The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to review a decision that barred an employer from editing a union news bulletin.
In Silsbee, Tex., in March, 1974, Local 801 of the United Paperworks International was preparing to begin contract negotiations with Eastex, Inc., a maker of paper products.
Keeping in mind what it termed its "good relationship" with Eastex, the local showed its news bulletin to the company and requested permission to distribute it on members' time in non-work areas of the plant.
The company declined to permit the distribution. It said that, of the four subjects the bulletin discussed, two were unrelated "to our association with the union" and were beyond its "authority or power to change or control."
One disputed part, headlined "Politics and Inflation," criticized President Nixon for vetoing a bill to raise the hourly minimum wage to $2 while remaining "silent about oil companies' profits ranging from 56 percent to 280 per cent."
Eastex also objected to a passage, headlined "A Phony Label," that urged members to protest the Texas "right to work" law with letters to state legislators.
When the union protested to the National Labor Relations Board, an administrative law judge ruled that the National Labor Relations Act protected both disputed parts of the bulletin and ruled for the union. Later, the board upheld him, 3 to 1.
Eastex then appealed to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a decision in April, the court termed both subjects "sufficiently related to employment situations to merit . . . protection" and said it is "impermissible" for an employer to edit union material.
Chief Judge John [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Brown wrote for the court that anything "reasonably related to the employees' jobs or their status or condition as employees in the plant may be the subject of such handouts as we treat of here, distributed on the plant premises in such a manner as not to interefere with their work."
Even when wage scales derived from collective bargaining far exceed the minimum wage, the minimum influences the scales and consequently is a subject the union has a right to discuss, Brown wrote. At the time the hourly minimum at Eastex was $3.86, almost double the sum vetoed by Nixon.
As to right-to-work laws, Brown said, "One can hardly imagine" a matter more deserving of discussion by "organized labor - for its members as well as for non-members whom the union owes the obligation of good faith bargaining . . ."
Brown said he was troubled by an NLRB suggestion that Eastex could have excised material it found objectionable and then allowed the bulletin to be handed out. This would amount to employer editing and "would give rise to some very dangerous things," Brown wrote.
"The union could not fully express its views in its own way." Brown said. "The strength of the bargaining process would be seriously diluted." Moreover, he wrote, the practice could raise charges of "court-sanctioned interference with First Amendment rights."