Category Archives: unions

“Scabby” the Rat Gets Stay of Execution

Contributed by Michael Hughes, July 22, 2021

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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled 3-1 on July 21, 2021 that labor unions may continue to use large, inflatable balloons–usually in the shape of an ugly rat–to aid in publicity of labor disputes, whether connected with traditional picketing activity or without.  The inflatable rat balloon used by the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150 has been nicknamed “Scabby.”  Scabby was the subject of the NLRB’s ruling.  In that case, Local 150 erected Scabby and banners at the entrance to the parking lot at an RV tradeshow.  The rat and signage identified the company that the union had its primary dispute with (the “primary employer”), but also named Lippert Components, Inc., a customer of the primary employer, stating “Shame on Lippert Components, Inc. for Harboring Rat Contractors.”  Lippert is a major supplier to the RV industry.  All attendees of the tradeshow had to drive past Scabby, the banners, and two seated, stationary union members to enter the parking area.

For many years, labor unions have utilized Scabby, and other inflatable creatures such as a “fat cat,” on their picket lines and other demonstrations. Such use has become ubiquitous at construction site pickets lines. Employers, businesses and the former General Counsel of the NLRB, Peter Robb, sought to execute Scabby in instances, like as used against Lippert Components, where the union employed the rat against “secondary” or “neutral” employers—i.e., employers with whom the union does not have an actual labor dispute.  Ever more frequently, unions have utilized such inflatables against neutral employers in an effort to pressure those neutral employers to stop doing business with the company with whom the union has an actual dispute.

It is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), as an unfair labor practice, for a union to “picket” against a secondary or neutral employer.  Traditional picketing activity, by its nature, necessarily contains a confrontational or coercive element.  Employers and the NLRB GC argued that, even without any other traditional picketing activity, the use of Scabby, by itself, was similarly confrontational and coercive.  Accordingly, they argued, the use of Scabby or other such inflatables, should be considered unlawfully coercive when deployed against businesses and employers with whom the union does not have a dispute.

The NLRB disagreed.  It upheld the ruling of the administrative law judge that found that the use of inflatables are not unlawfully confrontational or coercive of the neutral business.  Unions are allowed to attempt to persuade (but not coerce) neutral employers to stop doing business with the company the union is targeting.  Without threats, coercion or actual picketing, the NLRB found, that the union did not violate the law by using Scabby.  Moreover, as public “speech,” Scabby enjoys protection under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. 

Finally, while it is also an unfair labor practice for a union to even persuade or request employees of a neutral employer to withhold their labor from a neutral employer (i.e., refuse to work), the NLRB found that the use of Scabby, by itself, is not a “signal” for neutral employees to refuse to work and, in any event, in the case before it, no such work stoppages ever occurred.  In their concurring opinion, two members of the Board majority cautioned, however, that each case will need to be viewed on its own facts to determine whether the union’s conduct and activities amounts to unlawful threats or coercion, even without the use of traditional picketing—and noted, approvingly, of a recent case where the union’s use of a loudspeaker at a “coercively loud volume at a secondary employer’s worksite” was found to be unlawful.

Takeaways:

Because the case presented some clear implications of the First Amendment, a bipartisan panel of the NLRB (two republicans and one democrat) formed the majority.  In the wake of the ruling, we can expect that the use of inflatables, banners, signage and leafletting may become even more common against secondary or neutral employers.  These neutral employers may include customers and suppliers of the company with which the union has a dispute.  They may also include general contractors and property owners that subcontract with non-union trades.  While the NLRB’s ruling merely keeps what had been the status quo, it may be seen as a “green light” for other unions to take up these tactics—and for unions to go even further in activities aimed at influencing neutral employers to cut ties with companies the union ultimately is targeting.  There are certain ways to limit the type of activity the unions may engage in, and/or to limit the time and place of such activities, especially at construction sites.  If you are the target of such secondary activity, you should contact your competent labor counsel to determine if the union’s actions are lawful or unlawful in the circumstances, how to limit the impact of the union’s actions, and whether an unfair labor practice can be filed against the union.   

Health Care Workers and Labor Unions: The COVID “Bump” and the New Administration’s Efforts to Unionize More Workers

Contributed By Beverly Alfon and Michael Hughes, April 28, 2021

COVID-19 Pandemic Allows Unions to Make Inroads with Health Care Workers

For health care workers, the issues of staffing, wages and benefits are typically what unions have focused on in their organizing campaigns. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues are heightened with the added urgency of worker safety. The realities created by the pandemic have and will likely continue to make their impact on health care workers – even prompting some who never may have considered union representation – to reconsider their position. For example, in September 2020, nurses at a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, voted to become unionized. Yes!  North Carolina, a traditionally red, anti-union state. The union won 70% of the vote. The nurses cited issues related to PPE, testing and exposure notification inconsistencies.

