NLRB (Logo)By: Joshua M. Henderson, Esq.

Seyfarth SynopsisA recent federal appeals court decision makes it even more difficult for an employer to withdraw recognition from a union that has lost majority support.  Employers need to be aware of the possibility of union “gamesmanship” when deciding how to proceed.

An employer that withdraws recognition from a union as the exclusive bargaining agent of its employees does so, as the Board and Courts say, “at its peril.” It’s a risky move, one that requires objective evidence that a union has actually lost the majority support among the employees it represents.  And the employer must be correct about the actual loss of majority support or it will face an unfair labor practice charge for refusing to bargain with a union.  Consider it a form of strict liability in the labor-relations context.  But what if the employer has objective evidence that a union has lost majority support, and then the union regains the majority support before the employer withdraws recognition?  Also, if an employer is found to have violated the law under those circumstances, what is the remedy when the union deliberately did not disclose to the employer it had regained majority status?

In Scomas of Sausalito v. NLRB (March 7, 2017), the D.C. Circuit considered these two questions.  The Court upheld the unfair labor practice charge against the employer that withdrew recognition without knowing that the union had regained majority status.  The Court observed that the employees had suffered from “an extended period of Union neglect.”  Thus, the union had not sought to bargain with the employer for over a year, and held no meetings and provided no information to its members for more than a year, but continued to collect dues from them all the while.  Perhaps not surprisingly, a majority of employees notified the employer in writing that they no longer wanted the union to represent them.  Two days after being confronted with this news, a union representative notified the employer that the union wanted to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, and worked behind the scenes to persuade six employees to revoke their signatures on the decertification notice that had been given to the employer.  Yet the union never told the employer that these signatures had been revoked, or that (in light of the size of the bargaining unit) this meant the union had in fact not lost majority support.  The Court decried the union’s “gamesmanship” in not informing the employer, but held that under the Board’s Levitz Furniture test (which the Court had approved of in an earlier case), the employer assumed the risk that it was wrong in evaluating majority support.  Because the employer was wrong, it could not lawfully withdraw recognition.

In answer to the second question, however, the Court reversed the Board’s decision that a “bargaining order” was the appropriate remedy. Bargaining orders are reserved for flagrant, deliberate unfair labor practices.  In the Court’s view, the employer was not acting in bad faith when it withdrew recognition from the union.  The evidence showed that the employer did not act in haste.  Rather, it took steps to ensure that the signatures on the petition delivered to it matched those on the employees’ payroll records.  Moreover, the signatures that remained on the petition after the revocation comprised 42 percent of the bargaining unit.  That exceeds the 30 percent threshold for directing an election, whether filed by a union, an employer, or an employee.  The disaffected employees also had filed a decertification election petition with the Board, but withdrew it after their employer withdrew recognition from the union.  Under the circumstances, the Court rejected the Board’s argument that an election was not an appropriate alternative remedy.

Takeaway for Employers:  Under the Board’s current test (which may or may not be reconsidered by a new Republican-majority Board), an employer may withdraw recognition from the union only when there is an actual loss of majority support for the union; as a practical matter, the employer must be absolutely certain that more than half of the employees in the bargaining unit no longer want the union to represent them.  Even then, the union may be able to undermine the employer’s basis for withdrawal and place the employer’s decision in jeopardy.  When faced with an apparent loss of majority support for a union, an employer should seriously consider choosing the safer option of filing an RM petition (a management election petition) with the NLRB to allow the employees an opportunity to vote on whether to oust the union in a formal election overseen by the Board.  [Good-faith uncertainty of majority status could, in some circumstances and under the Board’s current standard, support an internal poll of employees as to their support for the union, but polling requires fastidious attention to procedural safeguards and is fraught with legal risk as well.]

 

NLRB 2By: Marjorie C. Soto, Esq., Jeffrey A. Berman, Esq., and Mary Kay Klimesh, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Congressional Committee Head Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Subcommittee Chair Tim Walberg (R-MI) ask NLRB General Counsel Griffin to either immediately rescind his January 31 report regarding the purported rights of faculty, students and scholarship athletes, or “step aside as general counsel.”

