By:  Paul Galligan and Samuel Sverdlov

Seyfarth Synopsis: The NLRB’s Office of General Counsel has issued an Advice Memorandum stating that an employer lawfully refused a union’s information request regarding its tax cut savings during bargaining.

During collective bargaining, employers often deal with an uncomfortable dilemma — comply with invasive and overbroad information requests from unions or withhold information, and risk Board litigation.  However, in a recent Advice Memorandum, the NLRB’s Office of the General Counsel channeled its inner Mick Jagger, and told the union, no, you can’t always get what you want … you get what you need.  Specifically, the GC’s office concluded that an employer did not violate Section 8(a)(5) of the NLRA by refusing to provide the union with information concerning the its tax cut savings because the information was neither relevant nor necessary to the union’s performance of its statutory functions.

Background

On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA).  Among other features, the law cut corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%.  In response to the new law, Nexstar Media Group, Inc. sent a memo to its employees announcing that the that the company wants to extend its benefits from the TCJA to its employees via a one-time bonus, and increase to the employees’ 401k plan company match.  This benefit, however, was not extended to Nexstar’s unionized employees whose collective bargaining agreements were open for negotiation.

While the parties were bargaining for successor contracts, the union sent Nexstar a broad information request regarding the company’s financial gains from the TCJA.  The union prefaced its request by stating that Congress intended the TCJA’s corporate tax cut to trickle down to workers’ paychecks and return jobs to the USA, and invited Nexstar to “join it” in implementing Congress’ goals through bargaining.  The union then proceeded to request a deluge of information regarding Nexstar’s financial information, employment of foreign employees, political contributions, etc.  Nexstar refused to provide the information, and the union responded by filing a charge under Section 8(a)(5) of the NLRA.  (The Regional Director then sent the issue to the Division of Advice for a recommendation.)

Advice Memorandum

The GC’s office was unpersuaded by the union’s argument that the information was necessary to: (1) ensure, through bargaining, that Nexstar’s benefits from the TCJA went to workers’ paychecks and returning jobs to the United States; and (2) to aid the union in bargaining about bonus payments and increased 401(k) contributions. The GC’s office rejected the union’s first argument because the goals of the TCJA are not sufficiently related to the union’s collective bargaining relationship with Nexstar — the union could not identify any provision of the TCJA either requiring Nexstar to spend its tax savings towards the union’s preferred objectives or giving the union a right to enforce the statute.  Next, the GC’s office rejected the union’s second argument because the requested information is not necessary to either frame the union’s proposals, evaluate and respond to the Nexstar’s proposals, or verify any of Nexstar’s factual assertions in support of its bargaining positions.  The GC’s office reasoned that Nexstar’s memorandum to its employees did not contend that Nexstar’s ability to grant benefits to union employees was impacted by its tax savings in any way.  Accordingly, the GC’s office concluded that Nexstar did not commit a violation of Section 8(a)(5).

Employer Takeaways

This Advice Memorandum is encouraging for unionized employers.  If the GC’s office had found Nexstar’s conduct to be unlawful, it could have opened a floodgate of invasive requests from union’s regarding employers’ tax cut savings information during collective bargaining.  However, employers should take this decision with a grain of salt and continue to evaluate each union information request carefully.  Employers are reminded to consult experienced labor counsel during collective bargaining.

On December 28, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit), in a 2-1 decision (Browning-Ferris Indus. of Cal. v. NLRB, No. 16-1028), invalidated the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB or Board) controversial joint employer test adopted in Browning-Ferris, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015) (Browning-Ferris). The Court remanded the case back to the Board for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Joint employer status potentially can exist under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) — and other employment laws — in a variety of circumstances including labor user-supplier, parent-subsidiary, contractor-subcontractor, franchisor-franchisee, predecessor-successor, creditor-debtor, and contractor-consumer relationships.

The Board’s joint employer doctrine is significant because a unionized joint employer has or shares an obligation to collectively bargain over those employment terms it controls or jointly controls. Similarly, a union or non-union joint employer may be found to have committed unfair labor practices within the scope of its control over the workplace. Additionally, under the NLRA, a union can engage in certain forms of picketing, secondary boycotts, or other economic protest activity against an entity determined to be a joint employer instead of a neutral third party.

In Browning-Ferris, the Board majority (3-2) held that even when two entities never have exercised joint control over essential employment terms, and even when any such joint control is not “direct and immediate,” they still will be joint employers based on the existence of unexercised “reserved” joint control or “indirect” control, including control that is “limited and routine.”

In reviewing Browning-Ferris, the D.C. Circuit majority (i.e., Judges Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins) held that the NLRB “can” consider indirect control and unexercised reserved control as joint employer factors; and, if so, has flexibility in determining what weight to give those factors. As a result, a future Democratic NLRB will have the ability to recognize at least some concepts of indirect and/or reserved control as relevant to joint employer analysis. However, in invalidating the Browning-Ferris formulation, the Court found that the Board’s current test failed to adequately distinguish between indirect control over employment terms and influence or control over “routine” matters related to the formation and maintenance of contractor arrangements. The D.C. Circuit identified cost-plus billing, cost containment measures, providing an “advance description of tasks,” setting basic parameters of performance, and developing contractor “objectives” and “expectations” as examples of actions which — although they may indirectly control or influence a putative contractor’s employees — are not pertinent to a joint employer assessment. The Court sent the case back to the Board to “erect some legal scaffolding that keeps the inquiry within traditional common law bounds.”

The D.C. Circuit also concluded that a remand to the Board was required because the Browning-Ferris decision did not delineate what constitutes “meaningful” collective bargaining — either in general, or with respect to Browning-Ferris’ particular circumstances. In other words, the Court found that the NLRB had not sufficiently explained what employment terms Browning-Ferris co-controlled which made “meaningful” bargaining possible. The Court also appeared to be indicating that the Board needed to address the parameters of any bargaining related to the contours of a joint employer relationship itself, e.g., allocation or reallocation of bargaining obligations between the joint employers.

Although the Court rejected the argument that substantial direct control is the most important factor in any joint employer analysis, the Court found that Browning-Ferris did not present facts as to whether reserved (or indirect) control apart from any actual control alone could result in a joint employer finding. As a result, that question seemingly remains open and unresolved.

In dissent, Judge A. Raymond Randolph criticized the majority for issuing its decision given that the NLRB is presently undertaking joint employer rulemaking. Judge Randolph also considered the majority to have misconstrued the governing common law control concepts.

The D.C, Circuit’s decision will be far from the last word in the joint employer controversy. Apart from the NLRB having been ordered to reformulate the Browning-Ferris test for application to, at least, Browning-Ferris, the Board is engaged in comprehensive joint employer rulemaking which could supersede any test to be developed through case adjudication.

If you would like further information, please contact Seyfarth Shaw at seyfarthshaw@seyfarth.com.

By: Monica Rodriguez, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: In September 2018, the NLRB released its new proposed rule regarding the joint employer standard. The NLRB extended the comment period twice since the release of the new proposed rule. Comments are now due on or before January 14, 2019.

Individuals waiting on pins and needles in anticipation of the outcome of the new proposed joint employer rule will have to wait a bit longer.

On September 14, 2018, the NLRB published its new proposed rule, which Seyfarth discussed here and here. The new proposed rule attempts reverse the joint employer rule created by the Obama Board in 2015. Under the proposed rule, for another employer to be a joint employer, the other employer must possess and exercise substantial, direct and immediate control over the essential terms and conditions of employment in a manner that is more than merely “limited and routine.” Indirect influence of the terms and conditions, contractual reservations of authority never invoked, and mere “limited and routine” authority are insufficient.

Since publishing the rule for comment, the NLRB has twice extended the deadline to submit comments. The new deadline to submit comments is January 14, 2019. The deadline to reply to comments submitted is January 22, 2019. The number of comments submitted is 25,543 and counting.

If you would like to submit a comment or have a comment drafted and submitted on your behalf, please contact your Seyfarth attorney.

 By: Monica Rodriguez, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: The NLRB suspends its request for briefing regarding potential changes to the construction industry bargaining relationship in light of Charging Party Union’s withdrawal of the underlying charge.

The review of whether to make changes to construction industry bargaining relationship has been put on hold. As Seyfarth reported, the NLRB had issued a request for amicus briefs on what the standard should be to determine the majority status of construction unions that have entered into pre-hire agreements, which are permitted under the Act.