Unions have certainly taken notice of this opportunity to organize and are seizing it. After all, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2028 some 3.4 million new jobs will be added in health care and social assistance. The sector will account for about a third of all new employment in the U.S. by that time. In August 2020, a Colorado state inspection revealed that understaffing led to a patient death at a Denver area hospital. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local union – which does not represent the employees at the hospital – nonetheless engaged in an aggressive campaign alleging unsafe practices by the hospital’s parent company.

Health care workers who are already unionized – who in the past may have been complacent about union objectives and work issues – also appear to have become galvanized and willing to take action, including voting to strike. At the end of 2020, health workers in multiple states went on strike over staffing issues and pay. 

  • In Chicago, about 6,000 certified nursing assistants and food service and housekeeping employees at 64 nursing home facilities called off a planned strike after reaching a tentative agreement with employers for higher base pay, hazard pay, adequate personal protective equipment and paid sick days related to COVID-19.
  • In Providence, Rhode Island, about 100 nursing assistants and maintenance workers and other staff at a nursing home began a strike over demands for mandatory minimum staffing levels and pay increases. The strike followed a series of protests following outbreaks of coronavirus in nursing homes in Rhode Island and across country exposed staffing shortages. 
  • Near Philadelphia, nurses went on strike at a hospital. A month later, the owner of the hospital announced a labor agreement with the nurses’ union that gave nurses “a voice in discussions on staffing” while preserving the hospital’s right and authority to make all staffing decisions. 
  • In Chicago, nearly 700 caregivers walked off the job at 11 nursing homes, apparently triggered by the company’s discontinuance of hazard pay during the pandemic. A tentative agreement was reached after a 12-day strike, including significant wage increases, pandemic pay increase, additional five days of COVID-19 related sick time, and significant PPE guarantees and protections.
  • In Albany, New York, hundreds of nurses went on strike, citing issues wages and benefits, understaffing, and the hospital’s handling of the pandemic.
  • In Connecticut, nursing home workers continue to inch towards a major strike with initial union votes at 33 facilities overwhelmingly favoring a strike.

Clearly, COVID-19 is strengthening organized labor’s appeal and lengthening its reach. Couple that with a pro-labor agenda in the Biden administration and in Congress, and we are staring at a galvanized labor movement.

The Pro-Union Agenda at the Biden Administration and the National Labor Relations Board

On the eve of the presidential election in 2020, nominee Joe Biden vowed to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.” Upon being sworn in, President Biden wasted no time in making headway toward that promise. On his very first day in office, President Biden fired the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel, Peter Robb. The NLRB GC determines which cases are prosecuted at the labor board, and in so doing, sets policy initiatives and labor law enforcement guidance. Robb’s term was not set to expire until November 2021, and his firing marked the first time in history that an incoming President fired the sitting NLRB GC without letting him serve out his term. (The next day President Biden also fired the NLRB’s Deputy GC). Union leaders had called for Biden to sack Robb over their disagreement with Robb’s policy prerogatives and what they perceived as an anti-union agenda. Within days, the acting NLRB GC appointed by President Biden issued memorandums reversing many of Robb’s policy directives—unsurprisingly all of those reversals favored labor unions (but not necessarily workers). Among the policy provisions established by the acting GC’s newly issued guidance memos are provisions giving unions wider protection against accountability when they fail to properly represent workers’ rights; allowing unions to hide certain dues information from workers; and allowing unions to limit the time frame for workers to rescind a dues authorization.

In the coming months, the makeup of the 5-member NLRB (the body that makes final determinations in cases of alleged unfair labor practices and union representation issues) will also swing from its current Republican majority, to a Democratic majority, as there currently is one vacant seat waiting to be filled, and another seat will expire on August 27, 2021. With these changes (at the GC and board levels) it is a certainty that the NLRB will begin a period where its policy and enforcement priorities make it easier for unions to organize unrepresented employees; give unions additional ammunition and leverage in organizing campaigns and at the bargaining table; and remove employer tools to resist or counter union organizing.  

Congress Advances Union-Friendly Legislation

Not to be outdone by the Executive branch, Congress also is moving quickly to appease its labor union constituents, mainly through the re-introduction of the Union-friendly, “PRO Act.” We recently wrote about the nuts and bolts of that pending legislation, which has passed the House of Representatives and awaits action by the Senate. Currently, 47 of the 50 Democratic senators support the PRO Act, and labor unions and other organizing groups have set out to bombard the remaining three Democratic senators with an onslaught of demonstrations, phone calls, and other pressure tactics, in order to bring them to heel. The PRO Act would nearly completely re-write labor law as we know it, with an aim to making it a near impossibility for any organization to resist a union organizing campaign. Among the many drastic changes to long-standing labor law, the PRO Act would:

  • Outlaw Right-to-Work laws;
  • Remove any and all restrictions on Union strike activities (including removal of restrictions against intermittent strikes, partial strikes, and slow-down strikes);
  • Allow unions to strike and boycott directly against entities they have no labor dispute with, in order to pressure that entity to stop dealing with a company the Union does have a dispute with;
  • Impose penalties against employers who commit unfair labor practices (up to $50,000 for a first offense);
  • Erode the sanctity of secret ballot elections, allowing the Union alone to name the means and manner of election (mail ballot, off-site election, electronic election) and providing for a second-chance “card-check” election, if the Union loses and alleges an unfair labor practice;
  • Ban an employer’s ability to withdraw recognition from a union, even if 100% of all employees sign a petition saying they no longer want the union; and
  • Many more pro-union provisions.

While the PRO Act is not yet law (and likely will not be enacted wholesale, unless the Senate scuttles the filibuster), it is increasingly likely that certain portions of the PRO Act will find their way in to other legislation in the upcoming legislative sessions. Again, all of these developments are for one simple purpose: making it easier for unions to organize new groups of workers. As noted above, health care facilities, especially including long-term care facilities, have been a special focal point for many union organizing drives of late, with savvy union leaders leaning on the COVID-19 pandemic to make inroads with employees in the industry. A union-friendly Administration, NLRB, and Congress will only aid and embolden the SEIU and other unions seeking to organize health care workers to redouble their efforts.

What to Do?

  1. Get your union avoidance plan in place.
  2. Identify who your “supervisors” are (as defined by the National Labor Relations Act) and get them trained on identifying and dealing with union organizing. A “supervisor” cannot be represented by a union. They are also agents of your company, so training is key. They should be directed on what their role should be in avoiding union organizing and what they can and cannot do and say in the event that union organizing begins.
  3. Review policies for clarity, perceived unfairness, and employee relations. A union will often focus employees on (real or perceived) unfair policies or unequal implementation of work rules.
  4. Benchmark wages and benefits. A union will often promise more money. So, it is best to be prepared with a response.
  5. Identify employee relations problems now and deal with them before employees turn to a union. Get feedback from the group of employees who are vulnerable to union organization. Sometimes, it is as simple as tweaking a supervisor’s management-style.
  6. Train management on positive employee relations. Your supervisors need to know about the importance of providing regular feedback to employees and maintaining open communication with them.
  7. Get a communications plan in place in the event that union organizing begins or has begun.
  8. In light of current union tactics of staging demonstrations and strikes, even in support of organizing efforts, it also is advisable to have a comprehensive strike plan in place, especially once organizing efforts become known.

Being aware of the potential threat of union organizing at your workplace is not enough. Far too often employers are surprised when union organizing begins or a formal petition for recognition is filed. Assessment and planning are necessary now so that if the need arises, a response can be timely, effective, and within the parameters of the National Labor Relations Act. 

Construction Picket Lines: What Union Workers Must Know

Contributed by Michael Hughes, March 16, 2021

11058927 – protesters crowd landscape background illustration

As the 2021 construction season gets underway, and with an increasing number of construction projects being completed with a mix of union and non-union subcontractors, many workers have legitimate questions about their rights and responsibilities on such mixed-staffed projects. These questions especially can arise when a “dual-gate” system has been established (creating a “neutral” gate for union contractors and a separate, “reserved” gate for non-union contractors), or when a union is involved in different types of activities at the jobsite, such as picketing, bannering (erecting stationary signage or using the inflatable rat), or hand-billing (handing out flyers to the public). 

This update does not address how project owners and general contractors can lawfully establish such dual-gate systems, but rather addresses common questions raised by subcontractors and their employees after such system has been established.  Mostly, though, this update aims to dispel common myths and untruths perpetuated by union representatives that simply are contrary to established law under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). 

The following Q&A should allow you to answer those questions and, more importantly, educate workers (especially including union-represented workers) about their rights and responsibilities when there is a labor dispute at a mixed construction project.

Q:  The unions have said they don’t have to “honor” a dual-gate system and that any picketing on the project means that the entire job is being picketed. Is that true?

A:  This is not true.  Under the NLRA, it is UNLAWFUL for a union to fail to properly honor a valid dual-gate system (for example, by picketing the gate designated for union contractors). If the union sets up its pickets at the “neutral” union gate, an Unfair Labor Charge can be filed and the NLRB will seek a federal court injunction to prevent the union from picketing the wrong gate.

