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: Tiffany Tran, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: In another signal that the Board may overturn the Obama Board’s decision in Purple Communications allowing employees to use their employer’s email systems to communicate about wages, hours, working conditions and union issues, the Board recently published a letter reiterating its decision to reconsider Purple Communications and invited comment from the public on the standard the Board should apply in these cases.

Under Purple Communications, 361 NLRB 1050 (2014), employees who have access to their employer’s email system for work-related purposes have a presumptive right to use that system for Section 7 protected communications regarding wages, hours, working conditions and union issues on nonworking time. Purple Communications overturned the Board’s decision in Register Guard, 351 NLRB 1110 (2007), holding that employers may lawfully impose neutral restrictions on employees’ non-work-related uses of their email systems, even if those restrictions have the effect of limiting the use of those systems for communications regarding union or other protected concerted activity.

In December 2017, the newly appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a memo containing a broad overview of his initial agenda as General Counsel. The memo cited Purple Communications as one of the cases the GC “might want to provide the Board with alternative analysis.” We previously blogged about the GC’s memo on this issue here.

Less than one year later, in August 2018, the Board announced, and Seyfarth blogged about it here, that it would invite briefing on whether it should “adhere to, modify, or overrule Purple Communications.” The Board made this announcement in Caesars Entertainment Corporation d/b/a Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, a pending case before the board that directly applied Purple Communications. In Caesars Entertainment Corporation d/b/a Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, the Administrative Law Judge had found that the employer’s policy prohibiting the use of its email systems to send non-business communications violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA under Purple Communications. The employer excepted to the decision and asked the Board to overrule Purple Communications. Rather than immediately issue a decision, the Board invited the public to comment on this issue.

After extending the deadline to file briefs until October 5, 2018, nineteen amicus briefs were filed from various unions, senators, and interested groups on both sides of the issues. Notably, the GC submitted a brief urging the Board to overrule Purple Communications and return to the holding of Register Guard. The GC further urged that exceptions should be made on a case-by-case basis where the Board determines that employees are unable to communicate in any way other than through the employer’s email system. Finally, the GC argued that Register Guard should apply to other employer-owned computer resources not made available by the employer to the public.

And while five Democrat Senators recently sent a letter to NLRB Chairman John Ring expressing concern over the Board’s invitation to file briefing on the Purple Communications standard, Chairman Ring’s response letter reaffirmed the Board’s decision to reconsider Purple Communications and stated “the Board requested briefing from all interested parties to ensure we are fully informed of the arguments on all sides.”

Although the Board has yet to issue its decision, the Board’s and GC’s actions appear to signal that employers may continue to have hope about winning this battle.

By:  Kyllan Kershaw & Kaitlyn Whiteside 

Seyfarth Synopsis: In Colorado Symphony Association, 366 NLRB No. 60 (April 13, 2018), the NLRB found that an employer had an obligation to disclose information related to individual overscale contracts because the request related to the union’s investigation of potential sex discrimination, a mandatory subject of bargaining.

In a unanimous decision issued on April 13, 2018, the NLRB upheld an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision ordering the production and disclosure to the Union of individual overscale contracts entered into between the Colorado Symphony Association and certain of its musicians.

The catalyst for the request came from the Principal Flutist in the Symphony who believed that she was being paid less than her male counterparts.  The Flutist raised this concern to the Union during her individual contract negotiations with the Symphony, which did not involve the Union. She also alerted the Union to the fact that she was considering filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) regarding her alleged sex discrimination.  Although the Union advised the Flutist that they could not assist with her EEOC filing, they subsequently requested copies of the individual overscale contracts from the Symphony.  A mere two days later, and without the requested information, the Flutist filed her EEOC charge.

According to the ALJ and the NLRB, the Symphony was required to provide copies of the individual overscale agreements to the Union despite the fact that: (i) the CBA expressly authorized the Symphony to negotiate and enter into these agreements; (ii) the Union did not participate in the individual overscale agreement negotiations; (iii) the Union never filed or assisted with a grievance related to the overscale agreements, nor had it raised any issue regarding these agreements during negotiations for a new CBA; and (iv) the CBA did not prohibit the Symphony from engaging in race or sex discrimination or contain a clause obligating the Symphony to comply with all applicable federal and state law, meaning that there was no way for the Flutist to file a grievance under the agreement for her alleged discrimination.