Because the Charging Party Union requested a withdrawal of the underlying charge, the NLRB suspended the request for additional briefs on October 15, 2018, pending the Board’s decision on the request for withdrawal. So, employers and unions alike will have to wait and see before we receive additional clarity regarding pre-hire agreements.

  By: Ashley Laken, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Millennials are an ever-growing portion of the workforce, and they generally have favorable views toward labor unions.  Employers would be well-advised to be attuned to this reality and they may want to consider developing and implementing strategies aimed at heading off union organizing before it starts.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis earlier this year, Millennials now make up more than 35% of the U.S. labor force, making them the largest generation currently in the workforce.  Their numbers are continuing to grow, and it’s estimated that they will make up 75% of the labor force by 2025.

At the same time, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, the number of union members in the U.S. grew by 262,000 in 2017, and 76% of that increase was comprised of workers under age 35.  Many believe that one reason younger workers are joining labor unions is because they are concerned about workforce trends that are increasing work insecurity, including the rise of automation and companies’ increased use of independent contractors.

Millennials are also generally known to have favorable views toward labor unions.  A 2017 report published by the Pew Research Center showed that adults younger than age 30 view unions more favorably than corporations.  According to that report, 75% of adults aged 18 to 29 said they have a favorable opinion of unions, while only 55% said they have a favorable view toward corporations.  And in late summer of this year, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that 48% of all nonunionized workers would join a union if given the opportunity to do so.

Millennials have also demonstrated an interest in social activism.  Many younger workers perceive unionization as potentially combating those aspects of jobs that they view as suboptimal, including perceived racial and gender discrimination and a lack of advancement opportunities.  Union organizers are increasingly recognizing that younger workers place a lot of importance on equitable treatment, upward mobility, fair wages, and work/life balance.  Unions are also using new and often informal methods to recruit employees, including social media and text messaging, effectively “speaking the language” of Millennials.

Indeed, the last few years have seen union organizing in industries that traditionally haven’t been unionized, including digital media, nonprofits, and coffee shops.  It almost goes without saying that employees in these industries are often predominantly comprised of Millennials.

And the recent walkout by thousands of non-unionized Google employees at offices around the world was the first protest of its kind by well-compensated tech employees, many of whom are Millennials.  The stated demands of the brief walkout, which were posted on an Instagram page, included an end to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination, a commitment to “end pay and opportunity inequity,” to “promote the chief diversity officer to answer directly to the CEO,” and to have a “clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously.”

Although demands such as these fall outside the scope of what the National Labor Relations Board considers to be mandatory subjects of bargaining between employers and labor unions, they shed light on some of the concerns held by the modern workforce.  On this point, in a recent national survey conducted by MIT, a majority of workers said they don’t have as much of a voice as they believe they should on issues ranging from compensation and benefits to protection against harassment.  These sorts of sentiments can provide fertile feeding ground for union organizers.

Even though many employers recognize some of the negative aspects that can come along with union representation, many employees (including managers and supervisors) might not.  For example, union representation can and often does result in a loss of flexibility in addressing employee issues, and it also results in the insertion of an outside third party between management and employees, which can create a counterproductive “us versus them” attitude.

Employers would therefore be well-advised to train their managers and supervisors on these topics, and also to be on the lookout for union organizing activity among their employees.  Employers should also consider providing positive employee relations training for their managers and supervisors, which could head off union organizing activity before it starts.

 

By: Christopher W. Kelleher

Seyfarth Synopsis: On March 15, 2018, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Novelis Corp., et al. v. NLRB, et al., upholding several unfair labor practices against Novelis Corp., but due to passage of time and changed circumstances, halting the National Labor Relations Board’s efforts to issue a Gissel bargaining order against the Company.

Background

In December 2013, aluminum manufacturer Novelis Corp. announced to employees at its Oswego, New York facility that they would no longer receive Sunday premium pay and that holiday and vacation days would no longer count towards overtime eligibility.  In response, several employees began a union organizing campaign, and obtained union-authorization cards from a majority of eligible employees.  In early January 2014, after declining the union’s request for voluntary recognition, Novelis restored Sunday and holiday pay.

