National Labor Relations Board v. Stowe Spinning Company/Dissent Reed

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United States Supreme Court

336 U.S. 226

National Labor Relations Board  v.  Stowe Spinning Company

 Argued: Dec. 9 and 10, 1948. --- Decided: Feb 28, 1949

Mr. Justice REED, with whom the CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.

The controlling point for decision in this case is whether the Board was justified in concluding that the four respondent companies interfered with rights guaranteed by § 7 of the Wagner Act. Section 7 provides that 'Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations * * *.' 49 Stat. 452. The Board's complaint charged an unfair labor practice under § 8(1) against the four respondent companies by their interference with the rights guaranteed by § 7. The form of interference was the refusal of the use of a hall jointly owned by respondents to employees of one of them for the purpose of self-organization. If the four respondents violated § 7, did the Board have power to redress that violation by entering § 1(b) and § 2(c) of its order against Stowe and similar orders against the other three respondents? Section 1(b) ordered the respondents to cease and desist from 'Refusing to permit the use of the Patriotic Order Sons of America hall by its employees or employees of Acme Spinning Company, Perfection Spinning Company, or Linford Mills, Inc., or by Textile Workers Union of America, C.I.O., or any other labor organization, for the purpose of self-organization or collective bargaining;'

And § 2(c) ordered respondents to 'Upon request, grant to its employees and employees of Acme Spinning Company, Perfection Spinning Company, or Linford Mills, Inc., and to Textile Workers of America, C.I.O., or any other labor organization, the use of the Patriotic Order Sons of America hall for the purposes of self-organization or collective bargaining;'

The Board decided that the refusal of the hall violated § 7 and concluded as a matter of law: '3. By interfering with, restraining, and coercing their employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7 of the Act, the respondents Stowe Spinning Company, Acme Spinning Company, Perfection Spinning Company, and Linford Mills, Inc., have engaged in and are engaging in unfair labor practices within the meaning of Section 8(1) of the Act.' The Court of Appeals accurately summarized the Board's action in these words: 'It (the Board) made the finding that the owner's refusal 'to permit use of the hall for purposes of self organization in a labor union under the circumstances constituted unlawful disparity of treatment and discrimination against the Union.' It pointed out that foremost among the methods universally utilized by employees in self organization is the exercise of the constitutional right of peaceable assembly. It held that the sole purpose of the respondents' action was to impede, prevent and discourage the employees in the exercise of this basic right and that by refusing the union permission to use the only available meeting place in the community, the respondents in fact deprived the employees of Stowe of the right.' National Labor Relations Board v. Stowe Spinning Co., 4 Cir., 165 F.2d 609, 611.

In reversing the Board the Court of Appeals said: '* * * the employer has not interfered with, restrained or coerced its employees in the exercise of their rights. Even though it was evident to the workers that the action of the owners of the hall was inspired by hostility to the union, the refusal did not amount to unlawful interference, restraint or coercion.' Id., 165 F.2d 611.

A determination that as a matter of law it is or it is not an unfair labor practice for respondents to refuse the use of their hall for union organization purposes will decide this case.

The findings show that the center of the village of North Belmont is approximately 2 1/2 miles from the center of the town of Belmont. In the village there are four textile mills and about each textile mill a number of houses that belong to the corporations that own the respective mills. At a central location in the village, reached by what we assume are public roads and streets, are the school, a theater, and a combined post office and store; above the post office and store is the meeting hall in question. These facilities, except the school, are owned jointly by the four corporations that own the mills. Neither the record nor the findings show whether or not there is privately owned realty in the village belonging to others than the textile mills, but we assume that there is none.

Respondents provided the hall as a meeting place for the Patriotic Order Sons of America. The Board found, 70 N.L.R.B. 614, 621, 'As to the arrangements under which the P.O.S. of A. was permitted use of this company-owned property, Stowe credibly testified without contradiction that 'it was built especially for the Patriotic Sons of America to hold their meetings in and was not to be rented to anybody else.' He also testified:

'* * * we told the Patriotic Sons of America that we were going to let them use the building free of rent, but were not going to allow it to be rented for any (other) purposes."