Q:  Isn’t it lawful for employees of union subcontractors to refuse to work while a picket is located at the project—even if there is a neutral gate for the union members to enter?

A.  NO. It is NOT a lawful work stoppage for a union tradesperson to refuse to enter through a neutral gate.  Such actions are NOT protected under the NLRA. Union workers can be disciplined/fired for refusing to enter and work through a neutral gate.

Q:  What if a union Business Agent instructs or encourages union workers to refuse to enter through, or work “behind,” a lawful, neutral gate?

A:  It is UNLAWFUL for a union or its Business Agent to instruct or encourage any employee to refuse to enter a neutral gate, or to leave a jobsite and refuse to work when there is a neutral gate established for those employees.

QCan the union take away employees’ pensions or blackball them if they enter a neutral gate?

ANO! This is a common tactic used by unions and Business Agents to threaten their own members with loss of pension or other sanctions if they enter through a neutral gate and work.  Such statements are completely and entirely false and unlawfulA union cannot punish—and cannot threaten to punish—any employee who enters a neutral gate and works.

Q: If the union is “bannering” or hand-billing, isn’t that the same as picketing?

A: NO. If the union is bannering (using stationary signage or the inflatable rat) or handing out flyers to the public, without normal picketing, the NLRB currently says that is NOT a picket line. It is not a lawful work stoppage to refuse to work during bannering/leafletting and, just like the above, it is illegal for a union to threaten or take action against employees who work in those circumstances.

SmithAmundsen’s Labor & Employment Group serves as labor counsel to multiple construction industry associations and has particular experience in helping owners, developers, GC’s and contractors  maintain labor harmony.  Knowing the law and separating fact from fiction goes a long way in ensuring construction projects get done on time and on budget.

Union Friendly PRO Act Reintroduced in Congress: Seeks to Revolutionize Labor Law Throughout the U.S.

Contributed by Michael Hughes, February 8, 2021

“Union” in block letters

The mis-named Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress on February 4, 2021. The PRO Act, which originally was introduced in 2019 and passed the House of Representatives in 2020, would completely change the landscape in the labor-relations world. You may recall that our recent blog post advised that reintroduction of the PRO Act likely was a priority of the Biden Administration and the revamped U.S. Congress.

Billed by Democrats as legislation to support workers’ rights, the PRO Act is less worker-friendly than Union-friendly. If passed, the PRO Act would overhaul the National Labor Relations Act and make it easier for unions to organize more employees, remove most restrictions on union strikes and other union pressure tactics, weaken employers’ ability to resist unionization, and provide massive fines and penalties on employers who violate the law. While the bill’s wholesale passage in the Senate may be unlikely (unless Democrats move to eliminate the filibuster), many of its terms likely will find their way into other pieces of legislation.

Among the more drastic provisions of the proposed legislation are the following:

Organizing / Elections

  • Expands which workers unions can organize (to include many who currently are considered independent contractors and supervisors)
  • Erodes the secrecy of employee ballots and increases risk of fraudulent elections by giving the union the sole determination over the manner the election is to be conducted (mail ballot, electronic, off-site or on-site elections)
  • Allows unions who lose elections, if they allege an unfair labor practice by the employer affected the election, to resort to an after-election card check to win representation rights

Collective Bargaining

  • Bans all state right-to-work laws
  • Provides for “interest arbitration” if the employer and union cannot quickly agree to terms of an initial collective bargaining agreement—meaning a slate of arbitrators would decide wages, benefits and other contract terms
  • Allows “hot cargo” agreements, where unions can demand that employers do not do business with other, non-union companies
  • Bans employers’ ability to withdraw recognition from a union, even upon evidence that all employees want the union out

Strikes / Picketing / Construction Sites

  • Allows “secondary” strikes and boycotts, meaning the union can strike against employers/companies that it does not have a dispute with, in order to force them to stop doing business with non-union companies (this would allow ANY and ALL picketing at construction sites, without regard to reserved gates, effectively allowing unions to halt construction)
  • Allows partial strikes, intermittent strikes, and slow-down strikes
  • Allows strikes in jurisdictional disputes between rival unions
  • Removes all time limits on picketing for recognition
  • Bans employers’ ability to lockout employees, unless they go on strike first

Damages / Fines

  • Civil fines up to $50,000 for any unfair labor practice (doubled for repeat offenders)
  • Requires employers to re-hire employees, pending resolution, if union alleges discharge was unlawful
  • In discharge cases, in addition to back pay, would allow for front pay, liquidated damages (2x amount of back pay), consequential and punitive damages
  • $10,000 daily fine for non-compliance with an NLRB order
  • PERSONAL liability for company directors and officers
  • Provides employees with the right to sue employers in court, even if the NLRB dismissed their charge

