Unfair Labor Practices

 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: John J. Toner, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: In a decision issued late last week, The Boeing Company, 365 NLRB No. 154 (Boeing), the newly constituted “Trump” National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) announced that employers could once again maintain common sense rules regarding employee conduct at the workplace.

Of all the decisions issued in recent years by the previous Board, none was more baffling than those regarding an employer’s required standards of employee conduct contained in employee handbooks. These decisions were premised on a 13-year old decision in Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia (Lutheran Heritage) which held that, in addition to an employer’s policy being found unlawful if it explicitly restricted protected, concerted activities under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, a policy would also be found unlawful if :

  • employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit Section 7 activity,
  • the rule was promulgated in response to union activity, or
  • the rule has been applied to restrict the exercise of Section 7 rights.

The Obama Board used the first test (how would employees “reasonably construe” the language of a policy) to invalidate numerous common sense policies, such as requiring employees not to engage in conduct that impedes “harmonious interactions or relationship” or prohibiting “abusive or threatening language to anyone on company premises.” The Board found these and other policies to be illegal without taking into account an employer’s legitimate justifications or the “real-world complexities” in a workplace.

To further complicate matters, the Obama Board sometimes found policies with the same objective (civility in the workplace) to be lawful. The byzantine nature of these decisions made it nearly impossible for an employer to maintain policies regarding employee conduct with any assurance that the Board would find the policies to be lawful.

In the Boeing decision, the Board majority (Chairman Miscimarra, and Members Emanuel and Kaplan), over a strong dissent (Members Pearce and McFerran), thankfully overruled the Lutheran Heritage “reasonably construe” standard and established a new test for evaluating whether a facially neutral policy, rule, or handbook provision, when reasonably interpreted, would interfere with employee Section 7 rights. Specifically, the Board in evaluating a policy will seek to strike a proper balance between (1) the nature and extent of the potential impact of the policy on employee Section 7 rights and (2) the employer’s legitimate justifications associated with the rule.

To provide greater clarity to all parties, the Board’s majority announced that, in the future, it will analyze the legality of workplace policies based on three categories:

  • Category 1 will include rules that the Board designates as lawful to maintain, either because (i) the rule, when reasonably interpreted, does not prohibit or interfere with the exercise of NLRA rights, and thus no balancing of employee rights versus employer justification is warranted; or (ii) the potential adverse impact on protected rights is outweighed by justifications associated with the rule.
  • Category 2 will include rules that warrant individualized scrutiny in each case as to whether the rule would prohibit or interfere with NLRA rights, and if so, whether any adverse impact on NLRA-protected conduct is outweighed by legitimate justifications.
  • Category 3 will include rules that the Board will designate as unlawful to maintain because they would prohibit or limit NLRA-protected conduct, and the adverse impact on NLRA rights is not outweighed by justifications associated with the rule. The Board gave as an example under Category 3 a policy prohibiting employees from discussing wages or other working conditions.

The Board specifically highlighted as examples of policies that would be legal under Category 1, including policies requiring employees to foster “harmonious interactions and relationships” or “rules requiring employees to abide by basic standards of civility,” and overruled previous cases that held to the contrary.

To be sure, there will be some confusion and issues to be addressed as the newly-announced categories are applied to employee handbook policies, but what is certain is that employers can once again lawfully require that employees maintain a reasonable level of civility in the workplace.

 

 

 

 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!

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

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, December 1, 2017, newly appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a memo 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 to find prior posts.

In Banner Health Systems, 362 NLRB No. 137 (June 26, 2015) (originally decided in 2012 and reaffirmed upon remand following Noel Canning), one of the Obama Board’s more overreaching decisions, the 2-1 Board majority found that the employer unlawfully maintained a policy of asking employees during investigatory interviews not to discuss the internal investigation with others.  The Board majority did so based on testimony by a human resources investigator, who asked an employee not to discuss the on-going investigation with anyone, and the fact that the investigator sometimes used a checklist form that contained this point.  The investigation did not even involve Section 7 activity, but the majority nevertheless reasoned that employees could reasonably construe this refrain as impeding their Section 7 rights.

