National Labor Relations Board v. Lion Oil Company

PETITIONER: National Labor Relations Board
RESPONDENT: Lion Oil Company, Monsanto Chemical Company
LOCATION: Lion Oil Company Headquarters

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1956-1957)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 352 US 282 (1957)
ARGUED: Oct 08, 1956
DECIDED: Jan 22, 1957
GRANTED: Mar 12, 1956

Jeff Davis - for the respondents
Theophil C. Kammholz - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Beginning on October 23, 1950, Lion Oil Company and Oil Workers International Union CIO entered into a collective bargaining agreement providing in detail the wages, hours and conditions for employees of the company. The agreement provided the means to amend its terms: Either party must notify the other in writing of its desire to amend the agreement, after which the company and the union should attempt to agree on the desired amendments. If no agreement was reached within sixty days, either party may terminate the agreement.

On August 24, 1951, the union transmitted a letter to the company notifying the company of its desire to modify the agreement. Representatives of the company and the union first met on August 29, 1951 to discuss the proposed amendments. The two groups held 37 more meetings between that date and April 30, 1952, but no agreement was reached. On April 30, employees of the company went on strike, demanding wage increases and other benefits. Neither the company nor the union notified the other that it intended to terminate the contract. On June 21, 1952, the union offered to return all striking employees to work unconditionally, but the company refused this offer.

The company distributed a letter to the union explaining that there would be no reinstatement of workers unless the employees agreed to work for a period of at least one year without work stoppage. After June 21, the company interviewed individual employees and rehired only those who assured the company that they would continue to work daily throughout the strike. On August 3, 1952, a new agreement was executed between the company and the union; employees were reinstated the next day.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) provided that where there is a collective bargaining contract, employees may not go on strike until sixty days after either party provides written notice of its intent to terminate or modify the contract or until the contract expires, whichever occurs later. Employees who go on strike before this point lose the protection of the NLRA.

During the negotiations for the new agreement, the union filed a charge of unfair labor practices against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, based on the company’s response to the employees’ offer to return to work. The five member Board held in a split decision that the company was guilty of unfair labor practices under the NLRA, rejecting the company’s defense that the strikers lost the protection of the act because the contract was still in effect. The company appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which set aside the Board’s ruling. The Eighth Circuit held that a strike would violate the terms of the contract until the contract expired or was cancelled in the manner provided for in the NLRA. As the contract had not expired when the employees went on strike, those employees violated the terms of the NLRA and lost its protection.

While the case was pending in the Supreme Court, Lion Oil Company was merged into Monsanto Chemical Company. By order of the Court, Monsanto was made a party in the case.


(1) By going on strike, did Lion Oil Company's union employees engage in activity that is not protected by the National Labor Relations Act because the collective bargaining agreement was still in effect?

(2) Did the union employees breach their contract by going on strike?

Media for National Labor Relations Board v. Lion Oil Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 08, 1956 (Part 2) in National Labor Relations Board v. Lion Oil Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 08, 1956 (Part 1) in National Labor Relations Board v. Lion Oil Company

Earl Warren:

Number 4, National Labor Relations Board versus Lion Oil Company and Monsanto Chemical Company.

Mr. Kammholz.

Theophil C. Kammholz:

May it please the Court.

This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the Eighth Circuit.

The question presented arises out of a strike by the Oil Workers International Union against Lion Oil Company at its El Dorado, Arkansas Chemical Plant.

That question is whether the strike which occurred in 1952 was outlawed under the sixty-day cooling-off requirement of Section 8 (d) of the National Labor Relations Act as amended.

The facts, if I may summarize them briefly in the frame of reference of the Board's findings in this case were as follows.

Since 1944, the union and the company had engaged in collective bargaining and had entered into successive contracts.

The contract here involved was executed on October 23rd, 1950.

It provided that its duration was one year and thereafter unless terminated by notice of the parties, of either party.

It further provided that if either party desired modifications, a sixty-day notice should be given and thereupon there would be bargaining and such a notice was given by the union on the first date under the provisions of the contract when it might be given to it August 24, 1951.

Attach to its notice to -- of desire to modify was a list of contract proposals, concurrently with the notice, the union also sent to modification to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and to the Arkansas Commissioner of Labor as is required under Section 3 (d) of the statute.

Numerous bargaining sessions ensued, progress was made with a view to contract changes but by February 14, 1952, when it appeared to the union that the bargaining had bugged down, it took a strike vote.

The strike date was subsequently set, it was postponed three times.

And finally on April 30, 1952, a strike was called.

It was engaged in by all of the production and maintenance employees of the companies some 600 in number within the bargaining unit.

The plant was not fully shut down.

It continued in operation with supervisory clerical, technical personnel.

No replacements were hired by the company and bargaining continued.

After a lapse of nearly two months with the strike in progress, with some production going on, specifically on June 21st, 1952, any bargaining session the spokesman for the union advised that the union was offering to return to work unconditionally all the employees who were out on strike and wanted to know what return to work schedule would be worked out by the company.

At that point, the company negotiators stated to the union representatives that the plant would not be reopened and these employees would not be returned to work until its contractual demands were met specifically until the contract was executed for a duration of at least one year with a firm no-strike clause in it.

This, the union refused to do and thereupon employees, strikers, individually and in groups presented themselves for employment at the company's employment office.

Some were hired from time to time but each who was hired was taken back on the express condition that he would continue to work so long as the strike continued and would cross any picket line which might be in existence before the company's plant.

Bargaining still continued.

And by July, pretty substantial agreement had been reached on a new contract.

At that time for the first time, the company advised that a new contract was conditioned upon the union's withdrawing the unfair labor practice charges against the company which in the meantime had been filed and which are the basis of this proceeding before the Court.

Discussion sued on that point and finally on the 31st of July, the company withdrew from that position, and on August 3, a new contract was executed and the employees, the strikers were returned to their jobs.

On the foregoing facts, the Board concluded that the company's position that a new contract should be executed with a firm no-strike clause for a term of one year.

In other words, insistence on its bargaining position after the union had offered to return strikers to work unconditionally.

It was in derogation of the union's bargaining position as exclusive bargaining representative that the requirement that strikers take it places that were not to go out on strike again and to cross the picket line was discriminatory under Section 8 (a) (1) and (3) of the Act, discriminatory also as to those who were working.