Regardless, the ALJ found that “investigating possible employer race or sex discrimination is a legitimate purpose related to a union’s collective-bargaining duties and responsibilities,” even without the presence of a non-discrimination clause in the contract.  The ALJ speculated that because the parties were in negotiations, the Union could have used the individual overscale agreement information to propose the inclusion of such language in a future agreement.  Even if that was not the goal, however, the ALJ asserted that the Union was investigating potential sex discrimination, which is a well-established mandatory subject of bargaining.   The ALJ further noted that the Union “may therefore be entitled to information that is relevant and necessary to determining whether a particular employment action is discriminatory, even if the employment action itself is not a mandatory subject [of bargaining].”

The ALJ likewise dismissed the Symphony’s claim that the Union’s request constituted an improper fishing expedition for information to support the Flutist’s EEOC charge, noting that the Flutist had not filed the EEOC charge at the time of the initial request, the information sought was presumptively relevant, and that regardless of the EEOC charge filing, a union may conduct its own investigation of possible employer discrimination as part of its legitimate collective-bargaining duties and responsibilities, even where the CBA lacks any non-discrimination provision.

Employers should note that this case can be seen as emblematic of the increased expectations of a union’s responsibilities in the “Me Too” era.  It also appears that the NLRB is willing to accept these additional expectations as a legitimate responsibility of a union as the employee’s collective bargaining representative.  What remains to be seen is how far a union will go to protect its female members from sex discrimination and how much information the NLRB will require an employer to provide on non-mandatory subjects of bargaining where a union claims its request relates to investigating possible discrimination.

 

  By: Paul Galligan, Esq. and Samuel Sverdlov, Esq.

Last month, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) vacated election results from a representation election because the Board agent opened the polling for a voting session 7 minutes late. The employer lost the election by a vote of 14-12, with one challenged ballot. However, there were 4 eligible voters (who were present in the polling location during the 7-minute delay) who did not vote in the election. Following the election, the employer filed two objections, one of which challenged the election results because the delay in voting resulted in potential disenfranchisement of a dispositive number of voters. At a hearing before a Hearing Officer, there was no evidence presented regarding either the reasons why the employees did not vote or whether any employees complained that they were prevented from voting due to the delay. Thus, the Hearing Officer overruled the employer’s objection, and the Regional Director adopted the Hearing Officer’s decision.

The employer thereafter appealed the Regional Director’s decision to the Board. In the 2-1 decision, in which Board Members William Emanuel, a Trump-appointee, and Lauren McFerran, an Obama appointee, participated in the majority, together, the Board applied the “potential disenfranchisement test” rather than the “actual disenfranchisement test” to determine whether to set aside the election. The Board majority cited Pea Ridge Iron Ore Co., 355 NLRB 161 (2001) in holding that the key issue in deciding whether to vacate the election is whether the late opening of the polls results in the “possible disenfranchisement of potentially dispositive voters.” As the Board in Pea Ridge stated:

When election polls are not opened at their scheduled times, the proper standard for determining whether a new election should be held is whether the number of employees possibly disenfranchised thereby is sufficient to affect the election outcome, not whether those voters, or any voters at all, were actually disenfranchised.

The Board rejected dissenting Board Member and Obama appointee Mark Pearce’s contention that setting aside an election requires proof of actual-disenfranchisement. Accordingly, the NLRB vacated the results of the election and remanded the case to the Regional Director to conduct a second election.

OUTLOOK

In an era when bipartisan politics appears to be as forgotten as the film, A Bronx Tale, the Bronx Lobster decision reminds us that Republicans and Democrats can still find common ground applying hyper-technical interpretations of union election rules. Specifically, the NLRB is willing to vacate a union election when the polling began 7 minutes late! This decision serves as a valuable lesson to employers that any deviation from the union election rules could result in an election being set aside. Thus, employers should consult with experienced counsel when preparing for a union election to understand the applicable rules, select appropriate observers, and remain vigilant during the election for any irregularities.

