step, again rational in itself, leads to a result so far removed from the statute that obedience to text must overcome fidelity to logic.”
White dissented, and was joined by Rehnquist and O’Connor. He felt that the Court should have deferred to the interpretation of the NLRA proffered by the NLRB. He also contended that the risk of compromising a supervisor’s loyalty to an employer was so great that fining supervisors did coerce employers in choosing who they would place in that difficult position. As usual, White makes a good common sense case, but also as usual, Scalia is stronger on the basis of the statute’s text.
A constant theme in the opinions is the difficulty of a supervisor balancing their loyalties to the employer and the union. As Christ once said, no man can serve two masters. Nearly all unions today in America can be described succinctly as unbiblical organized rebellion against authority. A workingman must choose whether his allegiance is with his boss, or with some guild in open insurrection against that boss. For the Christian, the choice is obvious – even with the danger of being fined that this case allows, submission must be due to the authority God has put in place.