The Board majority proceeded from there to announce a new rule prohibiting employers from promulgating general rules barring employees from discussing ongoing investigations. The Board majority provided limited exceptions if witnesses needed protection, evidence is in danger of being destroyed, testimony is in danger of being fabricated, or there was a need to prevent a cover up.  (On appeal, the DC Circuit remanded this part of the ruling back to the Board based on the lack of substantial evidence.)

As it stands, the Banner Health Systems rule and the limited exceptions have made it virtually impossible for employers to create meaningful guidelines for internal investigators to instruct employees on the confidentiality of investigations.

The lengthy but sharp dissent from Phil Miscamarra provides an indication of how the new Trump Board and the Division of Advice will review Banner Health Systems.  Yesterday’s decision in Boeing Company (3-2 decision overruling the “reasonably construe” standard of Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia, 343 NLRB 646 (2004) makes it a racing certainty that the Obama Board decision in Banner Health Systems will no longer fly.

Should you have any questions about a current or proposed confidentiality policy, or requiring confidentiality during internal investigations, please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Labor & Employee Relations Team to be sure your company’s approach passes legal muster under current law.

  By: Kyllan Kershaw, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, December 1, 2017, newly appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a memo 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 to find prior posts.

While many employers were surprised by the Obama Board’s inability to overturn IBM Corp.,  341 NLRB 1288 (2004), and extend Weingarten rights to non-union employees, the Obama Board powerfully expanded the scope of Weingarten rights in a number of areas, including significantly diminishing a unionized-employer’s ability to conduct reasonable suspicion drug testing in Manhattan Beer Distributors, 362 NLRB No. 192 (2015).  In Manhattan Beer, the Obama Board majority ruled that a beer distributor violated the NLRA by terminating a unionized employee for refusing to take a drug test without first providing him with a reasonable opportunity to consult in person with an authorized union representative, despite the fact that the employee was able to consult with a union representative via telephone.  Member Johnson’s dissent outlines the numerous ways in which the decision substantially interferes with an employer’s interest in maintaining a safe and drug-free workplace.

The Obama Board likewise expanded Weingarten rights beyond any prior precedent in Howard Industries, Inc., 362 NLRB No. 35 (2015), broadening the range of permissible conduct by union representatives in Weingarten interviews to include allowing union representatives to assist witnesses by providing scripted answers.  In Fry’s Food Stores, 361 NLRB No. 140 (2015), the Obama Board bolstered Weingarten rights further by finding that Weingarten requires that an employee has the right to consult with a union representative not only during the investigatory interview but also before the interview, even without the employee requesting such a meeting.

Fortunately for employers, in GC Memo 18-02, the NLRB’s new General Counsel previews that the General Counsel’s office will seek to nip the Obama Board’s Weingarten overreach in the bud, requiring Regions to submit to the Division of Advice any matters involving the range of permissible conduct by union representatives in Weingarten interviews and matters involving the application of Weingarten in the drug-testing context.  The new General Counsel also rescinded the initiative to overturn IBM Corp. and extend Weingarten rights to non-union employees.

The General Counsel’s change in direction on Weingarten rights is certainly a gift to employers, but GC Memo 18-02 leaves one notable Weingarten decision on the nice list.  Specifically, the GC Memo fails to mention the Obama Board’s controversial decision in E.I. Dupont de Nemours & United Steel Workers Local 699 to allow dishonest employees to receive reinstatement with backpay if an employer violates his or her Weingarten rights, effectively receiving “get out of jail” free cards for any misconduct that occurs during an unlawful interview. 362 NLRB No. 98 (2015).  Alas, while GC Memo 18-02 previews many long-awaited gifts to employers, the Trump Board’s revisiting of E.I. Dupont remains on every unionized-employer’s holiday wish list.  Maybe next year.