Under such an arrangement the members of the fraternal order were licensees, who were permitted to use the hall only by virtue of the owner's consent. There was the further Board statement, quoted below, as to the use of the hall. [1]

It does not appear from the record how far this village center is from the respective mills. It is clear, however, that the Patriotic Order Sons of America hall is not connected with the mill operations, nor is its use open to employees because of their employment by any of the mills. There is a distinct line of cleavage as to the rights of employees between facilities and means of production open to the use of employees through their employment contract and other property of the employer that may be used by any person other than the owner only through some contract, license, or permission, not a part of an employment contract. The undisputed evidence discloses that membership in the fraternal order is not restricted to the employees of the mills, and that it includes others.

The error into which the Board fell concerning the right to use the Patriotic Order Sons of America hall is, it seems to us, that it thought the 'disparity of treatment and discrimination against the Union' involved in the refusal of the hall was a violation of the employees' 'right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations'. [2] § 7. It is only when there is a violation through an interference with or a restraining or coercion of employees' rights under § 7 that an unfair labor practice finding may be predicated on the employer's acts. The employer is not required to aid employees to organize. The law forbids only interference.

Employment in a business enterprise gives an employee no rights in the employer's other property disconnected from that enterprise. As to such property, the employer stands on the same footing as any other property owner. As indicated above, that is the condition as to the Patriotic Order Sons of America hall. The refusal of this owner to allow the hall's use for union organization is not an unfair labor practice under §§ 7 and 8 any more than a refusal by any other private owner would be. As far as the hall is concerned, the relation of employer-employee does not exist between the mill owners and the mill workers. There cannot be an unfair labor practice as to the use of this hall under the applicable sections of the Labor Relations Act.

Perh ps the ruling of this Court in Marsh v. State of Alabama, 326 U.S. 501, 66 S.Ct. 276, 90 L.Ed. 265, approaches closer to this problem than any other case. There Alabama punished a distributor of religious literature for trespass when she insisted on passing out the pamphlets on a private sidewalk, used by the owners' permission to enter stores and the post office. This Court reversed and held the application of the state law of trespass violated the Fourteenth Amendment. This Court held, 326 U.S. page 509, 66 S.Ct. page 280: 'Insofar as the State has attempted to impose criminal punishment on appellant for undertaking to distribute religious literature in a company town, its action cannot stand.' Certain expressions, set out below, [3] occur in the opinion as to the right to private property for speech, press and assembly but they must be read in the light of the facts in the Marsh case. So read, or however read, they cannot be construed as a holding that the natural right of free expression or of assembly, guaranteed by our Constitution, is a delusion unless organizers and evangelists can commandeer private buildings for use in the propagation of their ideas. The Marsh case, in my view, goes no further than to say that the public has the same rights of discussion on the sidewalks of company towns that it has on the sidewalks of municipalities.

There is nothing in this record that indicates a situation such as exists in employer-owned lumber camps or mining properties. Where an employer maintains living, recreation and work places on such business premises open to employees by virtue of their employment, it has been held that exclusion of union organizers from contact with the employees is an unfair labor practice and that the Board's ordering the employer to grant union representatives access in non-working hours to the employees under reasonable regulations is a proper means to effectuate the purposes of the Act. National Labor Relations Board v. Lake Superior Lumber Corporation, 6 Cir., 167 F.2d 147. It has never been held that where the employees do not live on the premises of their employer a union organizer has to be admitted to those premises. The p esent situation differs from the employer-controlled areas where employees both live and work in that here union organizers may solicit the employees on the streets or in their homes or at public meeting houses within a few miles of their employment. Employees are not isolated beyond the hours of labor from an organizer nor is an organizer denied access to the employees. After an organizer has convinced an employee of the value of union organization, that employee can discuss union relations with his fellow-employees during non-working hours in the mill. This gives opportunity for union membership proliferation. Republic Aviation Corporation v. National Labor Relations Board and National Labor Relations Board v. Le Tourneau Company of Georgia, 324 U.S. 793, 65 S.Ct. 982, 89 L.Ed. 1372, 157 A.L.R. 1081.

The present case differs from the Le Tourneau and Republic cases in that in those cases the problem concerned the right of an employer to maintain discipline by forbidding employees to foster by personal solicitation union organization on the grounds or in the plant of the company during the employees' non-working time. We held that, unless there were particular circumstances that justified such a regulation to secure discipline and production, the employer must allow such discussion. Republic Aviation Corporation v. National Labor Relations Board, supra.

