Holly Farms Corporation v. National Labor Relations Board

PETITIONER: Holly Farms Corporation
RESPONDENT: National Labor Relations Board
LOCATION: North Carolina General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 95-210
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 517 US 392 (1996)
ARGUED: Feb 21, 1996
DECIDED: Apr 23, 1996

Charles P. Roberts, III - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Richard H. Seamon - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

Holly Farms Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tyson Foods, Inc., is a vertically integrated poultry producer. In 1989, the Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers, Local 391, filed a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking an election in a proposed unit that included live-haul employees working out of Holly Farms' Wilkesboro processing plant. The unit included workers described as "live-haul" crews, or teams of chicken catchers, forklift operators, and truckdrivers, who collect for slaughter chickens raised as broilers by independent contract growers, and transport the birds to the processing plant. Classifying the live-haul workers as employees protected by the National Labor Relations Act, rather than agricultural laborers excluded from the Act's coverage, the Board approved the bargaining unit. On petition for review, the Court of Appeals enforced the Board's order, holding that the Board's classification rested on a reasonable interpretation of the Act and was consistent with the Board's prior decisions.


Did the National Labor Relations Board correctly classify chicken catchers as employees, and not as exempt agricultural workers, for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act?

Media for Holly Farms Corporation v. National Labor Relations Board

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 21, 1996 in Holly Farms Corporation v. National Labor Relations Board

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 23, 1996 in Holly Farms Corporation v. National Labor Relations Board

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 95-210, Holly Farms Corporation versus National Labor Relations Board will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This is a case about Union representation for teams that catch chickens for slaughter.

The question all these workers properly place in the Union representation unit covering processing plant’s employees as the National Labor Relations Board held and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed, or should they be ranked agriculture labors exempt from National Labor Relations Act's coverage as Holly Farms, their employer and the petitioners here maintained.

In resolving this issue which has divided that all Courts of Appeals, we accord respect to the reasoning in judgment of the National Labor Relations Board because it is the agency entrusted with responsibility for administering the National Labor Relations Act.

In not too much detail despite the inescapable fascination of chicken catching as a subject for judicial review, dissenting with Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the processing plant of Holly Farms, a company that produces, processes, and markets poultry.

A local of the team state union sought to become the bargaining representative of employees at the Wilkesboro plant including certain workers called live-haul crews teams of truck drivers, forklift operators, and chicken catchers, dispatched to farm where newly hatched chicks are raised, a live-haul crew cathes chickens grown to a size fit for broiling loads them onto truck and holds the birds to the Wilkesboro plant to be slaughtered and prepared for retail sale.

Holly Farms hatches and owns the chicks but does not raise them, that job is done on farms owned by independent growers under contract to Holly.

An agricultural labor under the governing statutory definition works on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with the farm's farming operations.

While the live-haul truck drivers do not do their part of the crew on the farm, the chicken catchers and forklift operators unquestionably do catch, cage, and load the chicken on the independent grower’s farms.

The Board determined however that the team’s work is not incident to or in conjunction with the raising of chickens by the independent farmers instead, as seen by the Board, the live-haul work is conjunction with the slaughtering and market preparation operations at Holly Farm's processing plant.

This is the question we conclude on which reasonable minds can and do different.

The Board’s current decision adheres to consistent mind of Board decision because we find the statutory language not free from ambiguity.

We differ to the Board’s reasonable interpretation of that language as did the Court of Appeals whose judgment we affirm.

Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment as to the truck drivers and dissenting with respect to the forklift operators and chicken catchers.

Her opinion is joined by the Chief Justice, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas.