By:  Bryan Bienias, Esq.

After seven long years of litigation, the D.C. Circuit last Tuesday unanimously held that auto part manufacturer Tenneco Automotive Inc. (“Tenneco”) lawfully ceased to recognize Local 660 of the United Auto Workers union (“Local 660” or “Union”) after the Union’s sixty-one years as the bargaining representative of employees at one of the company’s Michigan plants.  The Court reversed the decision of the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”), finding that the Board disregarded material evidence and “never explained any basis for disagreement with the ALJ’s findings” in favor of Tenneco.

Tenneco’s dispute with Local 660 began in 2005, after negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement broke down and the Union commenced a ten-month long economic strike.  Following the strike, the Union filed several unfair labor practice charges alleging that Tenneco engaged in a series of unlawful conduct during and after the strike,  including  refusing to provide the Union with information regarding the installation of video cameras at the plant.

Around the same time, a group of bargaining unit employees filed their own petition to decertify the Union, which was held in abeyance pending resolution of the Union’s unfair labor practice charges.  However, ten months later, a substantial majority of employees again petitioned to decertify the Union.  Based on this second petition, Tenneco withdrew its recognition of the Union, triggering another unfair labor practice charge and a Board complaint.

The ALJ found in favor of Tenneco on all but the charge over Tenneco’s plan to install security cameras.  The Board disagreed, however, finding violations on all of the Union’s charges and holding that Tenneco’s unfair labor practices caused the employee defection from the Union.  The Board ordered Tenneco to continue bargaining with the Union.

On appeal, the D.C. Circuit reversed the Board’s decision and vacated the bargaining order, holding that, even though Tenneco’s other conduct violated the Act, there was insubstantial evidence that Tenneco’s unfair labor practices caused the employees’ defection from the Union.

Applying the Board’s test for determining whether a causal link existed between the unfair labor practices and employees’ decertification petition, the Court determined that the ten months between Tenneco’s last unfair labor practice and the employees’ second decertification petition was far too lengthy to draw any meaningful connection.  Tenneco’s other conduct, while unlawful, were not substantial enough to warrant the Board’s finding that Tenneco sowed discontent with the Union.

            The D.C. Circuit’s opinion can be viewed as a victory for both employers and employees as the Court again demonstrated a willingness to pull the reins back on the arguably pro-Union Board and rule in favor of employee choice.