Yesterday, we reported that Richard F. Griffith, Jr., the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, issued a report titled “General Counsel’s Report on the Statutory Rights of University Faculty and Students in the Unfair Labor Practice Context.” A copy of  yesterday’s Management Alert can be found here.

It did not take long for Griffin’s Report to catch the attention of Congress. Yesterday, Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Representative Tim Walberg (R-MI), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, jointly issued a response to the Report, calling for Griffin to “rescind his memorandum immediately” or  “step aside as general counsel.”   In support of their request, the Representatives jointly stated that the “memorandum puts the interests of union leaders over America’s students, and it has the potential to create significant confusion at college campuses across the nation.”

Even if Griffin refuses to withdraw the Report, it reasonably can be anticipated that the General Counsel appointed by President Trump at the conclusion of Griffin’s appointment in November, or the soon-to-be Trump appointed Board majority, will revisit not only the Report but also the underlying decisions in Pacific Lutheran, Columbia and Northwestern.

NLRB By: Marjorie C. Soto, Esq., Jeffrey A. Berman, Esq., and Mary Kay Klimesh, Esq. 

Seyfarth Synopsis:  In a last minute attempt to leave his mark on the NLRB, the Board’s outgoing General Counsel issued a report attempting to expand the rights of university faculty and students, including scholarship athletes under the National Labor Relations Act.

Just months before the conclusion of his four-year term, Richard F. Griffin, Jr., the General Counsel (“GC”) of the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”), issued a report titled “General Counsel’s Report on the Statutory Rights of University Faculty and Students in the Unfair Labor Practice Context.”

The January 31, 2017 Report was issued with the stated intent to serve as a “guide for employers, labor unions, and employees that summarizes Board law regarding NLRA employee status in the university setting and explains how the Office of the General Counsel will apply these representational decisions in the unfair labor practice arena.” The decisions covered by the Report – – Pacific Lutheran University, Columbia University, and Northwestern University–all involved efforts of individuals to obtain representation by a union.

University Faculty

In Pacific Lutheran, the Board established a new test for determining when it would take jurisdiction over religious colleges and universities.  According to the GC, the Board “will…seek redress for unfair labor practices committed by religious schools against individual faculty member discriminatees who the university does not hold out as performing a specific role in creating and maintaining the university’s religious and educational environment.”

As a practical matter, this means that the GC believes that the faculty who are able to seek union representation because they were “not hired to advance the school’s religious purposes,” also are protected by the Act’s prohibition against discrimination for engaging in protected concerted activities. By implication, this may mean that faculty who are hired to advance a school’s religious purposes are not protected.

The GC also provided his analysis of the standard articulated in Pacific Lutheran regarding the managerial status of faculty members.  Specifically, the GC distinguished between managerial faculty (those who “formulate and effectuate management policies by expressing and making operative the decisions of their employer”) and non-managerial faculty (those whose decision-making is limited to “routine discharge of professional duties in projects to which they have been assigned…”).

The GC concluded that, in the unfair labor practice context, a “complaint will not issue against a university if [the Board] determine[s] that an asserted discriminatee is a managerial employee under the Board’s Pacific Lutheran test.”  He added, however, that even when the Board refuses to process a certification petition, it will still conduct an individualized analysis of the discriminatee’s employment position to determine whether that individual exercised sufficient managerial authority to exempt him from the NLRA.

University Students

Student Assistants. Here, the GC briefly summarized the Columbia University decision, stating that the Board “applied the statutory language of the [NLRA] and longstanding common-law principles to settle the issue of statutory coverage for graduate student employees, determining that student assistants are employees under the NLRA.” The GC relied on the 2000 NYU decision to conclude that graduate students met the common-law test of agency because they “‘perform their duties for, and under the control of’ their university, which in turn pays them for those services…” Similarly, the GC applied this precedent to the unfair labor practices context, concluding that, in his opinion, student assistants are well within the ambit of the NLRA and can therefore organize and receive its protections.

Non-Academic University Workers. The GC stated that, as to university students who are performing non-academic university work (e.g. maintenance or cafeteria workers, lifeguards, campus tour guides, etc.), they are “clearly covered by the NLRA and, as with student assistants, [the Board] will analyze unfair labor practice charges involving non-academic student employees accordingly.” In reaching this conclusion, the GC reasoned that the non-academic university worker category presented an easier question than the student assistants in Columbia as, in his opinion, under the common law agency test, there is no issue of whether or not the work performed by the student employee is “primarily educational work.”

