N.L.R.B. v. Town & Country Elec, Inc., et (94-947), 516 U.S. 85 (1995)
[ Breyer ]
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NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.




certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit

No. 94-947. Argued October 10, 1995 -- Decided November 28, 1995

In the course of holding that respondent company committed "unfair labor practices" when it refused to interview or retain 11 job applicants because of their union membership, the National Labor Relations Board determined that all of the applicants were protected "employee[s]" as that word is defined in the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 152(3), even though they intended to try to organize the company if they were hired and would have been paid by the union while they set about their organizing. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the statutory word "employee" does not cover (and therefore the Act does not protect from antiunion discrimination) those who work for a company while a union simultaneously pays them to organize that company.

Held: A worker may be a company's "employee," within the terms of the National Labor Relations Act, even if, at the same time, a union pays that worker to help the union organize the company. Pp. 3-13.

(a) The Board may lawfully interpret §152(3)'s language--i.e., "[t]he term `employee' shall include any employee, and shall not be limited to the employees of a particular employer, unless this subchapter explicitly states otherwise"--to include company workers who are also paid union organizers. The Board's broad, literal reading of "employee" is entitled to considerable deference as the interpretation of the agency created by Congress to administer the Act. See, e.g., Sure Tan, Inc. v. NLRB, 467 U.S. 883, 891. Moreover, several strong general arguments favor the Board's position. First, the Board's decision is consistent with the Act's language, particularly the "any employee" phrase, which is broad enough to include, under the ordinary dictionary definitions of "employee," those company workers whom a union also pays for organizing. Second, the Board's interpretation is consistent with several of the Act's purposes--such as protecting employees' right to organize for mutual aid without employer interference and encouraging and protecting the collective bargaining process--and with the legislative history. Third, the Board's reading is consistent with this Court's decisions. See, e.g., ibid. Finally, §186(c)(1) also seems specifically to contemplate the possibility that a company's employee might also work for a union. Pp. 3-7.

(b) Respondent company's agency law argument--that a paid union organizer is controlled by the union and therefore must be considered the servant (i.e. the "employee") of the union alone--fails because the Board's interpretation of "employee" is consistent with the common law of agency, which recognizes that a person may be the servant of two masters at one time as to one act. The company's practical argument--that Congress could not have meant to include paid union organizers as "employees" under the Act in light of the potential for harm to an employer that such workers might pose--suffers from several serious problems and is thus unconvincing. Pp. 7-13.

34 F. 3d 625, vacated and remanded.

Breyer, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.