As stated, currently it is unlikely that the PRO Act would overcome a senate filibuster by Republicans to be passed wholesale. We will monitor any developments in this legislation, or attempts to include certain aspects of the PRO Act within other legislation and keep employers informed on this blog. Please note, the Biden administration also is moving quickly to appease its labor union constituents in other ways. Aside from reintroduction of the PRO Act, on his very first day in office, President Biden fired NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb, whose term was not set to expire until November 2021. In his tenure, Mr. Robb pressed policies that labor leaders saw as too employer-friendly. The NLRB Acting General Council named by President Biden already has issued guidance overturning several policy provisions previously enacted by Robb. President Biden also nominated Boston Mayor, Marty Walsh, former head of the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council and Local Union President as Secretary of Labor. Mr. Walsh appears headed for confirmation.

Another Symptom of COVID-19: Union Organizing

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, May 26, 2020

Labor Law Lawyer Legal Business Internet Technology Concept.

If your “essential” workforce is not already organized, consider this your wake-up call. 

As this pandemic has worn on, and more “essential workers” have fallen ill to COVID-19, labor unions have become noticeably more active. Just last Monday, the AFL-CIO filed suit in federal court to compel the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an emergency temporary standard, aimed at forcing the agency to mandate certain safety actions by employers. 

Noticeably, the rhetoric from the AFL-CIO has been focused on “all workers” as opposed to “their members.” Plagued by a continuing decline in membership, unions seemingly recognize that they cannot let this opportunity to organize more workers pass them by. In an April 30 opinion piece published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Gary Perinar, executive secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, declared: “The importance of unions is more obvious than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic…Of all the injustices exposed by this public health crisis, the risks faced by non-union workers are the most apparent.” It was a direct call to non-union workers. 

Indeed, many of the headlines about labor activity during this pandemic have not involved unions. For example, there have been walkouts to protest unsafe work conditions in nonunion workplaces such as Amazon warehouses in Staten Island, New York; Amazon-owned Whole Foods grocery stores in Chicago and other locations; and McDonalds workers in Chicago have sued the corporation over safety concerns (albeit, this one was financially backed by the S.E.I.U.). Even gig workers delivering groceries for Instacart called for a work stoppage. Such activity, of course, confirms that some workforces are ripe for union organizing. 

As businesses begin to reopen (and essential businesses begin to move forward), they will be forced to deal with employee concerns and demands over personal protective equipment, wages, hazard pay, paid sick leave, disability accommodations, and the status of laid off employees.  These very matters – job insecurity, safety concerns, and benefits – are what unions rely upon to organize workers. 

So now what?  Get your union avoidance plan in place. 

  1. Identify who your “supervisors” are (as defined by the National Labor Relations Act) and get them trained on identifying and dealing with union organizing. A “supervisor” cannot be represented by a union. They are also agents of your company, so training is key. They should be directed on what their role should be in avoiding union organization and what they can and cannot do in the event that union organizing has already begun.
  2. Review policies for clarity, perceived unfairness, and employee relations. A union will often focus employees on unfair policies. 
  3. Benchmark wages and benefits. A union will often promise more money. So, it is best to be prepared with a response.
  4. Identify employee relations problems now and deal with them before employees turn to a union. Get feedback from the group of employees who are vulnerable to union organization. Sometimes, it is as simple as tweaking a supervisor’s management style.
  5. Train management on positive employee relations. Your supervisors need to know about the importance of providing regular feedback to employees and maintaining open communication with them.
  6. Get a communications plan in place in the event that union organizing begins or has begun. 

While you may already have much to consider during these unusual times, being aware of the potential threat of union organizing at your workplace is not enough. Assessment and planning are necessary so that if the need arises, response can be timely, effective, and within the parameters of the National Labor Relations Act.

So You Want Some of the Fed Money? The Potential Price for Mid-Sized Businesses: A Labor Union

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, March 27, 2020

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the CARES Act, and it is up for vote TODAY before the U.S. House of Representatives, with a promise of swift passage. You need to pay attention. This is about more than emergency relief.

Look at page 524 of the bill, which would apply to any mid-sized business that takes a loan under this Act:

“Any eligible borrower applying for a direct loan under this program shall make a good-faith certification that— ….

(X) that the recipient will remain neutral in any union organizing effort for the term of the loan.”

This means that if you employ between 500 and 10,000 employees and you take a loan under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), you would be required to remain neutral when a union tries to organize your employees.  In other words, by taking this loan, you would agree to not communicate with your employees – at all – about your preference to stay non-union, any of the drawbacks of union representation, or even respond to any stretched truth that the union throws at your employees to sway them to support the union. Although there are still questions about what “remain neutral” means under the CARES Act and whether that could include card checks – at the very least – we know it would mean that employees who are being organized by a union will only hear one side of the story.