By: Robert A. Fisher, Esq., Jeffrey A. Berman, Esq., and Mary Kay Klimesh, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On December 1, 2017, the newly-confirmed General Counsel of the National Relations Board, Peter Robb, issued a memorandum to the NLRB regional offices listing legal issues that should be submitted for review to the Division of Advice prior to the issuance of an unfair labor practice complaint.  Among other responsibilities, the Division of Advice provides guidance to the General Counsel and the regional offices with respect to significant legal issues arising in the processing of unfair labor practice charges. 

The memorandum also listed seven different legal memoranda, commonly known as “GC Memos,” issued by Mr. Robb’s predecessor that were being rescinded. Of significant importance to colleges and universities is that among the seven rescinded GC Memos was the Memorandum entitled “General Counsel’s Report on the Statutory Rights of University Faculty and Students in the Unfair Labor Practice Context” (“the Report”).  This Report set out then-General Counsel Richard F. Griffin Jr.’s views as to the applicability of three election cases previously decided by the NLRB — Pacific Lutheran University, Columbia University, and Northwestern University — to unfair labor practice cases involving the Section 7 rights of faculty, student assistants and student-athletes.  Our prior description of the Report can be found here.  The rescission of the Report signals that the new General Counsel intends to depart from his predecessor on these issues.

NLRB Jurisdiction Over Religious Colleges and Universities and Managerial Status

In Pacific Lutheran University, 361 NLRB No. 157 (December 16, 2014), the NLRB, departing from well-established case law, including decisions of the United States Supreme Court, announced a new test to determine when jurisdiction would be asserted over religious colleges and universities in representation cases.  The test established in Pacific Lutheran increased the instances in which jurisdiction would be asserted.  Also breaking with a prior decision of the Supreme Court, the Pacific Lutheran decision narrowed the circumstances in which faculty involved in school decision-making would be deemed to be managerial and thus excluded from protection of the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”).  Analysis of the decision can be found here.

As specifically intended, Griffin’s Report extended the holdings of Pacific Lutheran beyond representation cases to the unfair labor practice context.  The positive effects of the new General Counsel’s rescission of the Report should be felt in both unfair labor practice and representation cases.

Student Assistants

In Columbia University, 364 NLRB No. 90 (2016), the Board, departing from years of decision-making, held that students who performed services for the university in connection with their studies, specifically teaching and research assistants, were employees within the meaning of the Act for the purposes of organizing.  The Report extended this conclusion to the unfair labor practice context.  Moreover, and although the Board in Columbia University did not address the status of non-academic student workers such as those who work in cafeterias and bookstores, the Report also concluded that such student workers have rights under the Act.

Taken together, the Report meant that prior General Counsel Griffin believed that student assistants and non-academic student workers not only could unionize under the Act, but that they also were protected from actions being taken against them because of their efforts to unionize.  Colleges and universities should expect positive effects in both areas as a result of Robb’s rescission of the Report.

Student-Athletes

Lastly, Griffin’s Report addressed the Board’s decision in Northwestern University, 362 NLRB No. 167 (2015), in which, based on public policy considerations, it declined to exercise jurisdiction over a representation petition relating to the University’s scholarship football players.  In doing so, the Board specifically left unresolved the question of whether college scholarship football players are employees subject to the Act.  Undaunted by the fact that the Board would not decide the employee status issue, former General Counsel Griffin concluded that, based on the record in Northwestern University, Division I scholarship football players are employees under the Act and left open the possibility of a similar determination as to scholarship athletes in other sports.

The Report already had been used by plaintiffs in wage-hour litigation to support their position that certain scholarship athletes are employees for purposes of state and federal wage-hour laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The rescission of the Report should prevent that in the future.

Conclusion

General Counsel Robb’s recession of the Report is not surprising.  After the Report was issued by former General Counsel Griffin, Congressional Committee Head Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Subcommittee Chair Tim Walberg (R-MI) asked Griffin to either immediately rescind the Report or “step down.”  We reported on this here.  Although the Report is only directed toward unfair labor practice cases, it would not be surprising if the Board decided to revisit its underlying holdings in Pacific Lutheran and Columbia University.  Indeed, on December 12, 2017, Board Member Emanuel noted in an unpublished decision that the Board’s precedent regarding the status of students as employees under the Act “warrants reconsideration.”