Hospital House Staff. With respect to “hospital house staff” (medical interns, residents, and fellows), the GC concluded that they would “continue to be protected as employees under the NLRA, and [the Board] will continue to process unfair labor practice charges involving those employees.”  In reaching this conclusion, the GC reasoned that, just because certain hospital house staff members also happened to be students did not mean that they were exempt from the coverage of the NLRA. He cited the Boston Medical decision, which held that “nothing in the [NLRA] suggests that persons who are students but also employees should be exempted from the coverage and protection of the [NLRA].”

University Football Players. Here, the GC admittedly limits his analysis to the application of the statutory definition of employee and the common-law agency test to find that Division I FBS scholarship football players are employees under the NLRA, and therefore have the rights and protections of that Act. Referring to the Board’s decision in Northwestern, the GC expressly stated that it would be inappropriate for the Report to attempt resolve the sometimes “divisive” questions relating to whether student athletes may organize under the Act.

Conclusion

With Mr. Griffin’s four-year term ending later this year, it is likely that the new GC will want to revisit some or all of the Report. The soon to be Trump-appointed  majority of the Board likely will revisit not only the Report, but also the decisions in Pacific Lutheran, Columbia and Northwestern.

NLRB By: Ashley K. Laken, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: NLRB rules that the operators of the Detroit Masonic Temple unlawfully refused to bargain with a union that represented various engineers and maintenance workers at the temple, even though none of the remaining members of the bargaining unit were union members.

NLRB Chairman Pearce and Members Miscimarra and McFerran unanimously ruled that the Masonic Temple Association of Detroit and 450 Temple, Inc. violated the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to bargain with Local 324 of the International Union of Operating Engineers for a successor collective bargaining agreement. Masonic Temple Association of Detroit, 364 NLRB No. 150 (Nov. 29, 2016).

Facts

The Union had represented employees at the temple since approximately 1968. The most recent collective bargaining agreement covering the temple expired in early 2010, and the Association began operating the temple shortly thereafter.  At the time, there were approximately ten members in the bargaining unit, two of whom were dues-paying Union members.  In mid-December 2010, the Union sent the Association a written request to bargain over a new CBA.  The Association did not respond, and in January 2011, the Union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Association for refusing to bargain in good faith.  The parties entered into a settlement agreement, with the Association agreeing to recognize the Union and bargain in good faith as a successor employer, and they met approximately once per month between January 2011 and May 2011.

After the last negotiation session in May 2011, the Union was told that a new unnamed entity would take over management of the temple and that the Union should wait until the changeover to negotiate a CBA with that entity. In the fall of 2011, the Detroit Masonic Temple Theater Company took over management of the Temple, and the Union held one negotiation session with that entity in January 2012.  The Association and the Theater Company ended their relationship in November 2012, and shortly thereafter, 450 Temple Inc. took over management of the temple.

From late 2012 until January 2015, the Union made multiple attempts to restart negotiation discussions, but in January 2015, the President of the Association and 450 allegedly told the Union that because Michigan had become a right-to-work state and there were no longer any Union members working for the temple, he did not feel it necessary to and would not bargain with the Union. In response, the Union filed the unfair labor practice charge at issue in this case.

Board’s Decision

An administrative law judge found that the Association and 450 were a single employer, in part because the Association had 100% ownership of 450 and they operated out of the same office, and no exceptions were filed in response to that ruling. Thus, the Board’s decision did not address this issue.

Regarding the merits of the charge, the Association and 450 argued that they did not violate the Act because the Union was not the exclusive representative of a majority of employees in the bargaining unit, pointing to the fact that none of the employees in the bargaining unit were Union members. The Administrative Law Judge (and the Board) disagreed, observing that an employer may rebut the continuing presumption of an incumbent union’s majority status and unilaterally withdraw recognition only on a showing that the union has in fact lost the support of a majority of the employees in the bargaining unit, and that bargaining unit employees’ union membership status is not determinative of the employer’s obligation to bargain.  In other words, evidence of a desire to withdraw from membership in the union is insufficient proof that the union has in fact lost the support of a majority of the unit.

