Holly Farms Corp. v. NLRB, 517 U.S. 392 (1996)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 95-210. Argued February 21, 1996—Decided April 23, 1996

Respondent National Labor Relations Board (Board) approved a bargaining unit at the Wilkesboro, North Carolina, processing plant of petitioner Holly Farms Corporation, a vertically integrated poultry producer. The approved unit included workers described as "live-haul" crews—teams of chicken catchers, forklift operators, and truckdrivers, who collect for slaughter chickens raised as broilers by independent contract growers, and transport the birds to the processing plant. On Holly Farms' petition for review, the Fourth Circuit enforced the Board's order. The court held that the Board's classification of the live-haul workers as "employee[s]" protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or Act), rather than "agricultural laborer[s]" excluded from the Act's coverage by 2(3) of the NLRA, rested on a reasonable interpretation of the Act and was consistent with the Board's prior decisions and with the Eighth Circuit's case law.

Held: The Board reasonably aligned the live-haul crews with Holly Farms' processing operations, typing them covered "employee[s]," not exempt "agricultural laborer[s]"; therefore, the Fourth Circuit properly deferred to the Board's determination. Pp. 397-409. (a) The term "agricultural laborer," as used in 2(3) of the NLRA, derives its meaning from the definition of "agriculture" supplied by 3(f) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA). This definition includes farming in both a primary sense, which includes "the raising . . . of poultry," and a secondary sense, which encompasses practices "performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations." When a statutory prescription is not free from ambiguity, the Board must choose between conflicting reasonable interpretations. Courts, in turn, must respect the judgment of the agency empowered to apply the law to varying fact patterns. Bayside Enterprises, Inc. v. NLRB, 429 U. S. 298, 304. Pp. 397-399. (b) The Court confronts no contention that the live-haul crews are engaged in primary agriculture. Thus, the sole question the Court addresses and decides is whether the chicken catchers, forklift operators, and truckdrivers are engaged in secondary agriculture. The live-haul activities are not "performed by a farmer." When an integrated poul-

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