  By: Christopher W. Kelleher, Esq. & Danielle A. Vera, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, December 1, 2017, newly appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a memo 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 to find prior posts.

In April and August of this year, the Second and the Eighth Circuit Courts of Appeals affirmed two Board rulings and held that under certain circumstances even extremely vulgar or racially bigoted speech fall within the protections of the NLRA. In Memorandum GC 18-02, the new General Counsel has signaled his interest in reconsidering the analysis in these cases, and narrowing the outer boundaries of speech protections afforded by the Act. Importantly, this is an opportunity for the Trump Board to change direction regarding the application of the Atlantic Steel factors to social media cases.

In Pier Sixty, an employee was terminated for posting the following on Facebook regarding his supervisor Bob: “Bob is such a NASTY MOTHER F***ER don’t know how to talk to people !!!!!! F*** his mother and his entire f***cking family!!!! What a LOSER!!!! Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!.” NLRB v. Pier Sixty, LLC, Case No. 15-1841 (2nd Cir. Apr. 21, 2017). The employee posted this online during an authorized break only two days before a contentious union election. Ultimately the ALJ, the Board and the Second Circuit agreed that the vulgar language did not push the comment outside of the NLRA’s protected speech. For a more detailed discussion of this case, Click here.

In Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., the ALJ, Board, and Eighth Circuit agreed that a picketer’s racially bigoted comments toward African-American replacement workers did not provide the Employer with “just cause” to terminate him. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. NLRB, Nos. 16-2721, 16-2944 (8th Cir. Aug. 8, 2017). The picketer shouted at a van full of African-American replacement workers, “Did you bring enough KFC for everybody?” and asked other picketers if they could “smell fried chicken and watermelon” as the van passed by. The Eighth Circuit held that because the speech was merely offensive and not actually threatening, it was protected.

Although the new General Counsel’s Advice memorandum signals that change related to the outer bounds of NLRA-protected speech is on the horizon, until any change is made, Employers should remain vigilant regarding the NLRB’s current position but look forward to potential changes coming in 2018.

 By: Karla E. Sanchez, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, December 1, 2017, newly appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a memo 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 to find prior posts.

In GC Memo 18-01, the newly appointed General Counsel listed cases concerning no cameras and recording rules as requiring submission to the Division of Advice for consideration as to whether the GC “might want to provide the Board with alternative analysis.” The GC also cited to Purple Communications, 361 NLRB 1050 (2014).  The GC’s inclusion of Purple Communications in its Memo suggests that the GC may disagree with the Obama Board’s decision.

In Purple Communications, the Board majority ruled that employees who have access to an employer’s email system as part of their job, may during non-working time use the email system to communicate about their wages, hours, working conditions, other terms and conditions of employment, and union issues. Then Member Miscimarra and former Member Johnson dissented.

In Purple Communications, the Company had an “Internet, intranet, Voicemail, and Electronic Communications Policy” that only allowed the use of company owned electronic equipment and systems, including email, for business purposes. The Communications Workers of America union filed the charge alleging that the prohibition interfered with employees’ Section 7 rights. The Union prevailed. Notably, the ruling overturned the Board’s 2007 decision in Guard Publishing v. NLRB, 571 F.3d 53 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (“Register Guard”), which held that employees have no statutory right to use their employer’s email systems for organizing or for discussing wages or other terms and conditions of employment.

In their separate dissents, Miscimarra and Johnson articulated various reasons for their disagreement with the Board’s majority. For example, Miscimarra articulated four main concerns and reasons for his dissent:

  • That the Board’s decision “Improperly presumes that limiting an employer’s email system to business purposes constitutes ‘an unreasonable impediment to self-organization.’”
  • That the Board’s decision failed to balance NLRA protections for employees and employers’ property rights.
  • That the Board’s decision significantly affects other legal requirements including well-established legal principles under the NLRA. For example, Miscimarra articulated that employers, unions, and employees would have problems exercising the right to use email systems with other NLRA principles and rights such as the prohibition on surveillance of employees’ protected activities, the Board’s axiom that working time is for working, and employers’ right to restrict solicitation during working time.
  • That the Board’s decision replaced a “longstanding rule that was easily understood,” causing instability, confusion, and uncertainty.

