American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.

PETITIONER: American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.
LOCATION: Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers

DOCKET NO.: 76-1121
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 437 US 411 (1978)
REARGUED: Mar 20, 1978
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1978
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1977

ADVOCATES:
Charles G. Bakaly - for petitioners in No. 76-1121
Charles G. Bakaly, Jr. -
Harry J. Keaton - for petitioner in No. 76-1153
Julius Reich - for respondents in each case
Laurence Stephen Gold -
Lawrence Gold - for AFL-CIO, as amicus curiae by special leave of Court
Norton J. Come - for petitioner in No. 76-1162

Facts of the case

During a Writers Guild of America strike, certain supervisor union-member employees continued to work as representatives for collective-bargaining and grievance-adjustments for their employers, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. These union members undertook no writing functions, as the writing contract was the basis for the strike. The union charged those members for violating several strike rules for crossing the picket line, issued threats to get them to stop working and imposed hefty penalties. The National Labor Relations Board (Board) found that the National Labor Relations Act (Act) protected the actions of the union members and that the union violated the Act by disciplining members. The Board ordered the union to cease and desist its actions against said members. The Administrative Law Judge held that unions cannot discipline a representative responsible for collective-bargaining or grievance-adjustment during a strike. Respondents applied to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for review, and the Board applied to enforce its order. The Court of Appeals reversed the Board’s ruling that only supervisory tasks were undertaken and denied enforcement of the Board’s order.

Question

Does a labor union violate the National Labor Relations Act when it disciplines its members for crossing the picket line to perform collective-bargaining and grievance-adjustment tasks during a strike?

Media for American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - March 20, 1978 in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1977 in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 21, 1978 in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Writers Guild of America, West, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

The judgments and opinions of the Court in number 76-1121, American Board Casting companies against the Writers Guild of American, and the two related and consolidated cases will be announced by Mr. Justice White.

Byron R. White:

This case involves a strike by Writers in the television industry.

Some of the union members involved in the strike were supervisors and while on their job they also did collective-bargaining work.

These supervisors crossed the Union picket line at the request of their employer, and while on the Job, did only their supervisory duties not any rank and file work.

The Union fined these union member supervisors and the Union in turn was found guilty of unfair labor practice by the National Relationship Board for interfering with the right of the employer to select his own collective-bargaining representatives contrary to Section 8 (b) (1) (b).

As the Board construes this Section, when the Union finds a supervisor member for crossing a picket line to do only the supervisory work, including his collective-bargaining duties, the Union commits an unfair practice.

This is perhaps not the only possible reading of the Act nor even perhaps the only reasonable one.

But the Board is charged in the first instance with construing and applying the Act, and it is not for us to interfere, unless the Board has clearly gotten off the reservation so to speak.

Five of us don't think it has here and so we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which mistakingly in our view, thought that one of our prior cases, Florida Power precluded the Board from reaching the result that it did.

So we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Mr. Justice Stewart has filed a dissenting opinion, and justices Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens have joined that dissent.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice White.