The Board found that there was no evidence of any action taken by the bargaining unit employees to express their lack of support for the Union, such as a petition to decertify the Union or statements by the employees that they no longer wanted to be represented by the Union. The Board ordered the Association and 450 to bargain with the Union on request and to post a notice to employees.

Employer Takeaway

The decision highlights the fact that there is a distinction between an employee’s desire to be a member of a union and his or her desire to be represented by a union.  Even if the majority of employees in a bargaining unit are not union members, that does not necessarily mean the union has lost its majority support.  Employers that have questions about the status of an incumbent union’s support should connect with their labor attorney to ensure they do not engage in conduct that would run afoul of the Act.

By: Jade M. Gilstrap

In the midst of what appears to be a proliferation of “micro-units,” on Tuesday, October 18, 2016, the NLRB declined to reconsider its decision to certify a unit of 14 service technicians employed by the Buena Park Honda dealership in Buena Park, California. Sonic-Buena Park H, Inc. d/b/a Buena Park Honda, 21-RC-178527.  In doing so, the Board rejected the employer’s argument that additional employees, particularly lube technicians, should be included in the unit, finding the two types of workers did not share “an overwhelming community interest,” necessitating their inclusion in the same unit.

Relying heavily on Specialty Healthcare & Rehab. Center of Mobile, 357 NLRB 934, 938 (2011), enfd. 727 F.3d 552 (6th Cir. 2013), the majority of the three-member board ruled that the petitioned-for unit of service technicians was appropriate based on an application of the “overwhelming community-of-interest” standard.  As articulated in Specialty Healthcare:

When employees or a labor organization petition for an election in a unit of employees who are readily identifiable as a group (based on job classifications, departments, functions, work locations, skills, or similar factors), and the Board finds that the employees in the group share a community of interest after considering the traditional criteria, the Board will find the petitioned-for unit to be an appropriate unit, despite a contention that employees in the unit could be placed in a larger unit which would also be appropriate or even more appropriate, unless the party so contending demonstrates that employees in the larger unit share an overwhelming community of interest with those in the petitioned-for unit.

Because the facts clearly did not establish that the lube technicians shared an “overwhelming community of interest” with the service technicians, the dealership could not meet this burden. The Board noted that unlike the lube technicians, the service technicians were more skilled, paid substantially higher wages, and required to routinely update and maintain their training and skills, making them “clearly identifiable and functionally distinct.”  Accordingly, the Board held, “[i]n denying review, we find that petitioned-for employees are an appropriate unit and the Employer has not sustained its burden of establishing that any of the disputed classifications, either individually or collectively, share an overwhelming community of interest with the petitioned-for employees such that their inclusion in the unit is required.”

Although board member Philip A. Miscimarra agreed that “the interests of the service technicians [were] sufficiently distinct from the excluded employees and otherwise appropriate for inclusion in a separate unit,” he disagreed with the application of Specialty Healthcare and the “overwhelming community of interest” standard to evaluate whether the petitioned-for unit should be required to include additional employees.  Instead, Member Miscimarra argued that the Board should have applied its traditional principles, believing “bargaining unit determinations should be circumscribed and guided by industry-specific standards where applicable.”

By:  Christopher W. Kelleher, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The NLRB ruled that students who work as teaching assistants at colleges and universities are “employees” under the NLRA and are thus permitted to engage in collective bargaining.

On August 23, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board issued a 3-1 decision in Columbia University, Case 02-RC-143012, holding that private college and university student assistants — including undergraduates — who perform services in connection with their studies, are “employees” under Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, and therefore have the right to bargain collectively.

In doing so, the Board overruled Brown University, 342 NLRB 483 (2004), which held that student assistants are not statutory employees. The ruling directly contradicts the Board’s treatment of students under the Act for nearly all of its 80-year history.

Because Section 2(3) does not adequately define the term “employee,” the Board looked to common law agency principles to determine whether student assistants are covered. The Board thus found that even when the economic relationship “may seem comparatively slight” relative to the academic relationship, “the payment of compensation, in conjunction with the employer’s control, suffices to establish an employment relationship[.]” The Board found no compelling statutory or policy considerations to hold otherwise. The decision applies only to private schools and universities.

