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Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. National Labor Relations Board

February 18, 1964

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, PETITIONER
v.
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, RESPONDENT.



Author: Mclaughlin

Before MCLAUGHLIN, HASTIE and FORMAN, Circuit Judges.

MCLAUGHLIN, C. J.: This case is before the court upon the petition of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (Metropolitan) to review and set aside an order of the National Labor Relations Board (Board) issued against Metropolitan on March 11, 1963, pursuant to Section 10(e) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended. 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. (1958).In its answer the Board has requested that its order be enforced in full.

Metropolitan is a New York corporation, engaged in the sale and issuance of insurance policies throughout the United States and Canada. Its operations are highly centralized and the practices and procedures established at the New York home office govern the district offices, which are the basic operating units of the company. A superintendent of agencies oversees the district offices in his territory, while each district office is under the supervision of a manager. The district offices themselves are relatively independent of each other, except in so far as they are joined by the company into a territory. There is virtually no interchange of agents among the various district offices, and there is no business or social contact among agents except on the individual district office level.

Delaware is part of Metropolitan's Atlantic Coast Territory with three district offices. Two are in the Wilmington area, called Brandywine and Kirkwood, and the third is forty-six miles from Wilmington in Dover. These offices account for fifty-four regular (in the field) agents and four office account agents. Brandywine has eighteen, Kirkwood nineteen, and Dover seventeen.

It was within this organizational structure, the Insurance Workers' International Union, AFL-CIO (Union) sought to organize Metropolitan's insurance agents in Delaware. Apparently failing in its attempt to organize the agents of the three district offices, the Union petitioned the Board, pursuant to § 9(c) of the Act, requesting certification as bargaining representative of the agents at the two Wilmington district offices. The Board decided that the grouping of these two offices was an appropriate unit for collective bargaining and directed an election to be held. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 138 N.L.R.B. 565 (1962). The Union won and on October 15, 1962 the Board certified the Union as the representative.

Upon Metropolitan's refusal to bargain, the Board found that Metropolitan was guilty of an unfair labor practice within the meaning of Section 8(a)(5) and Section 8(a)(1) of the Act. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 141 N.L.R.B. No. 37 (1963). Metropolitan has admitted that it refused to bargain but has argued consistently below and here, that the grouping of the Brandywine and Kirkwood district offices, is not an appropriate unit, that the Board's unit determination is based on the Union's extent of organization contrary to § 9(c)(5) of the Act.

By virtue of Section 9(b) of the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), Congress has given the Board the authority to determine units appropriate for purposes of collective bargaining. 29 U.S.C. 159(b) (1958), as amended. The Taft-Hartley Amendments have not altered this and the determination of an appropriate unit remains one left to the wide and informed discretion of the Board. Its decision, if not final, is rarely to be disturbed. Packard Motor Car Company v. N.L.R.B ., 330 U.S. 485, 491 (1947); Texas Pipe Line Company v. N.L.R.B ., 296 F.2d 208, 210 (5 Cir. 1961); Foreman & Clark, Inc. v. N.L.R.B ., 215 F.2d 396, 405 (9 Cir. 1954). See N.L.R.B. v. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co ., 270 F.2d 167, 173 (4 Cir. 1959); N.L.R.B. v. J.W. Rex Co ., 243 F.2d 356, 359 (3 Cir. 1957); Westinghouse Electric Corp. v. N.L.R.B ., 236 F.2d 939, 942 (3 Cir. 1956); N.L.R.B. v. Botany Worsted Mills, 133 F.2d 876, 880 (3 Cir. 1943). However, the 1947 amendments, by the addition of certain sections and provisos to the Act, limited the discretion of the Board in determining appropriate units. This appeal is focused on Section 9(c)(5),*fn1 one such limiting section and the issue to be determined here is whether in the exercise of its said discretion, the Board went afoul of the Congressional mandate that in determining appropriate units, the extent to which the employees have organized shall not be controlling.

Early in its life, the Board had developed the so-called "Extent of organization" theory. This theory quickly endorsed by the courts,*fn2 gave expression to the view that it was desirable in the determination of an appropriate unit to render collective bargaining of employees an immediate or reasonably early possibility. The Board regarded this view as an obedient implementation of the command of the National Labor Relations Act that it seek to "insure to employees the full benefit of their right to self-organization and to collective bargaining and otherwise to effectuate the policies of the Act."*fn3 However, as the theory was brought to bear on Board determinations of appropriate units, it became clear that in certain instances, the extent of employee organization was given controlling weight. See Matter of Chase Brass & Copper Co., Inc ., 4 N.L.R.B. 47, 51 (1937); New England Spun Silk Corp ., 11 N.L.R.B. 852 (1939); Matter of Botany Worsted Mills, 27 N.L.R.B. 687 (1940), with which Board determination we did not interfere. N.L.R.B. v. Botany Worsted Mills, 133 F.2d 876 (3 Cir. 1943); J.L. Hudson Co ., 56 N.L.R.B. 406 (1944).

These decisions and others*fn4 attest to the strong, if not overwhelming reliance the Board, from time to time, placed on the factor of the union's extent of organization. It was this approach Congress sought to block.

Representative Fred A. Hartley, presenting the House Report on its bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act said in regard to what was to become 9(c)(5):

"Section 9(e)(3) strikes at a practice of the Board by which it has set up as units appropriate for bargaining whatever group or groups the petitioning union has organized at the time. Sometimes, but not always, the Board pretends to find reasons other than the extent to which the employees have organized as ground for holding such units to be appropriate. While the Board may take into consideration the extent to which employees have organized, this evidence should have little weight, and as section 9(e)(3) provides, is not to be controlling." 1 Leg. Hist. 328.*fn5

Senator Robert Taft, after the bill had passed the first time (the Senate and House later had to vote to override President Truman's veto), submitted a supplementary analysis of the Labor Bill as passed "in order to make clear the legislative intent." As to § 9(c)(5), Senator Taft said:

"It overrules the 'extent of organization' theory sometimes used by the Board in determining appropriate units. Opponents of the bill have stated that it prevents the establishment of small operational units and effectively prevents organization of public utilities, insurance companies and other business whose operations are widespread. It is sufficient answer to say that the Board has evolved numerous tests to determine appropriate units, such as community of interest of employees involved, extent of common supervision, interchange of employees, geographical considerations, etc., any one of which may justify the finding of a small unit. The extent of organization theory has been used where all valid tests fail to give the union what it desires and represents a surrender by the Board of its duty to determine appropriate units. Its use has been particularly bad where another union comes in and organizes the remainder of the unit which results in the establishment of two inappropriate units." 2 Leg. Hist. 1625.

Simultaneous with the hearings and debates in Congress regarding the proposed amendments to the National Labor Relations Act, the Board was confronted with a series of representation petitions*fn6 of which Garden State Hosiery Co ., 74 N.L.R.B. 318 (1947) is most informative. For the first time the Board entered upon an extended discussion of the ...


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