Lechmere, Inc. v. NLRB
502 U.S. 527 (1992)

Facts:

  • The United Food and Commercial Workers Union was trying to organize Lechmere, Inc.’s 200 employees.
  • After a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper was unsuccessful, they entered Lechmere’s parking lot and began placing handbills on the windshields of cars parked in a corner of the lot used mostly by employees.
    • Lechmere’s manager told them that solicitation was prohibited and asked them to leave.
  • Alleging that Lechmere had violated the NLRA by barring the nonemployee organizers from its property, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

Side Notes:

  • The organizers also relocated to a public grassy strip, and passed out handbills to cars entering the lot during hours (before opening and after closing) when the drivers were assumed to be primarily store employees.
  • They also recorded the license plate numbers of cars parked in the employee parking area, secured the names and addresses of some 41 nonsupervisory employees, and reached out to them.
    • These mailings and visits resulted in one signed union authorization card.

History:

  • An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruled in the union’s favor.
  • He recommended that Lechmere be ordered, among other things, to cease and desist from barring the union organizers from the parking lot.
  • The Board affirmed the ALJ’s judgment.
  • The Court of Appeals denied Lechmere’s petition for review and enforced the Board’s order.

Issue:
Whether the facts here justify application of Babcock’s inaccessibility exception.

  • The Babcock exception basically holds that if union organizers cannot reasonably reach employees through the usual channels, accommodations must be made.
  • This is an exception to the general rule that an employer cannot be compelled to allow distribution of union literature by nonemployee organizers on his property.

Holding:
No. Store employees were accessible to nonemployee union organizers, and, thus, employer did not commit unfair labor practice by barring organizers from its property.

Reasoning:

  • Because the employees do not reside on Lechmere’s property, they are presumptively not “beyond the reach,” of the union’s message.
    • The exception arose primarily because of employees that were inaccessible because of logging camps, mining camps, and mountain resort hotels.
  • In addition, it’s the access to employees, not success in winning them over, is the critical issue—although success, or lack thereof, may be relevant in determining whether reasonable access exists.
  • Here, “Because the union in this case failed to establish the existence of any unique obstacles that frustrated access to Lechmere’s employees, the Board erred in concluding that Lechmere committed an unfair labor practice by barring the nonemployee organizers from its property.”
    • Their accessibility is suggested by the union’s success in contacting a substantial percentage of them directly, via mailings, phone calls, and home visits.
    • They also tried advertising in local newspapers.
    • Another available alternative was to display a sign on the public grassy strip adjoining Lechmere’s parking lot, which would have informed the employees about the union’s organizational efforts.
  • Prof:
    • Employee’s interests in receiving union info vs. employer’s in keeping them away.
    • Lechmere was smart by not letting anyone on – salvation army, girl scouts, etc.. Therefore he wasn’t discriminating.

Rule: Section 7, entitling employees to form, join, or assist in labor organizations, does NOT protect nonemployee union organizers, except in rare case where inaccessibility of employees makes ineffective reasonable attempts by nonemployees to communicate with them through usual channels – AKA the Babcock exception.