National Labor Relations Board v. J. H. Rutter-Rex Manufacturing Company, Inc.

PETITIONER: National Labor Relations Board
RESPONDENT: J. H. Rutter-Rex Manufacturing Company, Inc.
LOCATION: 17th Judicial Circuit Green County Alabama Jury Commission

DOCKET NO.: 32
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 396 US 258 (1969)
ARGUED: Oct 22, 1969
DECIDED: Dec 15, 1969

Facts of the case

Question

Media for National Labor Relations Board v. J. H. Rutter-Rex Manufacturing Company, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 22, 1969 in National Labor Relations Board v. J. H. Rutter-Rex Manufacturing Company, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

I think we will just call and have the counsel be ready and in number 32 National Labor Relations Board against Rutter.

Arnold Ordman:

-- comply and indicating, well the record showed that it --

Warren E. Burger:

I would suppose that company could have complied by just reinstating strikers no matter what but what about those, this is where it had a, you might have thought a good faith defense to reinstatement now that the place to go --

Arnold Ordman:

It is.

Warren E. Burger:

-- that the place to go wasn’t the Court of Appeals.

The place to go is to the, what was to litigate the matter with you people wasn’t it?

Arnold Ordman:

Precisely, and the Board had and the company had this opportunity and initiated no action.

The only request, the company might come up --

I thought it was a, I thought it was waiting for you, you told them that you’d be in touch with them or something.

Arnold Ordman:

Yes, the company predicates much of his defense on a letter it wrote in November 7, 1957 about two months after the enforcing decree.

It wrote the Board a letter saying in essence, “we have complied with some of the provisions of the Board’s order, now, will you please notify us of any instances where we have not complied.”

And the company says on that basis since we didn’t notify them, they weren’t obliged to comply any further.

Well, the court below said an offending respondent which has the primary obligation to comply can’t rid of itself of its obligation merely by saying you didn’t tell us.

The court had told what they are obliged to do.

In addition, frankly, we have a situation where as of this day, there is still a number or at least of the date of the hearing and I believe that is still true, there are still the number of strikers who have not been offered reinstatement, whose back pay claims after the litigation have been validated.

And to this day, not one cent of back pay has been paid on this claims which the Board and the court below validated.

Moreover, we notified the --

Why is it?

You said they have agreed, that they are valid and they haven’t been paid, why is it?

What ground is it?

Arnold Ordman:

I presume the, I presume the company must be of the waiting the outcome of this proceeding which only has to do with cutting back the back pay not eliminating it.

This Court denied cert on the part, denied certiorari on the portion of the order that was enforced.

Now also, this company was rather familiar as the Court below says this Company was not a babe in the woods, and I think the language of the Court is significant in this regard.

And said this company, this company is not a babe in the woods and the principle theory of premise upon which the court below limited the back pay was on the ground that the court below, the court below felt that somehow the company had been lulled into a sense by the Board’s delay into a sense that maybe it had nothing left to do and that it had no obligations anymore by the Board’s delay.

Well, this might come with more grace I think.

With an unsophisticated employer, but this is what the court below said, “the record convinces us that Rutter-Rex is not a babe in the woods about to be victimized for ignorance or inadvertent ineptitude in the field of employer-employee relations as regulated by the National Labor Relations Act.”

The order in this case which directed immediate reinstatement of strikers even if they had to hire replacements who were still employed by the company although not all strikers have been replaced, the order the court below said just could not have been misunderstood but as of today, that reinstatement obligation has not yet been full carried out and the back pay has been -- none of the back pay has been paid.

And as the Trial Examiner pointed out, at the time of the back pay hearing, replacements were still working and much of the back pay hearing of this long back pay hearing was devoted to analyzing the back pay do strikers where replacements were still working at the job the strikers should have had.

Now, the record demonstrates as I said before and this is the court’s language, as it was and the impossible for the company to comply and as to many individuals it did.

We think that in this situation, with this kind of sophisticated company in the area of labor relations and also represented as the court below noted by able counsel that they weren’t lulled into any sense that they’d already complied with the decree of the court below.