BETH ISRAEL HOSPITAL v. NLRB

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
77-152
Petitioner 
Beth Israel Hospital
Respondent 
National Labor Relations Board
Advocates
(on behalf of the petitioner)
(on behalf of the respondent)
(on behalf of the intervener Union)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Beth Israel Hospital, a nonprofit hospital, had a rule that prohibited employees from soliciting and distributing literature except in sanctioned areas such as certain employee locker rooms and restrooms. An employee distributing a pro-union newsletter in the employee cafeteria was informed that she had violated the rule and was warned of possible dismissal if she continued. The union filed a claim against the hospital under the National Labor Relations Act, which in 1974 was extended to employees of nonprofit healthcare institutions. After a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Administrative Law Judge, who resolves disputes between government agencies and persons affected by the decision of the agencies, held that the hospital cannot interfere with the employees’ rights and must rescind its written rule prohibiting distribution of union literature and union solicitation in its cafeteria and coffee shop. The hospital appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which affirmed the part of the lower court’s ruling that called for rescinding the rule that excluded union activity in eating facilities.

Question 

Was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit correct in upholding the part of the National Labor Relations Board’s order that barred the hospital from enforcing its rule that prohibited employees from distributing union literature and soliciting support in eating facilities?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for NLRB, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: National Labor Relations, as amended

Yes. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. delivered the opinion of the 9-0 majority. The Court held that, since 1974, the Act provided employees of nonprofit healthcare institutions with the right to self-organize and bargain collectively, including the right to communicate about the topic at the jobsite. However, an employer may curb that right by showing that special circumstances necessitate the prohibition of communication in order to maintain production or discipline. In this case, the Court held that the communication and organizing in the cafeteria and the coffee shop did not interfere with patient care sufficiently to justify enforcement of the hospital’s rule.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote that the Board’s broad order may not fully appreciate the delicate nature of a hospital’s communal space and the patients’ need to recover in a stress-free environment. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justice Lewis F. Powell joined in the concurrence. In his separate concurrence, Justice Powell criticized the Board’s use of the precedent case, Republic Aviation Corp. v. NLRB, in reaching its decision. He asserted that Republic’s holding that solicitation during work hours were presumptively invalid was inapplicable in the context of this case given the distinct nature of a hospital as a recovery place and also that the employees lacked meeting space within the hospital. Chief Justice Burger and Justice William H. Rehnquist joined in the concurrence.

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BETH ISRAEL HOSPITAL v. NLRB. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1977/1977_77_152>.
BETH ISRAEL HOSPITAL v. NLRB, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1977/1977_77_152 (last visited November 26, 2014).
"BETH ISRAEL HOSPITAL v. NLRB," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 26, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1977/1977_77_152.