FORD MOTOR CO. V. NLRB, 441 U. S. 488 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ford Motor Co. v. NLRB, 441 U.S. 488 (1979)

Ford Motor Co. v. National Labor Relations Board

No. 77-1806

Argued February 28, 1979

Decided May 14, 1979

441 U.S. 488


Petitioner provides its employees with in-plant cafeteria and vending machine services. The services are managed by an independent caterer, but petitioner has the right to review and approve the quality, quantity, and prices of the food served. When petitioner notified respondent union, which represents the employees, that the cafeteria and vending machine prices were to be increased, the union requested bargaining over the prices and services. Petitioner refused to bargain, and the union then filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging a refusal to bargain contrary to § 8(a)(5) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The duty of management and unions to bargain under § 8(a)(5) is defined by § 8(d) as the obligation to meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and "other terms and conditions of employment." Taking its consistent view that in-plant food prices and services are "other terms and conditions of employment," the NLRB sustained the charge and ordered petitioner to bargain. The Court of Appeals enforced the order.

Held: In-plant cafeteria and vending machine food and beverage prices and services are "terms and conditions of employment" subject to mandatory collective bargaining under §§ 8(a)(5) and 8(d) of the NLRA. Pp. 441 U. S. 494-503.

(a) Since Congress has assigned to the NLRB the primary task of marking out the scope of the statutory language and duty to bargain, and since the NLRB has special expertise in classifying bargaining subjects as "terms and conditions of employment," its judgment as to what is a mandatory bargaining subject is entitled to considerable deference. Pp. 441 U. S. 494-496.

(b) The NLRB's judgment is subject to judicial review, but if its construction of the statute is reasonably defensible, it should not be rejected merely because the courts might prefer another view of the statute. Here, the NLRB's view is not an unreasonable or unprincipled construction of the statute and should be accepted and enforced. Pp. 441 U. S. 497-498.

Page 441 U. S. 489

(c) Including within § 8(d) the prices of in-plant-supplied food and beverages serves the ends of the NLRA by funneling an area of common dispute between employers and employees into collective bargaining. Pp. 441 U. S. 498-500

(d) In-plant food prices and services are an aspect of the relationship between petitioner and its employees, and no third-party interest is directly implicated. Therefore, the standard applied in Chemical & Alkali Workers v. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., 404 U. S. 157, as to whether the third-party concern "vitally affects" the "terms and conditions" of the bargaining unit employees' employment, has no application. Pp. 441 U. S. 500-501.

(e) Petitioner's argument that in-plant food prices and services are too trivial to qualify as mandatory bargaining subjects is without merit, especially where both the NLRB and the bargaining unit employees have taken a contrary view. P. 441 U. S. 501.

(f) Problems created by constantly shifting food prices can be anticipated and provided for in the collective bargaining agreement. To the extent that disputes are likely to be frequent and intense, more, not less, collective bargaining is the remedy. Pp. 441 U. S. 501-502.

(g) To require petitioner to bargain over in-plant food service prices is not futile. Although the prices are set by the third-party caterer, petitioner retains the right to review and control such prices. In any event, an employer can always affect prices by initiating or altering a subsidy to a third-party supplier, such as that provided by petitioner in this case, and will typically have the right to change suppliers in the future. P. 441 U. S. 503.

571 F.2d 993, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 441 U. S. 503. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 441 U. S. 504.

Page 441 U. S. 490

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