The expectation is that this language will lead to union pressure on employers to enter into neutrality agreements to memorialize certain terms, which often include “card check” provisions. When there is a card check, the union merely has to obtain signatures from a majority of employees in a company to become the exclusive bargaining representative for all workers. This is a significant concession to the labor unions because it takes away the employees’ existing right to vote for or against the union, by secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Rather, a card check amounts to open voting because a union representative simply gets to ask the employee for his/her signature.  Opponents of the card check process argue that this can lead to unlawful interference with the employee’s right to freely choose for or against union representation.

The inclusion of this neutrality language comes on the heels of a November 2019 decision from the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), in Embassy Suites by Hilton, Seattle Downtown Pioneer Square, 19-CA-227623, in which he shifted on the legality of neutrality agreements by finding that a neutrality agreement amounted to unlawful employer assistance to the union and unlawful acceptance of aid by the union. This was a significant departure from the current law which generally views these neutrality agreements as legal.  This was viewed by management-side attorneys as a good basis to resist pressure from unions to enter into such agreements. This CARES Act provision appears to be a direct shot at that. 

The bottom line is BEWARE. Read the fine print or this loan could get you.

As of publication, the CARES Act language is still subject to change. We will continue to monitor the bill’s progress through the House and will update as necessary.

AFL-CIO Sues NLRB Seeking to Block 2019 Final Election Rule

Contributed by Jeff Risch and Carlos Arévalo

Back on December 16, 2019, we reported on the issuance of new regulations by the Trump administration that effectively repealed the 2014 “Quickie Election” Rule issued by the Obama National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The 2019 Final Rule, set to take effect on April 16, 2020, was designed to facilitate employers’ efforts to fight private sector labor unions in election cases. It provided more time to react to and educate the workforce on the “Good, Bad & Ugly” of union representation. As we noted before, in issuing the notice of the new regulations, NLRB Chairman John F. Ring (R) stated that “[t]hese are common sense changes to ensure expeditious elections that are fair and efficient. The new procedures will allow workers to be informed of their rights and will simplify the representation process to the benefit of all parties.” Sole Democratic Board Member Lauren McFerran (D), however, vehemently opposed the changes calling the Board’s actions “arbitrary and capricious.”  McFerran also described the 2014 rule as “the product of a painstaking, three-and-a-half year process, involving the consideration of tens of thousands of public comments over two separate comment periods totaling 141 days, including 4 days of hearings with live questioning by Board members.” She then criticized the 2019 Final Rule as having been drafted without the public’s input.

Last week, on Friday March 6, 2020, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) seemingly used McFerran’s dissent as a roadmap when it sued the NLRB in an effort to block the 2019 Final Rule from taking effect in April. The AFL-CIO lawsuit alleges that the 2019 Final Rule issuance was “arbitrary and capricious” and “an abuse of discretion.” Moreover, the lawsuit claims that the 2019 Final Rule will substantially hinder union election efforts, will prejudice union efforts to campaign in support of votes in favor of unionization, and will substantially delay union certification. Finally, noting that the 2014 amendments enacted by the Obama Administration were intended “to remove unnecessary barriers to the fair and expeditious processing of representation case,” the lawsuit also alleges that the 2019 Final Rule essentially reinstates these barriers and violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) insofar as it was issued without notice and without an opportunity to comment. We expect the Trump Administration will aggressively defend the Rule.

Last December we noted that come April 2020 employers would be in a much stronger position to successfully dispose of or counter union petitions in the private sector.  Now, only time will tell if the AFL-CIO lawsuit puts the 2019 Final Rule on hold.  With the 2020 presidential election gearing up, one thing is certain: the issues in the AFL-CIO lawsuit will become a crucial part of the election debate as candidates vie for the electorate’s support.  How the union election rule ultimately reads, however, may largely depend on who wins the White House in November.  Stay tuned!

NLRB Gives Gift To Employers: Modifies Obama Board’s “Quickie Election” Rule

Contributed by Jeffrey A. Risch, December 16, 2019

the word “union” in black and white

On December 13, 2019, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued notice of new regulations designed to materially change what is commonly referred to as the “Quickie Election” Rule. The new regulations, set to take effect on April 16, 2020, will materially help employers combat labor unions in the private sector by primarily providing more time to react to and educate the workforce on the “Good, Bad & Ugly” of what union representation actually means to workers.  