In its efforts to resist organizing, the Company reminded employees that Novelis’ unionized plant in Quebec had closed while its plant in non-unionized Oswego continued to flourish.  The Company also suggested that unionization would lead to loss of business.

Novelis narrowly prevailed in the February 2014 election by a vote of 287 to 273.  After the election, pro-union employee Everett Abare posted a vulgar remark on Facebook complaining about his paycheck and criticizing those who did not vote for the union.  In response, Novelis demoted Abare.

After a hearing, Administrative Law Judge Michael A. Rosas found Novelis committed numerous unfair labor practices.  Specifically, the Company violated Section 8(a)(1) by restoring Sunday and holiday pay, removing union literature, interrogating employees, and prohibiting employees from wearing union paraphernalia.  The ALJ also found that Novelis threatened employees with wage loss, plant closure, and more difficult working conditions if they were to unionize.  Finally, the ALJ found Novelis violated Sections 8(a)(1) and 8(a)(3) by demoting Abare after his Facebook post.  The ALJ recommended several forms of relief, but most notably, he recommended a Gissel bargaining order because, in his view, “traditional remedies … would be insufficient to alleviate the impact reasonably incurred by eligible unit employees[.]”

Novelis filed exceptions with the NLRB, seeking to introduce evidence of significant employee and management turnover since the alleged unfair labor practices, and arguing that changed circumstances rendered the bargaining order inappropriate.  In August 2016, even though more than two years had passed, the Board adopted the ALJ’s findings and refused to reopen the record.  Specifically, the Board noted that it “does not consider turnover among bargaining unit employees or management officials and the passage of time in determining whether a Gissel [bargaining] order is appropriate.”

Discussion

While the Court upheld the Board’s findings as to the unfair labor practices, it disagreed as to the appropriateness of the bargaining order.  In NLRB v. Gissel Packing Co., 395 U.S. 575 (1969), the Supreme Court held that sufficiently serious violations of the NLRA can justify an order requiring an employer to bargain with a union that did not win an organizing election.  However, the Second Circuit has “repeatedly held” that bargaining orders are a rare remedy which are warranted only when it is clearly established that traditional remedies such as a secret ballot rerun election cannot eliminate the effects of the employer’s past unfair labor practices.  Thus, employees should not have unions imposed upon them when, by exercise of their own free will, they might choose otherwise.

The Court found that the Board failed to consider changed circumstances in determining whether to hold a rerun election.  And the Court specifically disagreed with the Board’s contention that it should not consider turnover and passage of time in determining whether a bargaining order is appropriate.  Indeed, “relevant circumstances must be measured at the time of the issuance of the bargaining order and not at the time of the election.”

Several key factors led the Court to hold that a bargaining order was not a suitable remedy:  (1) Novelis took numerous remedial actions since committing the unfair labor practices; (2) two years had passed between the election and the Board’s decision, and a “substantial lapse of time casts doubt” on whether a majority of employees would choose to unionize; (3) the Board ignored key turnover in company leadership; and (4) the Board failed to consider significant employee turnover since the election.  It was thus inappropriate to impose union membership absent a finding that a new, fair election more than three years after the violations was not reasonably possible.

Key Takeaways

This case is instructive for several reasons.  First, employers should take caution when responding to organizing activity.  Novelis committed several avoidable unfair labor practices through its union avoidance techniques.  On the other hand, the case reaffirms that bargaining orders are extreme forms of relief, and should not be issued without careful consideration of whether changed circumstances render such an order inappropriate.

 

By Andrew Cockroft

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Monday, February 5, 2018, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s lawsuit challenging the City of Seattle’s ordinance allowing independent-contractor drivers to engage in collective bargaining was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for oral argument. The outcome of the litigation could have a far reaching impact on the growth of the “gig-economy.”

In December 2015, the City of Seattle became the first city in the United States to pass an ordinance creating collective-bargaining rights for “taxi-cab, flat-rate vehicle and transportation network company drivers,” that would allow such drivers to bargain with their respective companies concerning issues such as payment to drivers, vehicle safety, and other matters of mutual interest. Seyfarth has previously covered similar state and local proposals which sought to provide collective bargaining rights to such workers.

