Lechmere, Inc. v. NLRB, 502 U.S. 527, 7 (1992)

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Cite as: 502 U. S. 527 (1992)

Opinion of the Court

solute, but must be accommodated to the circumstances. Where it is impossible or unreasonably difficult for a union to distribute organizational literature to employees entirely off of the employer's premises, distribution on a nonworking area, such as the parking lot and the walkways between the parking lot and the gate, may be warranted." Id., at 493. Concluding that traffic on the highway made it unsafe for the union organizers to distribute leaflets from the right-of-way and that contacts through the mails, on the streets, at employees' homes, and over the telephone would be ineffective, the Board ordered the company to allow the organizers to distribute literature on the company's parking lot and exterior walkways. Id., at 486-487.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused to enforce the Board's order, NLRB v. Babcock & Wilcox Co., 222 F. 2d 316 (1955), and this Court affirmed. While recognizing that "the Board has the responsibility of 'applying the Act's general prohibitory language in the light of the infinite combinations of events which might be charged as violative of its terms,' " 351 U. S., at 111-112 (quoting NLRB v. Stowe Spinning Co., 336 U. S. 226, 231 (1949)), we explained that the Board had erred by failing to make the critical distinction between the organizing activities of employees (to whom 7 guarantees the right of self-organization) and nonemployees (to whom 7 applies only derivatively). Thus, while "[n]o restriction may be placed on the employees' right to discuss self-organization among themselves, unless the employer can demonstrate that a restriction is necessary to maintain production or discipline," 351 U. S., at 113 (emphasis added) (citing Republic Aviation Corp. v. NLRB, 324 U. S. 793, 803 (1945)), "no such obligation is owed nonemployee organizers," 351 U. S., at 113. As a rule, then, an employer cannot be compelled to allow distribution of union literature by nonemployee organizers on his property. As with many other rules, however, we recognized an exception. Where "the location of a plant and the living quarters of the


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