The Story of Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB: Labor Rights without Remedies for Undocumented Immigrants, chapter 10 of Labor Law Stories and chapter 12 of Immigration Stories

Document Type



The most up-to-date version of this piece can be found in the Duke Law Scholarship


In Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137 (2002), the United States Supreme Court held that undocumented workers are not entitled to remedies for violations of their rights to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. The majority of the Court viewed enforcement of immigration policy prohibiting employment of undocumented workers as more important than protecting the labor rights of both undocumented workers and their U.S. citizen co-workers who join their efforts to improve working conditions. The chapter explores the origins of the case in a minimum-wage factory in Los Angeles, the surprising turn of events when the illegally fired worker blurted out on the witness stand that he was not a U.S. citizen, how the lawyer for the employer portrayed his client as being unaware of the worker's undocumented status when the employee he had stated on the job application that he was not authorized to work in the U.S., and the closely-divided decisions at every level of judicial review in which judges disagreed strenuously how to reconcile immigration and labor policy. The chapter also explores the impact of the case on a wide variety of state and federal employment cases in which employers have argued that undocumented workers are unprotected by law.

Date of Authorship for this Version

October 2005