As a brief reminder… the “Quickie Election” Rule is a set of unprecedented regulations that the Obama NLRB published in 2014, and went into effect in 2015. The primary effect of the “Quickie Election” Rule limited the amount of time an employer had to respond to a petition filed by a labor union seeking to represent its workers, and oppose the union’s attempt to unionize the workforce. There were other significant pieces to the “Quickie Election” Rule, including, but not limited to: requiring employers (not unions) to submit a position statement on all issues the employer wanted or needed to raise as a result of the union’s proposed bargaining unit and the election in general – within 7 calendar days after receipt of the petition – and, any issues not timely raised are deemed waived; setting material limitations on issues to be considered in any pre-election hearing and pushing any review of objections related to the election to a post-election hearing (after votes are opened and counted); and eliminating any stay of certifying an election’s results in order to allow time for the NLRB to consider a request for review filed from a Regional Director’s Order directing an election to proceed in the first place.

In essence, the official vote to “go union” or not, went from approximately 42 days to around 21 days from the filing of the union’s petition, under the “Quickie Election” Rule, while tying the hands of employers to mount a comprehensive defense strategy along the way. With the changes found in the new regulations set to go into effect on April 16, 2020, the process will return to the days when employers had greater rights and abilities to fight against labor unions aiming to organize and represent their workers. In short, the new regulations include the following material changes from the current rules:

·       The pre-election hearing must be held within 14 business days from the filing of a petition (up from the current within 8 calendar days requirement);

·       Legal statements of position that identify issues and problems with any petition must be filed within 8 business days after service of the notice of hearing (up from the current within 7 calendar days requirement), and the union must file a formal response to a statement of position filed by an employer at least 3 business days before a scheduled pre-election hearing;

·       The pre-election hearing can include, once again, the litigation of disputes involving voter eligibility as well as the size/scope of the bargaining unit (not just the issue of whether valid and lawful representation exists);

·       The employer and the union can, once again, file post-hearing briefs  to any pre-election or post-election hearing within 5 business days from the close of the hearing;

·      Employers will be allowed more time to educate their workforce on union representation and mount a more robust counter-organizing campaign of their own in light of a new rule that provides that absent the parties’ agreement, a Regional Director “normally” will not schedule an election less than 20 business days after the Regional Director directs an election;

·       Employers will be permitted, once again, to file a Request for Review by the NLRB of any Regional Director’s adverse Order directing an election, within 10 business days of such Order, and if the request is pending at the time of the election then the ballots cast would not be opened while the NLRB resolves the controversies raised in the Request for Review;

·       Regional Directors will be prohibited from certifying results of any election while a Request for Review is still pending or at any time prior to the time a post-election request for review can be filed; and

·       Employers will generally be provided more time to provide voter eligibility lists and information to the NLRB after the Regional Director issues a direction of election.

In issuing notice of the new regulations, NLRB Chairman John F. Ring (R) stated, “These are common sense changes to ensure expeditious elections that are fair and efficient. The new procedures will allow workers to be informed of their rights and will simplify the representation process to the benefit of all parties.” Sole Democratic Board Member Lauren McFerran (D) vehemently opposed the changes. There is no doubt these Trump-era NLRB election rules will be opposed greatly by any future Democratic controlled NLRB. However, for now (starting in April 2020) employers will be in a much stronger position to successfully dispose of or counter union petitions seeking to represent workers in the private sector. 

NLRB Makes ‘Unilateral’ Less of a Dirty Word

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, October 8, 2019

union workers

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) requires employers with a unionized workforce to bargain in good faith with the union over mandatory subjects of bargaining (e.g., wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment). The duty to bargain continues during the term of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with respect to mandatory subjects of bargaining that are not covered by the agreement.  An employer who makes unilateral changes to these terms without satisfying its bargaining obligations violates the Act, unless it can establish a valid defense.  Until now, the only available defense that was available to an employer who made such unilateral change was a union’s “clear and unmistakable” waiver of the right to bargain over the precise matter at issue – a standard which the D.C. Circuit has characterized as an “impossible to meet” burden for an employer.  

Overturning 37 years of precedent, however, the NLRB, in a recent 3-1 decision, changed the standard that the Board applies to determine whether a CBA grants the employer the right to take unilateral actions without violating the Act. In M.V. Transportation, Inc. (28-CA-173726; 368 NLRB No. 66), a local of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) alleged that the employer, MV Transportation Inc., violated the Act by unilaterally adopting several policies, including ones related to safety and attendance, without bargaining with the union. The Board accepted the employer’s argument that the CBA contained language, including a broad management rights clause referring to adoption and enforcement of work rules, that allowed it to unilaterally adopt the policies. 

Under this new “contract coverage” standard, the Board will examine the plain language of the parties’ collective-bargaining agreement to determine whether or not the change made by the employer was within the scope of CBA language granting the employer discretion to act unilaterally. For example, if the CBA gives the employer the ability to implement and revise work rules, then it may now lawfully implement new safety rules or revise an existing attendance policy, without further bargaining. 

