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decided: April 4, 1983.



Powell, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Author: Powell

[ 460 U.S. Page 695]

 JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue is whether an employer may discipline union officials more severely than other union employees for participating in an unlawful work stoppage.


Metropolitan Edison Company began construction of a two-unit nuclear generating station at Three Mile Island in 1968. Over half of its employees were represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Article XI of the collective-bargaining agreement between the company and the union provided:

"The Brotherhood and its members agree that during the term of this agreement there shall be no strikes or walkouts by the Brotherhood or its members, and the Company agrees that there shall be no lockouts of the Brotherhood or its members, it being the desire of both parties to provide uninterrupted and continuous service to the public." App. to Pet. for Cert. A-32.

Despite this no-strike clause, union members participated in four unlawful work stoppages between 1970 and 1974.*fn1 On each occasion the company disciplined the local union officials more severely than the other participants. Twice the union filed a grievance because of the disparate treatment accorded

[ 460 U.S. Page 696]

     its officials, and in both cases the arbitrators upheld the company's actions.*fn2 They found that union officials have an affirmative duty to uphold the bargaining agreement. The breach of that duty justified the company's imposition of more severe sanctions.

On August 30, 1977, an unrelated union, the Operating Engineers, set up an informational picket line at the entrance to the Three Mile Island construction site. When members of the Electrical Workers union refused to cross the picket line, company officials spoke to David Lang, the local union president. They told him that he had a duty as a union official to ensure that the Electrical Workers' members complied with the no-strike clause. It was the company's view that Lang could fulfill this duty only by crossing the picket line and thereby inducing other employees to follow.

Although instructed repeatedly to cross the line, Lang declined to do so. He was aware that the other employees were unlikely to follow him and sought instead to learn the cause of the picket line. On being told that the line would not be removed unless the Operating Engineers' business agent ordered it, Lang attempted to reach him. He also directed Gene Light, the Electrical Workers' vice president, to

[ 460 U.S. Page 697]

     continue his efforts to persuade the pickets to remove their line. After approximately four hours, Light and Lang were able to negotiate a settlement between the Operating Engineers and Metropolitan Edison. The settlement required the company to establish a separate entrance to the construction site. When this was done, the picket line came down and the union's members returned to work.

Metropolitan Edison disciplined all of its employees who refused to cross the picket line by imposing 5- to 10-day suspensions. Light and Lang, however, each received 25-day suspensions and were warned that future participation in any unlawful work stoppage would result in their immediate discharge. The company explained that the additional penalty was imposed because of their failure as union officials to make "every bona fide effort to prevent the unlawful work stoppage," specifically their failure to attempt to end the strike by crossing the picket line.*fn3

The union filed an unfair labor practice charge, and the Regional Director for the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against the company. The Administrative Law Judge concluded that under Precision Castings Co., 233 N. L. R. B. 183 (1977), selective discipline of union officials violated §§ 8(a)(1) and (3) of the National Labor Relations Act, 61 Stat. 140, as amended, 29 U. S. C. §§ 158(a)(1) and

[ 460 U.S. Page 698]

     (3).*fn4 The Board affirmed the Administrative Law Judge's conclusions and findings. Metropolitan Edison Co., 252 N. L. R. B. 1030 (1980).

On petition for review and cross-petition for enforcement, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit enforced the Board's order. 663 F.2d 478, 484 (1981). It held that an employer may impose greater discipline on union officials only when the collective-bargaining agreement specifies that the officials have an affirmative duty to prevent illegal work stoppages. Id., at 482. If the agreement does not provide for such a duty, any disparate treatment of union officials violates § 8(a)(3). The court reasoned that in the absence of a clear contractual duty, requiring a union official to take affirmative steps to end an illegal work stoppage would place him in an intolerable position. If he failed to follow the company's directions, he would place his job in jeopardy. If he complied with the company's demands and crossed the picket line, he would lose the respect and support of the union members. Id., at 482-483.

The Court of Appeals rejected the company's argument that the two earlier arbitration awards were sufficient to impose a contractual duty on the union officials to cross the

[ 460 U.S. Page 699]

     picket line. The court held that it was not bound by these arbitration decisions in determining the extent of the officials' contractual obligations. Id., at 483. It noted that a previous arbitration decision normally would not bind an arbitrator later construing the same collective-bargaining agreement. Absent an express contractual provision making earlier arbitration decisions binding,*fn5 ...

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