The Purple Communications decision has been viewed by many employers as a taking of employer’s private property. Given the GC’s inclusion of Purple Communications in its GC Memo, there is hope for employers in 2018 that the Obama Board’s deviation from its precedent in Register Guard may be reconsidered under the Trump Board.

 

  By: Michael Rybicki, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, December 1, 2017, newly appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a memo setting forth a wide range of issues that must be submitted to Advice before Complaints will be authorized. Generally these issues involve areas of the law where the “Obama Board” issued decisions departing from previously established precedent. The memo strongly suggests that instead of declining to exercise prosecutorial discretion not to issue Complaints where the General Counsel disagrees with the legal principles announced in these decisions, he intends to given the newly constituted Board the opportunity to assess these legal principles as the opportunity arises. Our blog is exploring a different aspect of the memo each day during the first three weeks of December. Today’s blog looks at controversial changes with respect to work stoppages. Click here, here, & here to find prior posts.

In Quietflex Manufacturing, 344 NLRB 1055 (2005), Member Liebman dissented from a decision that an employer did not violate the Act by discharging 83 employees for refusing to vacate its parking lot where those employees had engaged in a peaceful 12-hour work stoppage to protest their terms and conditions of employment. The majority had held that under relevant precedent, while an on-the-job work stoppage can be a form of economic pressure protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, not every such work stoppage is protected and that “[a]t some point an employer is entitled to exert its private property rights and demand its premises back,” citing Cambro Mfg. Co., 312 NLRB 634, 635 (1993). Applying a 10-factor test,[1] the majority determined that in balancing employee interests against the employer’s property interests, the employer’s interests prevailed. In her dissent, Member Liebman asserted that the balance struck by the majority seemed unreasonable and implicitly argued that heavier weight should have been given to those factors that tended to favor protection.

Member Liebman’s views were essentially adopted by the Obama Board in a series of cases, Los Angeles Airport Hilton Hotel & Towers, 360 NLRB 1080 (2014), enf’d Fortuna Enterprises, LP v. NLRB, 789 F.3d 154 (D.C. Cir., 2015); Nellis Cab Company, 362 NLRB No. 185 (2015); and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 364 NLRB No. 118 (2016). In each of these cases the majority purported to apply the Quietflex multi-factor balancing test and found that the activity at issue was protected. While Member Johnson concurred with the result in Los Angeles Airport Hilton, he disagreed with respect to several aspects of the majority’s analysis of the Quietflex factors, particularly with respect to the failure of the majority to give what he considered to be proper weight to the employer’s open door policy as an alternative means for employees to present their grievances.

In dissenting in part in Wal-Mart, Member Miscimarra found that the activity in question constituted a modern day sit-down strike and on-premises protest by employees inside a retail store before and during the store’s grand reopening that was clearly unprotected under the “disruptive or interference standard” applicable in a retail setting, citing Restaurant Horikawa, 260 NLRB 197 (1982). He further noted that even assuming that the Quietflex factors were applicable, he disagreed with the majority’s analysis under the Quietflex standards. The essence of his disagreement, set forth in a lengthy and detailed dissent, was that the majority had either misapplied the standards or misconstrued or given inappropriately heavier weight to those factors that tended to favor protection.

For example, with respect to the third Quietflex factor, whether the work stoppage interfered with production or deprived the employer access to its property, contrary to the majority’s conclusion that this factor favored protection, Member Miscimara believed this factor “weighs against protection and does so heavily.” (Slip op. at p. 15.) In his opinion, the record clearly established that “the employees’ actions caused substantial disruption and interference, including an adverse impact on customers.” (Id.)