Member Miscimarra, the Board’s lone dissenter, argued that the relationship between the students and the university is “primarily educational,” and thus does not fit “the complexities of industrial life.” The dissent warned that the Majority disregarded “what hangs in the balance when a student’s efforts to attain [a] … degree are governed by the risks and uncertainties of collective bargaining and the potential resort to economic weapons” such as strikes, slowdowns, lockouts, and litigation.

Red Light   By: Alison Loomis, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: A challenge to Seattle’s first-of-its-kind ordinance, which established the right for on-demand drivers to collectively bargain, was dismissed by a Washington federal court on the basis that the suing entity lacked standing. 

Seattle recently enacted an ordinance granting “on-demand” drivers the right to bargain collectively. The ordinance, which took effect on January 22, 2016, established a mechanism through which a union could request recognition as a qualified driver representative (“QDR”) for on-demand drivers, and ultimately, negotiate pay and conditions of employment on their behalf with their driver coordinator company (such as, for example, Uber).  If recognition was granted, the QDR would contact the company whose drivers it seeks to represent to obtain the drivers’ contact information.  Once the QDR had the contact information, it could then solicit those drivers regarding their interest in union representation.  If and when a majority of the drivers expressed interest in representation, the city of Seattle would certify the QDR as the exclusive driver representative for all drivers associated with that driver coordinator and the driver coordinator would be required to negotiate with the QDR regarding topics including payment, hours and conditions of work, and equipment standards.

On March 3, 2016, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a trade group that has two driver coordinator companies as members, filed a complaint against the city of Seattle, alleging, among other things, that the ordinance was preempted by the NLRA and the Sherman Antitrust Act. Chambers claimed that the ordinance would “restrict the market freedom relied upon for all for-hire drivers who are part of independent-contractor arrangements” and would “insert a third-party labor union into the relationship between independent contractors and companies.”  In seeking an injunction to stop the enforcement of the ordinance, Chambers alleged that two of its member companies suffered present harm and would likely face a “substantial risk of injury” in the future as a result of the ordinance.

The city of Seattle filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Chambers did not have the requisite standing. In granting the city’s motion, the District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle noted that the Chambers’ two member driver coordinator companies had not yet suffered harm, even if they faced the eventual prospect of a union organizing drive.  The court dismissed the lawsuit “without prejudice,” meaning that Chambers can effectively revive the action at a later date, assuming it gains standing.

In the interim, we’ll wait until the light turns green, and a challenge to this legislation ripens.

NLRBBy: John L. Telford, Jr. and Kaitlyn Whiteside

Seyfarth Synopsis: In yet another pro-union, results-driven decision, the NLRB announces a new approach to evaluating whether an asset purchaser has forfeited its right to set initial terms and conditions when offering employment to a seller’s employees.

In Nexeo Solutions, LLC, 364 NLRB No. 44 (July 18, 2016), a split panel of the NLRB found that Nexeo Solutions lost its right to set initial terms and conditions of employment for the employees of Ashland Distribution’s Fairfield, California facility, which Nexeo acquired in an asset purchase.  The employees were drivers, material handlers, and warehouse employees who had been represented by the Teamsters for approximately 18 years.

Under well-settled law, a purchaser is not typically bound by the collective bargaining agreement governing the seller’s employees, and instead the purchaser may set its own initial terms and conditions of employment. See NLRB v. Burns Security Services, 406 U.S. 272 (1972).  The Supreme Court did, however, carve out an exception to the general rule when “it is perfectly clear that the new employer plans to retain all of the employees in the unit…” Id. at 294-95.  These purchasers are known as “perfectly clear successors.”  The NLRB then interpreted and expanded on the obligations of perfectly clear successors in Spruce Up Corp., 209 NLRB 194 (1974), enf’d. per curiam 529 F.2d 516 (4th Cir. 1975).

Under Spruce Up, a purchaser loses the right to set initial terms when “the new employer has either actively or, by tacit inference, misled employees into believing they would all be retained without change in their wages, hours, or conditions of employment…” or “where the new employer…has failed to clearly announce its intent to establish a new set of conditions prior to inviting former employees to accept employment.” Id. at 195.