The Board now seeks an extension of this rule. It is argued that where the only readily available meeting place is a piece of property belonging to the employer, the Board may require him to permit his employees to use that meeting place for presentation of arguments for unionization. Even where the employer has allowed other organizations to use his property, I do not think that the words of the statute guaranteeing employees the right to organize and to form labor unions permit such an extension. Employment furnishes no basis for employee rights to the control of property for union organization when the property is not a part of the premises of the employer, used in his business. So to construe the statute raises serious problems under the Fifth Amendment. Would the theater, also owned by the mill proprietors, be subject to the union's user? Would that construction as applied in the finding and particularly in the earlier quoted sections of the order deprive respondents of their property without just compensation or force private owners to devote their property to private purposes, i.e., union organization? Definite legislative language only would authorize such a construction of this statute. United States v. C.I.O., 335 U.S. 106, 120, 121, 68 S.Ct. 1349, 1356.

Labor unions do not have the same right to utilize the property of an employer not directly a part of the employment facilities, that an employer has. The Board cannot require that such meeting places be furnished for employees by an employer under the terms of the Act. To require the employer to allow labor union meetings in or on property entirely disconnected in space and use from the business of the employer and employees is too extravagant an extension of the meaning of the Act for me to believe it is within its language or the purpose of Congress.

I would affirm the Court of Appeals.


^1  'As a matter of practice, since 1937, the hall has been used, according to the credible testim ny of Black, on numerous occasions for community and employee meetings. Various churches have used the hall for banquets; 'Ladies Aid' societies have gathered there; the North Belmont School had the use of the hall for at least one Christmas party; and for several weeks employees of the respondents attended a 'Safety school' held in the hall. That no other fraternal order met there is explained by the fact, established by Stowe's testimony, that the P.O.S. of A. is the only such organization in North Belmont. Furthermore, Black's credible testimony is undisputed that it was the practice, when any other organization wanted to use the hall, for the P.O.S. of A. 'lodge' itself to pass upon the request. There is no evidence that any other organization, except the Union, was ever refused use of the hall, either by the P.O.S. of A. or by the respondent.' 70 N.L.R.B. 614, 621.

^2  The Board said: 'Moreover, irrespective of the respondents' motive, we are convinced, and find upon the consideration stated above, that by refusing to permit their employees to exercise the right to meet on company-owned property for the purpose of holding a union meeting, when no other suitable property in the community was available for the purpose, under the circumstances set forth above, the respondents have placed an unreasonable impediment on freedom of communication and of assembly essential to the exercise of employees' rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the Act. By their conduct in revoking the grant of privilege to use the hall and thus denying the use of the hall to the Union, the respondents Stowe, Acme, Perfection, and Linford interfered with, restrained, and coerced their employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7 of the Act, in violation of Section 8(1) thereof.' Id., 624.

^3  'Ownership does not always mean absolute dominion. The more an owner, for his advantage, opens up his property for use by the public in general, the more do his rights become circumscribed by the statutory and constitutional rights of those who use it. * * * Had the corporation here owned the segment of the four-lane highway which runs parallel to the 'business block' and operated the same under a State franchise, doubtless no one would have seriously contended that the corporation's property interest in the highway gave it power to obstruct through traffic or to discriminate against interstate commerce. * * * And even had there been no express franchise but mere acquiescence by the State in the corporation's use of its property as a segment of the four-lane highway, operation of all the highway, including the segment owned by the corporation, would still have been performance of a public function and discrimination would certainly have been illegal.

'We do not think it makes any significant constitutional difference as to the relationship between the rights of the owner and those of the public that here the State, instead of permitting the corporation to operate a highway, permitted it to use its property as a town, operate a 'business block' in the town and a street and sidewalk on that business block.' 326 U.S. pages 506, 507, 66 S.Ct. page 278, 90 L.Ed. 265.

'In our view the circumstance that the property rights to the premises where the deprivation of liberty, here involved, took place, were held by others than the public, is not sufficient to justify the State's permitting a corporation to govern a community of citizens so as to restrict their fundamental liberties and the enforcement of such restraint by the application of a State statute.' 326 U.S. page 509, 66 S.Ct. page 280.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).