In our view, Member Miscimara’s views with respect to the applicability and construing of the Quietflex standard and the weight to be given the various factors is better reasoned from both a legal and practical perspective. General Counsel Robb’s memo suggests that he may agree, possibly giving employers – and particularly retail employers – something to look forward to in 2018.

[1] The 10 factors applied in Quietflex were: (1) the reason the employees have stopped working; (2) whether the work stoppage was peaceful; (3) whether the work stoppage interfered with production, or deprived the employer access to its property; (4) whether employees had adequate opportunity to present grievances to management; (5) whether employees were given any warning that they must leave the premises or face discharge; (6) the duration of the work stoppage; (7) whether employees were represented or had an established grievance procedure; (8) whether employees remained on the premises beyond their shift; (9) whether employees attempted to seize the employer’s property; and (10) the reason for which employees were ultimately discharged [disciplined].

By: Ashley Laken, Esq.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, December 1, 2017, newly appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued a memo 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 to find prior posts.

In GC Memo 18-02, the new General Counsel of the NLRB listed “Disparate treatment of represented employees during contract negotiations” as requiring submission to his Division of Advice for consideration before proceeding to issue a complaint in an unfair labor practice case, citing to the Obama Board’s decision in Arc Bridges, Inc., 362 NLRB No. 56 (2015). The new GC described Arc Bridges as “Finding unlawful the failure to give a company-wide wage increase to newly represented employees during initial bargaining, even where there was no regular, established annual increase and the employer was concerned that it would violate the Act if it unilaterally provided the increase to represented employees.” The GC Memo 18-02 suggests the GC may disagree with the Arc Bridges decision.

In Arc Bridges, while an employer was negotiating an initial collective bargaining agreement, it gave a 3% wage increase to all employees outside of the bargaining unit but did not provide any increase to bargaining unit employees. The Board found that the employer’s actions were unlawfully motivated and violated
Section 8(a)(3) of the NLRA. The Board observed that an employer can treat represented and unrepresented employees differently during the course of negotiations, so long as the disparate treatment is not unlawfully motivated.  The Board then proceeded to find that the employer’s decision to withhold the wage increase from union-represented employees was motivated by antiunion animus, and ordered the employer to retroactively pay each of the affected employees for the increase they would have received, plus interest compounded daily, plus compensation for any adverse tax consequences.

Then-Member Miscimarra vigorously dissented, reasoning that in his view, the evidence manifestly failed to support an inference of unlawful motivation. He also reasoned that even if the evidence showed otherwise, the employer had shown it would have withheld the increase for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons, which included preserving bargaining leverage and avoiding a Section 8(a)(5) charge.

Miscimarra observed that “Under the Board’s prevailing but mistaken view,” the General Counsel can show that protected conduct by employees was a motivating factor in an employer’s decision simply by showing generalized antiunion animus. Instead, Miscimarra observed, the General Counsel must establish a motivational link between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.

Miscimarra made these additional observations to support his view that the Board was mistaken:

  • It is important to recognize that it is not unlawful “antiunion motivation” when an employer desires to be more successful in union negotiations, and the Board has long held that employers can offer different benefits to represented and unrepresented groups of employees as part of its bargaining strategy.
  • Annual wage increases at the employer were not the status quo, and refraining from giving unit employees a wage increase while bargaining was ongoing was what the employer was supposed to do; otherwise, the employer would have violated Section 8(a)(5).
  • Especially in this context, the Board must require strong and convincing evidence sufficient to prove unlawful motivation; otherwise, employers would run the risk of violating the Act whenever they comply with their legal obligation to refrain from automatically giving represented employees whatever increases are granted to other employees.
  • The practical effect of the majority’s decision was to put the employer in a no-win situation, and the Board cannot reasonably adopt standards that cause parties to be in violation of the Act regardless of the actions they take.

In our view, Miscimarra’s approach makes more sense from both a practical and a legal standpoint. And GC Memo 18-02 suggests that the new NLRB General Counsel may agree, possibly giving employers something to look forward to in 2018.