The Chamber’s Lawsuit: Antitrust and NLRA Preemption

Seattle’s ordinance was immediately questioned by business community groups. In March 2016, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed suit against the city seeking to enjoin the new law. The Chamber’s complaint rests on two key claims:

  • First, the ordinance violates the Sherman Antitrust Act because it permits independent-contractors to collude on the prices they will accept for their services and that such activities are per se illegal.
  • Second, the ordinance is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act because it grants collective bargaining rights to independent-contractors even though Congress intended them to be left entirely unregulated in their labor activity and, furthermore, because these drivers are “arguably employees,” the ordinance encroaches on uniform labor law that is properly adjudicated before the NLRB.

Ultimately, the Chamber’s case attempts to put the ordinance, and others like it, in a double-bind: if the drivers are independent-contractors, then the ordinance violates antitrust law by allowing such contractors to collude against the companies they work with, but if they are employees the ordinance is preempted by the NLRA because the city seeks to create municipal bargaining rights where the NLRB is the only agency authorized to make such determinations.

The District Court Grants the City’s Motion to Dismiss

The city moved to dismiss and, in August 2017, the District Court granted their motion. Specifically, the Court rejected the Chamber’s antitrust claim, holding instead that the ordinance was immune from federal antitrust suits. The Court reasoned that the ordinance was authorized by Washington statutes that allow for regulating “for-hire transportations services” in order to promote safe and reliable service. The Court rejected the Chamber’s argument that granting drivers rights to collectively bargain was not related to promotion of safety or reliability, but rather payment for services. The city persuaded the Court that collective bargaining rights promoted safety and reliability in for-hire transportation because, for example, “in other parts of the transportation industry  . . . collective negotiation processes have reduced accidents and improved driver and vehicle safety performance.”

The Court also dismissed the Chamber’s NLRA preemption claim on two basis. First, because the Chamber has alleged that the drivers covered by the ordinance are independent-contractors and are not subject to the NLRA, they could not argue that the drivers where “arguably protected” under the NLRA, a necessary pre-condition of preemption. Second, the Court found that because the NLRA did not explicitly exclude independent-contractors from unionization, it was left up to states and municipalities to determine if such workers could be granted collective bargaining rights. As such the Court found “that Congress was indifferent to the labor rights of independent contractors  . . . because their disputes were thought to be of insufficient magnitude to affect commerce.”

Ninth Circuit Appeal and Oral Argument

The Chamber appealed the District Court’s dismissal to the Ninth Circuit. During oral argument on February 5, 2018, the audio of which is available here, the parties mostly focused on the antitrust aspect of the case, particularly whether Washington State statutes authorized the ordinance and whether permitting bargaining over compensation was sufficiently related to safety and reliability in the transportation industry.

The panel seemed skeptical of the city’s position, with Judge Milan Smith even stating, “You can regulate [the for-hire transportation industry] in terms of the drivers having to get a lube job, they have to get the car washed, they have to stop and help people, that’s all cool. But that has nothing to do with fixing rates, that’s what I’m struggling with.”

While very little of the argument focused on NLRA preemption, when given the opportunity counsel for the Chamber took issue with the District Court’s holding that the Chamber’s own opinion on whether the drivers were, in fact, employees was determinative of preemption. Rather, he explained the issue was whether the drivers where “arguably” employees and given that the issue is currently in front of the NLRB, three District Courts in California had deemed them employees, and that the Teamsters Union are advocating on behalf of such drivers, it is difficult to state they are not “arguably” employees.

Seyfarth will be watching this case very closely and encourages employers to do the same. A decision in favor of the Chamber could provide a road-map for preventing and challenging similar ordinances in other large cities. However, if the Ninth Circuit affirms the District Court’s decision, one can except to see labor organizations push even harder to organizing rights at the municipal level.

By: Robert A. Fisher & Skelly Harper

Seyfarth Synopsis: A 2016 decision of the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) finding that the graduate students at Columbia University were employees under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) has been teed up for review by the Court of Appeals. In order to obtain appellate review of the Board’s decision, Columbia University has refused to bargain with the union certified to represent its graduate-student assistants.