If you have any questions please contact your local Seyfarth Shaw attorney.

Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) issued an Order vacating the Board’s decision in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. and Brandt Construction Co., 365 NLRB No. 156 (2017), in light of the determination by the Board’s Designated Agency Ethics Official that Member William Emanuel is, and should have been, disqualified from participating in the Hy-Brand proceeding. In Hy-Brand, the NLRB had overruled its joint employer test set forth in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015),and returned to its pre Browning-Ferris test.

Under the pre Browning-Ferris joint employer test, which the Board had restored in Hy-Brand, two or more entities were deemed joint employers under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) if there was proof that one entity has exercised control over essential employment terms of another entity’s employees (rather than merely having reserved the right to exercise control) and did so directly and immediately (rather than indirectly) in a manner that was not limited and routine.

In contrast, under the Browning-Ferris test again in effect, the NLRB finds that two or more entities are joint employers of a single workforce if (1) they are both employers within the meaning of the common law;  and (2) they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment. In evaluating whether an employer possesses sufficient control over employees to qualify as a joint employer, the Board will – among other factors — consider whether an employer has exercised control over terms and conditions of employment indirectly through an intermediary, or whether it has reserved the authority to do so.

As the Hy-Brand Board majority underscored, the breadth and vagueness of such a joint employer test threatens to ensnare a vast range of economic relationships, including:

  • insurance companies that require employers to take certain actions with their employees in order to comply with policy requirements for safety, security, health, etc.
  • franchisors
  • banks or other lenders whose financing terms may require certain performance measurements
  • any company that negotiates specific quality or product requirements
  • any company that grants access to its facilities for a contractor to perform services there, and then regulates the contractor’s access to the property for the duration of the contract
  • any company that is concerned about the quality of contracted services
  • consumers or small businesses who dictate times, manner, and some methods of performance of contractors

Accordingly, companies in or contemplating such relationships should account for this new development.  While it is widely expected that the Trump NLRB will eventually overrule Browning-Ferris, when that may occur is uncertain.

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: Kyllan B. Kershaw, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: Union organizers are increasingly embracing the #MeToo movement as an organizing tool, claiming that unions are the key to eliminating gender inequity and sexual harassment in the workplace.

Employers across the country are examining their corporate culture and taking steps to avoid being the next sexual harassment headline in response to the #MeToo movement. While employers already have plenty of reason to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, the #MeToo movement has also created an uptick in unions claiming that joining their ranks is the key to preventing sexual harassment.

Female union organizers are openly embracing this strategy, publicly forecasting plans to collaborate with the Women’s March and use political action committees to promote unions aimed at protecting women. Given the current focus on sexual harassment, employers can also expect to see unions increasingly target companies with high-profile sexual-harassment or gender-discrimination claims, including employers facing collective actions.

Female union leaders are not only using #MeToo as an organizing tool but to call out organized labor on its own gender issues. For example, in a recent article entitled “What #MeToo Can Teach the Labor Movement,” union organizer Jane McAlevey bemoans the “sexist male leadership inside the labor movement” and calls on women to embrace the idea of a female-led labor movement focused on obtaining free childcare, schedule control, and family leave, including in areas such as education and healthcare where women employees comprise the majority.

Employers should expect that the #MeToo movement’s substantial momentum will spur increased organizing efforts aimed specifically at women and quite possibly result in a significant shakeup of union leadership or the formation of new female-focused unions. As such, female-driven union campaigns are likely on the rise, creating unique issues for employers and an increased need for well-trained female members of management who can persuasively assure female employees that a union is not necessary to stopping harassment, achieving pay equity, and otherwise improving the workplace for women.

Seyfarth lawyers have extensive experience devising strategies to avoid and respond to union campaigns targeted towards women, including those involving claims of sexual harassment or raising issues of gender equity. Please do not hesitate to reach out to any Seyfarth lawyer for more information.