Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB

Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, 535 U.S. 137 (2002), is a US labor law decision, by 5 to 4, of the Supreme Court of the United States, which denied an award of back pay to an undocumented worker, Jose Castro, who had been laid off for participating in a union organizing campaign at Hoffman Plastics Compounds plant along with several other employees.[1] The case was originally filed against Hoffman by Dionisio Gonzalez, an organizer with the United Steelworkers.[2]

Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued January 15, 2002
Decided March 27, 2002
Full case nameHoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board
Docket no.00-1595
Citations535 U.S. 137 (more)
122 S. Ct. 1275; 152 L. Ed. 2d 271; 2002 U.S. LEXIS 2147; 70 U.S.L.W. 4209; 145 Lab. Cas. (CCH) ¶ 11,230; 169 L.R.R.M. 2769; 2002 Cal. Daily Op. Service 2731; 2002 Daily Journal DAR 3304; 15 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 178
Case history
PriorOn writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
The Court denied an award of back pay to an undocumented worker who had been laid-off for his part in a union organizing drive.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
MajorityRehnquist, joined by O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas
DissentBreyer, joined by Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that the layoff of Castro violated National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) section 8(a)(3)[3] on the unlawful firing of union supporters. Castro had entered the United States illegally and had also used another person's identity (a friend's birth certificate) to gain employment at Hoffman Plastics.

In a 5-4 decision with the justices divided along ideological lines, the Supreme Court interpreted the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), which penalizes the acts of undocumented workers and provides for significant penalties to companies that knowingly employ illegal immigrants, to disallow the use of the make-whole remedial scheme of the NLRA against an employer which would benefit any person who knowingly broke immigration law. Chief Justice William Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Justices Sandra O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a dissent, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The dissent expressed concern that employers would use the lack of immigration status of an employee to relieve themselves of responsibility under the NLRA.


Hoffman Plastics is a small business based in Paramount, California which manufactures polyvinyl resins and plastic pipework. In 1988 Hoffman Plastics hired Castro. At the time of hiring, Castro presented to Hoffman what seemed to be an authentic U.S. birth certificate, as verification of his legal right to work in the United States.

Approximately seven months after Castro was hired, the United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum and Plastic Workers of America, AFL-CIO started an organizing campaign at Hoffman Plastics. Castro, along with several other employees, showed their support for unionization by participating in the handing out of fliers and union authorization cards.

In retaliation, Hoffman laid off Castro and the other pro-union employees. Three years later, the NLRB found Hoffman Plastics to be in violation of section 8(a)(3)[4] of the NLRA and awarded Castro back pay and reinstatement at Hoffman Plastics. But at an administrative law judge hearing to decide how much back pay should be awarded to the parties involved, Castro admitted that he had entered the country illegally and used a friend's birth certificate to obtain documents needed to gain employment.

After two unsuccessful attempts by Hoffman to reverse the decision to pay Castro, the Court granted certiorari.

National Labor Relations ActEdit

The National Labor Relations Act was first instituted by Senator Robert Wagner (D) of the state of New York in 1935. Senator Wagner submitted a bill to congress to eliminate unfair labor practices of businesses. The NLRA outlines benefits and rights of employees. One of the most important sections of the NLRA is section 7 which gives employees rights to organize labor unions without the fear of retaliation from their employer. Section 7 states, "Employees shall the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection."[5] The Wagner Act or National Labor Relations Act was used for the Nation Labor Relations Board, NLRB to bring the case to The Supreme Court with their determination based on the Wagner act was violated by Hoffman Plastics for firing Castro and others for contributing to the Union organizing at the plant. Section 7 entitles workers to organize, or join a Union if they are so desired. It is also protected under the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the United States Of America.[6] There have been numerous cases brought to the courts by violators such as Walmart for firing employees for threats of employees organizing labor forces to better job benefits such as pay, medical insurance and paid time off. In 2002, the NLRB brought more than 40 cases to court regarding violations of section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act against Walmart.[7]

Immigration Reform And Control ActEdit

The Immigration Reform And Control Act (IRCA) was originally the Immigration and Nationality Act. This article adopted by the 99th congress was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. The act added many new provisions for the purpose of requirements and punishments of the immigrant work force in the United States. In reference to Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB it served for the illegal documentation of the worker Jose Castro when he used a friends birth certificate for identification. The law states under section 101 titled, "Control of Unlawful Employment of Aliens" that it is required under subsection 101 B[8] to provide proper documents such as a passport, certificate of United States citizenship, unexpired foreign passport, naturalization card, certificate of birth in the United States or one that establishes United States nationality at birth with a stamp from the Attorney General. All documents must be verified to be confirmed as legal.


