Category Archives: unions

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

group of people from different profession stick figure pictogram icons

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.   

Village of Lincolnshire’s Right-to-Work Zone Struck Down by 7th Circuit

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, October 2, 2018

36419114 - hand about to bang gavel on sounding block in the court room

Judge with gavel

Last week, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) held that Section 14(b) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) does not permit local governments to create local “right-to-work” zones that seek to ban union-only shops in the private sector. The court further concluded that bans on requiring union hiring halls and compulsory union dues checkoff agreements are also invalid under the NLRA.

In 2015, the Village of Lincolnshire adopted an ordinance that banned union-security agreements, within the Village, by forbidding any requirement that private sector workers join a union or compensate a union in order to keep their job working at a unionized worksite. Interestingly, the ordinance was overwhelmingly supported by the Village’s residents and taxpayers. The ordinance also barred any requirement that employees “be recommended, approved, referred, or cleared for employment by or through a labor organization” (aka a union hiring hall). Finally, the ordinance prohibited employers from making any payment to unions pursuant to signed authorizations revocable by employees at any time (aka dues check-off). A number of unions successfully sued the Village in district court and the Village appealed.

Chief Judge Diane Wood, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, noted that the issue of whether a local law, rather than a state-wide law, falls within the scope of Section 14(b) is a subject that has divided courts. Specifically, Judge Wood pointed to a 2017 6th Circuit decision in United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Hardin County, Kentucky that held that a right to work law adopted by Hardin County was not preempted by the NLRA and, therefore, valid.

Judge Wood acknowledged that the 7th and 6th Circuits are in agreement and the law is clear that local governments cannot regulate hiring halls and dues checkoff obligations as negotiated and made part of a private collective bargaining agreement. However, this left the issue of compulsory union membership in order to maintain employment with a private unionized employer as the central question for the court to decide and here is where the 7th Circuit split from the 6th Circuit (which covers Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee).

In the decision, the court rejected arguments that as a political subdivision of Illinois, the Village can exercise federal laws granted to the State. To do so would result in an administrative nightmare of having over 38,000 local governments (as opposed to 50 states and a few territories) adopt their own right to work laws. “Permitting local legislation under section 14(b) threatens ‘a crazy-quilt of regulations.’ The ‘consequence of such diversity for both employers and unions would be to subject a single collective bargaining relationship to numerous regulatory schemes thereby creating an administrative burden and an incentive to abandon union security agreements.’” This, the court explained, undermines the Supreme Court’s pronouncement that “Congress enacted the NLRA to create national uniformity in labor law.” Accordingly, according to the 7th Circuit, Section 14(b) simply does not extend to the political subdivisions of the states to enact local “right-to-work” zones whereas Illinois could if it wanted to. NOTE:  Indiana and Wisconsin have previously enacted Right-to-Work laws so this decision, for now, only impacts Illinois private employers and employees.

While the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 6th Circuit decision in Hardin County, this split sets up a potential United States Supreme Court review. Thus, the stakes are raised even higher on the imminent appointment of retired Justice Anthony Kennedy’s replacement. On that subject, one thing is certain – we’ll have a clearer picture in the next couple of months. Maybe…  stay tuned!