NLRB Reversed, High Court Says Organizer-Illegal Alien Not Eligible for Back Pay

The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, Mar. 27 that undocumented aliens working illegally in the United States were not eligible for payments by employers who mistreated them. The Court set aside a Nat’l Labor Relations Bd. award of $66,000 in back pay, plus 13 years’ interest, to Jose Castro, a Mexican national who lied to get his job in a Cal. plastics factory and was laid off for trying to organize a union. The Court said illegal aliens may not collect “such relief” as back pay for jobs they were not entitled to hold.

“However broad the NLRB’s discretion to fashion remedies … it is not so vagrant and unbounded as to authorize this sort of an award,” Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist (Reagan) said.  He also said action by the NLRB, a federal agency, required Hoffman Plastic Compounds Inc. to violate a federal law against knowingly employing illegal aliens and contributed to keeping Castro in the United States illegally.

Others in the majority were Justices Sandra D. O’Connor (Reagan), Antonin Scalia (Reagan), Anthony M. Kennedy (Reagan) and Clarence Thomas (H.W. Bush). Justice Stephen H. Breyer (Clinton) wrote a dissent and was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens (Ford), David H. Souter (H.W. Bush), and Ruth B. Ginsburg (Clinton).

The decision, ending a 13-year legal nightmare for the company, was greeted “gleefully” at the Paramount, Cal., family-owned business. Its 85 employees produce plastic compounds used by other companies to mold electrical and construction parts. “Today the Supreme Court restored the proper balance between our country’s labor laws and immigration laws,” operations manager Roland Hoffman said in a telephone interview.

Castro used a friend’s Tex. birth certificate to identify himself as a citizen when he obtained the job. He was laid off in Jan. 1989 because of organizing work for the United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum & Plastic Workers of Am., which became apart of the United Steelworkers of Am. in 1995. Because the dismissal allegedly violated federal labor laws, the NLRB ordered him reinstated and he worked at the company for four more years.

Rehnquist noted that rehiring a person once the employer learned he was undocumented was illegal under the 1986 Immigration Reform & Control Act, which took effect on July 1, 1987. That law requires all job applicants to prove they are legally eligible to work in the United States, bars applicants from using false papers to prove citizenship and forbids employers from knowingly hiring people in the country illegally. “The aim of our immigration laws is to preserve jobs for those lawfully in this country. The Supreme Court’s decision furthers that goal. We feel vindicated after more than a decade of proceedings with the NLRB,” Hoffman said. [Wash. Times 3/28/02]

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