Auciello Iron Works, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Bd. (95-668), 517 U.S. 781 (1996)
[ Souter ]
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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 first circuit

No. 95-668. Argued April 22, 1996 -- Decided June 3, 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.

Held: 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.

(c) Garment Workers v. NLRB, 366 U.S. 731, 738-739, does not compel 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.