In a landmark ruling, Columbia University, 364 NLRB No. 90 (2016), the Obama Board reversed prior precedent and held that graduate-student assistants at Columbia University were employees and therefore could vote on whether to form a union. After the Union prevailed at the election in December 2016, Columbia filed objections and requested a rerun election. In a decision issued in December 2017, the current Board rejected those objections and certified the Union as the exclusive bargaining representative of the graduate-student assistants. 365 NLRB No. 136.

Teeing up the issue of whether graduate-student assistants are employees under the NLRA, Columbia has now refused to bargain with the Union. There is no right to a direct appeal of Board decisions in representation cases, and the only way for the University to obtain review of the earlier election determination is by refusing to bargain with the Union. Presumably, the Union will file an unfair labor practice charge against Columbia that will then lead to an adverse Board decision against Columbia. At that point, the University would be able to ask a federal Court of Appeals to assess whether the Board correctly decided the employee issue in the first instance.

While it is not the Board’s practice to review representation cases in the context of a refusal to bargain, there is reason to believe that the current Board may revisit whether graduate-student assistants are employees under the NLRA. Both Columbia decisions included vigorous dissents by a Republican Board member. In addition, in a separate December 2017 decision in a case involving Harvard University, another Republican Board member noted his view that Board precedent on the employee-status of students warrants reconsideration. Indeed, the Board had previously gone back and forth on the issue. In Brown University, 342 NLRB 483 (2004), the Board held that graduate-student assistants were not employees. Just two years earlier, in New York University, 332 NLRB 1205 (2000), the Board had held that graduate-student assistants were employees under the NLRA.

Regardless of whether the Columbia University decision is revisited through the appeals process or by the Board itself, it is unlikely that the 2016 decision will be the last word on the issue. The final outcome will most certainly impact efforts by unions to organize graduate-student assistants and other students such as residence assistants. The final decision also may impact the cases in which certain college athletes, usually scholarship athletes, are claiming employee status for purposes of state and federal wage-hour laws.

 By: Bryan R. Bienias, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, December 1, 2017, newly appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a memorandum containing a broad overview of his initial agenda as General Counsel. It previews many anticipated developments during the Trump Administration. Our blog is exploring a different aspect of the memo each day during the first three weeks of December.  Click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here & here to find prior posts.

While the weather outside may be frightful (for some), the agenda recently set forth by NLRB General Counsel Robb in GC 18-02 is sure to make some employers delightful this holiday season. In this installment, we will focus on the GC’s targeting of the Obama Board’s controversial decisions imposing the duty to bargain over discipline of newly unionized employees, as well as the GC’s preservation of longstanding Board doctrines governing employer campaign communications and withdrawing recognition of unpopular unions.

Out with the Old: The End of Alan Ritchey?

As we discussed here, the Board in Total Security Management, 364 NLRB No. 106 (Aug. 26, 2016) not only reaffirmed the Board’s employer-maligned Alan Ritchey decision, which required employers to bargain over discretionary discipline issued to newly organized employees prior to execution of a first contract, but also mandated prospective make-whole relief including reinstatement and back pay for future violations.

Total Security Management went even further and held that such make-whole relief would be subject to an employer’s “for cause” affirmative defense, placing the ultimate burden of persuasion on the employer to show at the compliance phase that (1) the employee engaged in misconduct; (2) the misconduct was the reason for the suspension or discharge; and (3) that the employee would have received the same discipline regardless of any disparate treatment or reasons for leniency shown by the charging party.

With GC 18-02’s listing of Total Security Management as one Board decision that “might support issuance of complaint, but where we also might want to provide the Board with an alternative analysis,” GC Robb sends a gift-wrapped message to employers that, much like 2017, Alan Ritchey’s and Total Security Management’s days may be numbered.  However, employers should continue treading carefully when considering discipline for newly unionized employees. While the Board’s reversal of these precedents are on the agenda, they remain the law of the land.

In with the . . . Old?: Preserving the Levitz Furniture and Tri-Cast Doctrines

GC Robb’s memo also expressly rescinds former General Counsel Peter Griffin’s GC 16-03, which implored the Board to overturn the framework set forth in Levitz Furniture, 333 NLRB 717, 717 (2001), which allows employers to unilaterally withdraw recognition from a union based on objective evidence that the union has lost majority support (i.e., employee signatures).  Griffin advocated for a new rule requiring a Board-sanctioned election before an employer could lawfully withdraw recognition.  With Robb’s rescinding of GC 16-03, employers can sleep somewhat easier in the year(s) ahead knowing that the Levitz framework will remain intact and that the option for employees to quickly rid themselves of an unpopular union will not be impeded through a long and costly election process.

