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National Labor Relations Board v. Elkland Leather Co.

August 21, 1940


Petition for Enforcement of an Order of the National Labor Relations Board.

Author: Maris

Before MARIS and JONES, Circuit Judges, and BARD, District Judge.

MARIS, Circuit Judge.

The National Labor Relations Board had petitioned for the enforcement of its order against the Elkland Leather Company, Inc. That order was based on the Board's findings that the Leather Company had engaged and was engaging in unfair labor practices (1) in interfering, restraining and coercing its employees in exercising their right of free self-organization, (2) in dominating and interfering with the formation and administration of Elkland Leather Werkers' Association, Inc., and (3) by discriminating in regard to the hire and tenure of employment of five employees, Rush Woodbeck, John A. Creeley, Edward Maxwell, Hiram Davis and Elwin Wright, and thereby discouragand membership in a labor organization. Whether these findings are supported by substantial evidence is the principal question for our consideration. In resolving that question we must, as has been repeatedly held, consider the evidence and all inferences arising therefrom in the light most favorable to the Board's findings. We may not consider opposing evidence if it conflicts with other evidence in the record or with inferences fairly to be drawn therefrom. Nor may we pass upon the credibility of witnesses or the weight or sufficiency of testimony or in any other way usurp the fact finding powers of the Board.

Considering the evidence in this light we find that it supports facts found by the Board which may be summarized briefly as follows. The Leather Company is engaged in the business of tanning hides for sole leather. It is the largest sole leather producing unit in the country and employs about 1,000 men at its plant in the Borough of Elkland, Tioga County, Pennsylvania. Elkland is a community of about 3,000 persons. Its whole economic life is dependent upon the Leather Company's business, which is practically the town's only industry. The Leather Company owns about 125 houses which it rents to employees and it builds other houses and sells them to employees on a rental payment plan. A general store in Elkland is controlled by one of the leather Company's stockholders. Two of its principal offiders own the local electic company. By reason of local business activities it is closely and influentially associated with the local bank, the local newspaper and the local tax collector. Its office manager is a member of the borough council. One of its foremen is the burgess and chief of police while another is president of the school board.

In May 1937 a group of the Leather Company's employees met to discuss the formation of a labor organization. They invited in an organizer of the National Leather Workers' Association, which we shall call the Union, and by the end of May an active campaign for membership in that organization was under way. Almost immediately the Leather Company, in order to discourage membership in the Union, delivered to each employee with his pay check a statement reading as follows:

"You are under no obligation to join any union and cannot be forced to do so as this tannery will always operate as an open shop.

"This company will deal individually with any employee that wishes to do so at any time."

On May 29th the Leather Company laid off Woodbeck and on May 31st Creeley, because of their activity in the organization work of the Union. Union organization activity continued, however, and on June 15th Local No. 37 of the Union was organized. By the next day 461 of the Leather Company's 944 production employees had joined.

Beginning June 16th petitions advocating a local in preference to a national union were circulated throughout the plant by employees during working hours. This was done with the knowledge, approval and support of the Leather Company acting through a number of its foremen, who also urged upon employees the formation of an inside organization. At the same time the Leather Company's opposition to the Union encouraged similar opposition in the community. On June 17th the publisher of the local newspaper drew up an anti-Union manifesto which was signed by 53 persons, including leading business and professional men, printed and mailed to each post office box in the town. It acclaimed the advantages of a local organization, referred to the Union as "interested only in securing dues and assessments for furthering what has all the earmarks of a Communistic regime, and the support of a trouble-making organization," and, uring the workers "to consider well before coming to a decision," it declared that "from a reliable source it is understood that the tannery will shut down before the demands of the C.I.O. will be accepted."

The Leather Company took no steps to disclaim the inference that it was the "reliable source" referred to. On the contrary on June 18th it actually took steps looking toward the shutting down of its operations. On that day it placed in soak (the first step in tanning) a very small number of hides and on the next day discontinued soaking hides altogether. The stoppage of the soak involved a gradual cessation of operations and would result in a shut down of the entire plant after the hides already in soak went through each of the successive processing operations. Within a few days the beam house (where the first opreation following the soaking took place) closed, necessitating the layoff of nearly all the single men normally employed there and of a number of men employed in the shipping department whose places were needed for married men transferred from the beam house.Among those laid off at this time were Maxwell, Davis and Wright. They were all three active in the union organization and were laid off because of their activity. This action was calculated both to discourage Union membership and to stimulate community opposition to the Union. Among its results was the running of Union organizers out of town by a group of men led by a Leather Company timekeeper on June 22d and the activity of Justice of the Peace Irons who prepared printed forms for withdrawal from the Union and took the affidavits free of charge of a large number of employees who signed them, some of them being sent to him by Leather Company foremen.

The stoppage of the soak was followed by the holding of a "loyalty" meeting of employees on June 24th as a result of which a committee circulated among the employees a petition which stated that the employees, having "been released or fearing that we will be released from our employment by the company, whereby not only we but the entire community of Elkland * * * have suffered materially * * * , have therefore associated ourselves into the Elkland Leather Workers' Association * * * . We * * * denounce any and all agitation * * * leading or directed toward a severance of the friendly and cooperative associations that have always existed between the company and its management and the employees," and, requesting the LEather Company "to accept this assurance of our loyalty and cooperation," asked that "steps be taken immediately to increase production in the company plant * * * ." On June 30th, the day after the vice president and general manager of the Leather Company was informed that more than 650 employees had signed this petition, he directed resumption of the soak operations.

Previously on June 25th the members of the Union had voted to take strike action in order to show the strength of their organization and to halt the demoralization in their ranks resulting from the anti-Union campaign and the discriminatory lay-offs of Union members. An effort was made to arrange a conference with the general manager of the Leather Company on June 26th but before this could be done the union members learned that further lay-offs, in the cut sole department, had occurred. Believing that the Leather Company was acting in bad faith the Union members walked out on strike at 2 o'clock P.M. on that day. The strike was caused by the Leather Company's unfair labor practices. The strike was still in progress when the hearings before the trial examiner of the Board commenced in September, 1937. An abortive attempt to settle it occurred on July 10th when an agreement was signed providing for the return of the strikers to work. When, upon their attempt to return on July 12th, it became apparent that there was a complete misunderstanding between the parties as to the meaning of the agreement, the strike was resumed.

Meanwhile the Elkland Leather Workers' Association, which had its inception in the circulation in June with the approval and support of the Leather Company of the petitions advocating a local organization and which took definite form with the "restore the soak" petition, was established as a permanent organization following the restoration of the soak. Steps were taken to incorporate it, by-laws were adopted, and officers were elected. A majority of the employees having signed the articles of incorporation, the Leather Company entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Association on July 13th. The Association thus incorporated and recognized by the Leather Company as collective bargaining agent ...

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