The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that Jose Castro had illegally worked at Hoffman Plastics due to his illegal immigration status. Sure-Tan, Inc. v. NLRB,[9] was one of the major cases used in finding its decision. Sure-Tan was a very similar case about the firing of illegal immigrants. The Court did not refer to the Immigration Control & Reform Act in its findings. It applied only one federal law, the National Labor Relations Act of 1938, since the issue was whether or not to pay the back pay, not the illegal hiring decision of Hoffman. The NLRB was searching for back pay that could have been earned if Castro was not let go. Under the IRCA, Castro was not a documented worker and was thus ineligible to work. Therefore, no back pay could be awarded.

In dissent, Justice Breyer wrote

I cannot agree that the backpay award before us "runs counter to," or "trenches upon," national immigration policy. Ante, at 147,149 (citing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA)). As all the relevant agencies (including the Department of Justice) have told us, the National Labor Relations Board's limited backpay order will not interfere with the implementation of immigration policy. Rather, it reasonably helps to deter unlawful activity that both labor laws and immigration laws seek to prevent. Consequently, the order is lawful.


Nor can the Court comfortably rest its conclusion upon the immigration laws' purposes. For one thing, the general purpose of the immigration statute's employment prohibition is to diminish the attractive force of employment, which like a "magnet" pulls illegal immigrants toward the United States. H. R. Rep. No. 99-682, pt. 1, p. 45 (1986). To permit the Board to award backpay could not significantly increase the strength of this magnetic force, for so speculative a future possibility could not realistically influence an individual's decision to migrate illegally.

To deny the Board the power to award backpay, however, might very well increase the strength of this magnetic force. That denial lowers the cost to the employer of an initial labor law violation (provided, of course, that the only victims are illegal aliens). It thereby increases the employer's incentive to find and to hire illegal-alien employees. Were the Board forbidden to assess backpay against a knowing employer-a circumstance not before us today, see 237 F.3d 639, 648 (CADC 2001)-this perverse economic incentive, which runs directly contrary to the immigration statute's basic objective, would be obvious and serious. But even if limited to cases where the employer did not know of the employee's status, the incentive may prove significant-for, as the Board has told us, the Court's rule offers employers immunity in borderline cases, thereby encouraging them to take risks, i. e., to hire with a wink and a nod those potentially unlawful aliens whose unlawful employment (given the Court's views) ultimately will lower the costs of labor law violations. See Brief for Respondent 30-32; Tr. of Oral Arg. 41, 47; cf. also General Accounting Office, Garment Industry: Efforts to Address the Prevalence and Conditions of Sweatshops 8 (GAOl HEHS-95-29, Nov. 1994) (noting a higher incidence of labor violations in areas with large populations of undocumented aliens). The Court has recognized these considerations in stating that the labor laws must apply to illegal aliens in order to ensure that "there will be no advantage under the NLRA in preferring illegal aliens" and therefore there will be "fewer incentives for aliens themselves to enter." SureTan, supra, at 893-894. The Court today accomplishes the precise opposite.


The decision according to the United States Department of Labor, "does not mean that undocumented workers do not have rights under the U.S. labor laws."[10] The courts ruling finds that workers must have authorization to be working in the United States in order to be protected under all labor laws. Knowingly committing fraud by using false identification to gain employment is a crime as much as it is a crime to hire illegal undocumented workers. The decision that the NLRB had made to award back pay to Castro was overturned by the Supreme Court. The court found that Castro was not eligible for the back pay due to the fact that he was an undocumented worker and was working in the United States illegally. When the court ruled on Sure-Tan, it would have rewarded Castro the back pay he was entitled to because he was protected under the law. Since the ruling on Sure-Tan, the IRCA introduced new laws to help curb undocumented workers. These new laws do not protect undocumented workers by allowing them the six month time frame to become a citizen or obtain a work visa.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Hoffman Plastic Compounds, INC. v. National Labor Relations Board". Cornell Law School. Retrieved 20 March 2012.
  2. ^ Cleeland, Nancy (2002-04-22). "Employers Test Ruling on Immigrants". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ "National Labor Relations Act". Retrieved 20 March 2012.
  4. ^ "See National Labor Relations Act Here". Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  5. ^ "Wagner Act Section 7". Retrieved 20 March 2012.
  6. ^ "First Amendment". 2015-10-30.
  7. ^ "Labor opens a Drive to Organize Wal Mart". The New York Times. 8 November 2002. Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  8. ^ "IRCA Law". Retrieved 25 March 2012.
  9. ^ 467 U.S. 883 (1984)
  10. ^ "U.S. Department of Labor". Retrieved 27 March 2012.


External linksEdit