In addition, GC 18-02 announces Robb’s abandonment of GC Griffin’s initiative to overturn the Board’s Tri-cast doctrine regarding the legality of employer statements to employees during organizing campaigns.  In Tri-Cast, 274 NLRB 377 (1985), the Board held that an employer could lawfully inform employees during a union campaign that they will not be able to discuss matters directly with management if they vote for the union and that such statements could not reasonably be characterized as retaliatory threats.

While the Obama Board had indicated its willingness to eventually overturn Tri-Cast, GC 18-02 effectively ensures that the current Board will maintain the status quo in the new year.

Should you have any questions about GC 18-02 or any labor relations issue, please contact the author, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Labor & Employee Relations Team.

 

 By: Bradford L. Livingston, Esq.

In yet another significant decision overturning a controversial Obama-era ruling, the NLRB has reverted to its prior standards in determining what will be an appropriate bargaining unit for union organizing and bargaining. PCC Structurals, Inc., 365 NLRB No. 160 (December 15, 2017).  Just a day before his term on the Board ended leaving a vacancy and 2-2 split among its members, Chairman Miscimarra along with the two newest Board members appointed by President Trump — over the sharp dissent of the Board’s two Democratic members — reversed the so-called “micro bargaining unit” test set out in Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, 357 NLRB 934 (2011). It’s now a Big(ger) Ba(rgaini)ng Theory, or as Sheldon Cooper might say: Bazinga!

By way of background, bargaining units are the identifiable groups of employees that unions can organize, represent, and bargain for at an employer’s facility or facilities. While the National Labor Relations Act for the most part does not define the specific requirements for who can be included in or excluded from any individual unit, it instead looks at whether the group shares enough common working conditions or “an appropriate community of interests.”  Those interests can include an almost limitless number of factors, ranging from the employer’s organizational, management and supervisory structure to which parking lots, break rooms or time clocks certain groups of employees use.  Sometimes a union may represent all employees except managers and supervisors who work at a single location.  Other times, they may represent just a particular craft (e.g., electricians), type of worker (e.g., clerical), or alternatively employees who work at multiple of the employer’s locations.  Likewise, at any individual facility, an employer may be required to deal and negotiate separate labor agreements with (and face the possibility of a strike from) multiple different unions and bargaining units.

The composition of a bargaining unit is significant for both organizing and bargaining. Under the NLRA, it does not need to be the “most” appropriate unit, merely “an” appropriate unit.  When a union files an organizing petition with the NLRB, it has invariably self-selected the group of employees where the union feels it has the best chance of winning a representation election. Often, this may be a smaller group within any facility. Under Specialty Healthcare, the NLRB had ruled that so long as any group that a union selected was minimally appropriate, it would not entertain an employer’s objections unless it could establish that other employees shared “an overwhelming” community of interest with the group the union wanted to represent. As cases under Specialty Healthcare found, working conditions need to “overlap almost completely” so that there was “no legitimate basis” for excluding others from the group the union sought to represent.  In effect, a union could often select a small group of employees within a much larger group, succeed in organizing them, and then it or other unions could try later to organize either other individual groups or the rest of the employees.  Divide and conquer.  Employers were faced with a greater likelihood of negotiating and administering different labor agreements with multiple individual bargaining units at the same facility.

In PCC Structurals, the NLRB reverted to its historical way of assessing any group that a union may seek to represent, looking at both the commonalities and differences in the employment relationship that the group shares with other coworkers.  In that case, the union sought to represent roughly 100 of over 2500 employees working at three of the employer’s facilities in Oregon.  These 100 employees worked in different departments and had different supervisors, each of whom was responsible for supervising other employees that the union did not seek to represent. In rejecting the Specialty Healthcare test under which the smaller group was found appropriate, the Board emphasized that each case will need to be assessed individually and that a smaller unit will not necessarily be appropriate.  Bigger may be better. Bazinga!