The Union and amici, including the SEIU and the AFL-CIO, asked that the Board overturn Spruce Up as inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Burns.  Rather than overrule Spruce Up, however, the Board instead stretched the perfectly clear successor analysis so that the facts of the case at hand would fit within the expanded meaning of the term.

In justifying its decision, the Board relied on the parties’ November 10, 2010 Purchase and Sale Agreement stating that the employees would be offered “(i) a base salary or wages no less favorable than those provided immediately prior to the Closing Date and (ii) other employee benefits, variable pay, incentive or bonus opportunities…substantially comparable in the aggregate” to those provided by the seller. Nexeo, 364 NLRB at 2  The Board also focused on the seller’s communications, rather than the buyer’s, with the employees.  For example:

  • On November 7, 2010 an email from seller’s president was delivered via hard copy to the employees stating, “[W]e anticipate approximately 2,000 Ashland Distribution employees and dedicated resource group and supply chain partners will transfer to the new business.” Id.
  • On November 8, 2010 an employee Q&A was posted on the intranet and the bulletin board at the Ashland facility stating, “Under the terms of the agreement, for at least 18 months following closing, the newly independent company is required to provide, to each transferred employee, base salary and wages that are no less favorable than those provided prior to closing; and other employee benefits that are substantially comparable in the aggregate to compensation and benefits as of January 1, 2011.” Id. at 3.

The Board’s reliance on these communications completely disregarded the buyer’s later statements, which made it clear that any continued employment would be under new and different terms and conditions. The purchaser’s statements included the following:

  • On February 16, 2011, the purchaser met with the union business agent and provided a draft copy of an offer letter to be distributed to the employees. The letter stated, “[W]e think you should know that Nexeo Solutions has not agreed to assume any of Ashland’s collective bargaining agreements.  We have chosen not to adopt, as initial terms and conditions of employment, any of the provisions contained in any current or expired collective bargaining agreement…” Id. at 4.
  • On February 17, 2011, the purchaser mailed the offer letters to the employees along with a document called “Your New Benefits at a Glance,” which detailed the changes to the employee’s health insurance, life insurance, and retirement benefits should they accept the offer. Id.

In relying so heavily only on the seller’s statements, the majority blurred the identity of the speaker and the time at which the buyer’s responsibility for communication kicks in. It held that the seller’s statements to the employees may be imputed to the purchaser for purposes of the perfectly clear successor analysis, a stark departure from the Board’s previous requirement that a perfectly clear successor have engaged in a misrepresentation to the employees in order to lose its right to set initial terms.  Now, the purchaser’s obligation to notify the union of a change in terms and conditions may be triggered simultaneously with the seller’s effects bargaining obligation.

Member Miscimarra, dissenting, noted that “The new affirmative duty created by my colleagues is especially unfortunate because it will predictably have consequences–however unintended they may be–that will generate greater uncertainty for, and impose greater hardship on, employees and unions involved in a sale, transfer or other conveyance of operations.” Id. at 23.

As a result, Miscimarra noted that “[M]any potential successor employers will negotiate strict limitations on a predecessor’s ability to convey any information to its employees regarding their potential employment with the successor.  Nothing in the NLRA requires purchasers to disclose their employment plans to the seller, and–in view of my colleagues’ decision–purchaser would be well advised to prohibit sellers from communicating anything to their employees and unions regarding the purchaser’s employment-related plans.” Id.

The Union has petitioned for the case to be reviewed by the Ninth Circuit. The employer has requested reconsideration by the Board.  It is unclear whether the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will push back against the Board’s extraordinary encroachment on the buyer’s ability to set initial terms.

In the meantime, potential successors contemplating asset purchases from unionized sellers should:

  • Carefully review purchase agreements for any language that could trigger a perfectly clear successor obligation under the Board’s new standard including obligations to provide similar or comparable wages and benefits to the seller’s employees.
  • Negotiate strict limitations on the seller’s ability to communicate the terms of the deal to its employees or the ramifications of the deal on their continued employment.
  • Recognize that although the seller has an effects bargaining obligation, the purchaser may want to consider insisting that any communications by the seller to the employees be coupled with affirmations that any continued employment with the buyer will be under different terms and conditions of employment.
  • Potentially require that a decision on the initial terms and conditions of employment be made prior to execution of a purchase agreement including the terms of any communications regarding those initial terms.