Key Takeaways:  Although this new standard relaxes an employer’s burden in defending against charges of a failure to bargain, it does not give an employer full license to take such unilateral actions.  The extent to which an employer can take unilateral action will depend on the scope and clarity of the language of the CBA.  If there is no CBA language that grants the employer the right to take unilateral action, the Board will consider whether or not the union “clearly and unmistakably” waived its right to bargain over the change.  Also, keep in mind that unions will still have the option of filing a grievance and proceed to arbitration on the matter. 

Now more than ever, given the Board’s approach in these matters to honor the parties’ agreement, CBA language must be carefully crafted.  Employers should review their rights in current CBAs and seek to strengthen rights in negotiations for the next contract.  At negotiations, employers should expect much scrutiny and pushback on management rights clauses and other CBA language that can be interpreted as granting the employer any level of discretion.  

NLRB Makes It Easier To Oust a Union

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, July 9, 2019

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Did you know that when a private sector employer has evidence that a union has lost support from a majority of its bargaining unit members, the employer can refuse to recognize the union as their bargaining representative?  In 2001, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that employers can unilaterally withdraw recognition from an incumbent union based upon “objective evidence” (typically, a petition signed by at least half of the bargaining unit members indicating that they no longer wished to be represented by a union) that the union has lost majority support (Levitz Furniture Co. of the Pacific, 333 NLRB 717 (2001)). This would allow the employer to withdraw recognition effective upon expiration of the collective bargaining agreement and allow the employer to end bargaining over a successor collective bargaining agreement (CBA). This is referred to as “anticipatory” withdrawal of recognition. This remains law – but in a 3-1 decision issued on July 3 (Johnson Controls, N.L.R.B., 10-CA-151843 (7/3/2019)) – the NLRB significantly changed the legal framework around withdrawal of recognition in favor of employers.

Until now, a significant hurdle for most employers who attempted to withdraw recognition from a union is that they would be at great risk for being subjected to an unfair labor practice charge from the union for failure to bargain in good faith. The crux of the problem was that the Board would look at whether or not the union lacked majority status at the time of actual withdrawal.  This allowed the union to covertly gather evidence of “reacquired” majority status (often consisting of signatures from the same members who signed the anti-union petition) between the time of the anticipatory withdrawal and the date of actual withdrawal on the date of contract expiration. The union was not required to show the employer its evidence prior to the effective date of withdrawal – often leaving the employer on the losing end of the charge, facing an order directing it to bargain with the union, and the union insulated from challenges to majority status from six months to a year (and an additional 3 years if an agreement is reached).

The Key Change for Employers

Now, if an employer receives objective evidence of an incumbent union’s loss of majority support (at least 50 percent of the bargaining unit no longer supports the union) no more than 90 calendar days prior to the expiration date of the relevant collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the employer is free to declare an anticipatory withdrawal of recognition from the union, without fear of being charged with an unfair labor practice. The Board “…will no longer consider, in an unfair labor practice case, whether a union has reacquired majority status as of the time recognition was actually withdrawn.” Instead, if the union wishes to re-establish its majority status, the burden falls on the union to file a petition for election within 45 days from the date that an employer gives notice of an anticipatory repudiation — regardless of whether the employer gives notice more than or fewer than 45 days before the contract expires.  The Board will process the petition without regard to whether the parties’ contract is still in force at the time the petition is filed. 

Some Things Stay the Same

It remains that a “good faith reasonable doubt” of majority status will not cut it as “objective evidence” to support an anticipatory withdrawal of recognition. The objective evidence that an employer relies upon to declare an anticipatory withdrawal of recognition must be free of improper influence or assistance from management. A majority of the bargaining unit (50% +1) would still have to vote “no union” during the election in order to oust the union.  Also, incumbent unions still enjoy insulated periods from challenge during which the union enjoys a presumption of majority status: (1) certification bar – up to one year after the NLRB certifies a union as the exclusive bargaining representative of a unit; and (2) contract bar – the first three years of a collective bargaining agreement. 

Bottom Line

In explaining the appropriateness of this new standard, the NLRB stated as follows: “It ends the unsatisfactory process of attempting to resolve conflicting evidence of employees’ sentiments concerning representation in unfair labor practice cases. Instead, such issues will be resolved as they should be: through an election, the preferred method for determining employees’ representational preferences.”  The NLRB further reasoned that the election process generally moves at a faster pace than the ULP process.  Whether or not this shift has a significant impact on the employer’s rate of success in ousting a union remains to be seen. While a significant legal hurdle has been removed, others remain, and navigating this process requires careful planning.