National Labor Relations Board v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

PETITIONER: National Labor Relations Board
RESPONDENT: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 380 US 438 (1965)
ARGUED: Jan 21, 1965
DECIDED: Apr 05, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for National Labor Relations Board v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 21, 1965 in National Labor Relations Board v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company

Earl Warren:

Very well.

Number 98, National Labor Relations Board, Petitioner, versus Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Number 98.

Mr. Friedman.

Daniel M. Friedman:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case which is here under writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit brings before the Court the standards which the National Labor Relations Board follows in determining what is an appropriate unit for purposes of collective bargaining by Insurance Agents.

More specifically the question is whether in selecting as an appropriate unit a single district office of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, the Board violated Section 9 (c) (5) of the National Labor Relations Act.

That is a section that was added to the statute in 1947 and states that in selecting the appropriate unit the Board shall not treat the extent to which the employees have organized as controlling.

The Court of Appeals in this case held that the Board in selecting this unit had violated that standard, not as we read the opinion because it was anything in the Board's decision in this case to show that it had treated the extent of organization as controlling but because of the fact that in six other cases also involving the selection of appropriate units for Insurance Agents.

In each case, the unit which the Board ultimately selected in some instances a single district office and other instances I shall explain a combination of offices.

In each case, the unit which the Board selected as appropriate was the same unit that the union had requested and the Court of Appeals stated it was unable to reconcile this conflicting decisions of the Board and it therefore drew the inference that in all of these cases including this one, the thing that had controlled the Board's selection of the appropriate unit was the extent of organization.

Now, our position is this, we think we can show and I'll attempt to show that in selecting this particular unit, that is a single district office, the Board applied its settled principles which it had consistently applied in various fields in selecting appropriate units.

But there was no abuse of discretion in so doing that its various decisions dealing with insurance agents are consistent and all of these come down basically to the question of statutory interpretation which is what does it meant when -- if the Congress says that the extent of organization shall not be controlling.

We say all that it meant was that the Board could not base its decision solely on the fact of extent of organization but the Board may in deciding these questions consider the extent of organization.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

Mr. Friedman, did it mean it is something underlying and that is a sense of the Congress that the Board in decision-making prior to that time is following a practice which the Congress did not approved?

Daniel M. Friedman:

I -- I think that's right Mr. Justice and as I will develop, we think the legislative history shows that despite this limitation nevertheless the Congress did recognized that the Board could select small units if they were appropriate under the standard criteria.

I'd like to just mention before coming to the facts that this decision of the Court of Appeals of the First Circuit is contrary to the decisions of three other circuits, each of which has upheld a Board determination of this appropriate unit on the same basis that the Board went on in this case.

Now, there's no basic dispute over the facts in this case.

The record which is before the Court has read a long document consist primarily of the record in another case involving the selection of appropriate units in Delaware and the facts developed in that case relate to the general operation of the company and I -- whereby stipulation included in the record in this case.

The company sells insurance throughout the United States and Canada.

Its operations admittedly are very highly centralized in the main office of the company in New York City and in the main office under the main office procedures very detailed standards and methods of operation are provided, the company details in great specificity just how the business is to be conducted at the local level.

The company for operational purposes divides its business into 14 large territories.

Each of which includes a number of states and each of which is under the direct supervision of a company official called the superintendent of agencies.

Now, within each one of these 14 territorial districts there are in turn a large number of district offices and it is to the district offices to which the individual agents who sell the insurance are attached.

The particular office with which we're here dealing in Woonsocket, Rhode Island is in the company's New England territory which embraces five states and the State of Rhode Island itself has eight district offices and this particular district office employs 23 agents.

Each of the district offices of the company is under the supervision of a district manager who may have one or more assistants.

And the district manager in turn is directly responsible to the superintendent of agencies.

In other words, the chain of command within this company is from the superintendent of agencies in the main office in New York directly to the district manager at the local level.

As the vice-president of the company explained, he characterize, he says the district manager is the chief executive in his particular district.

And this man as the chief executive has immediate supervisory authority over all the agents in his district.

The actual hiring of the agents is done by the home office but the responsibility for recruiting new agents is placed upon the district manager and it's up to the district manager to solicit applicants for openings as they arise and if he finds a man is suitable and sends -- and sends the recommendation forward to the home office and the record shows that approximately three quarters of his recommendations are accepted.