Ultimately, employers will continue to face the difficult balancing required in order to achieve a smooth sale while assuaging employee anxiety against the potential inability to set initial terms of employment. For many purchasers, the inability to set initial terms and conditions of employment could destroy the viability of the deal itself, a result much worse for the employees created by the NLRB’s overreach.

 

By: Jeffrey A. Berman, Mary Kay Klimesh, & Bryan R. Bienias

Last week the National Labor Relations Board decided to reconsider whether graduate teaching assistants at private universities should be treated as employees under the National Labor Relations Act. The case, The New School, Case No. 02-RC-143009, involves a UAW petition to organize graduate students at New York’s New School and marks the Obama Board’s latest attempt to re-visit, and likely reverse, its decision in Brown University, 342 NLRB 483 (2004). In Brown, the Board held that graduate students performing teaching and research services are not “employees” within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the Act because their relationship with the university was primarily educational.

Roughly two years ago, many anticipated the Board would use graduate students union campaigns at New York University and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University as a platform for reversing Brown. However, the cases became moot when the schools and the unions reached voluntary election agreements in November 2013.

This recent decision comes on the heels of the Board’s August 2015 denial of jurisdiction over a union’s drive to organize football players at Northwestern University, where it noted that “the scholarship players bear little resemblance to the graduate student assistants or student janitors and cafeteria workers whose employee status the board has considered in other cases.” Northwestern Univ., 362 NLRB No. 167, slip op. at 3-4 (2015).

Board Member Miscimarra dissented from the Board’s decision to use the New School as a vehicle for revisiting the graduate student issue, noting that Brown is consistent with more than 40 years of Board law holding that “graduate student assistants are not statutory employees, except for a brief four-year period” where the Board considered graduate students to be employees under the Act.

The Board will likely invite amicus briefing on both sides of the issue in the New School case. Should the Board reverse its decision in Brown, the nation’s private colleges and universities can expect a dramatic increase in the efforts of unions to represent their graduate students involved in teaching and research.

We will keep you posted as this issue develops.

By: Marc R. Jacobs, Esq.

For decades prior to 2000, the National Labor Relations Board (Board) consistently found that a bargaining unit was inappropriate when the union sought a unit consisting of employees of one employer together with employees of a separate employer, unless all of the employers involved consented. For example, a proposed unit consisting of employees of (i) a host company and (ii) a staffing company which provided additional labor to the host company was inappropriate for collective bargaining, absent consent of both employers.

In 2000, the Board reversed its position and held that temporary employees provided by a staffing company could be included in a single bargaining unit with the contracting employer’s regular employees, even without consent of both employers. M.B. Sturgis, 331 NLRB 1298 (2000). The key issue for the Board to decide with such a petition was whether the regular employees and the temporary agency employees shared a sufficient community of interest.

The Board’s ruling in M.B. Sturgis was relatively short lived, however. In 2004, in Oakwood Care Center, 343 NLRB 659 (2004), the Board rejected the holding in M.B. Sturgis and disallowed inclusion of solely employed employees and jointly employed employees in the same bargaining unit, absent consent of the employers.

It looks like the Board is looking to change its position yet again. On July 5, the Board issued notice inviting the filing of briefs regarding the pending case of Miller & Anderson, Inc. (05-RC-079249) “to allow parties and interested amici an opportunity to address issues . . .including whether the Board should adhere to its decision in Oakwood Care Center . . . and if not, whether the Board should return to the holding of M.B. Sturgis, Inc. (331 NLRB 1298), which permits the inclusion of both solely and jointly employed employees in the same unit without the consent of the employers.” Briefs must be submitted by August 5, 2015.

Such requests from the Board usually portend a significant change in the law. Staffing companies and employers that use staffing companies to provide temporary employees need to keep a watchful eye on this issue. In addition, these companies need to begin now to prepare for the possibility of a petition for a bargaining unit of employees from both.

We will keep you informed of developments.