Category Archives: unions

Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work Law

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, July 21, 2017

On July 12, 2017, a three judge panel in the seventh circuit unanimously affirmed District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller’s ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed by two International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) locals that challenged the validity of Wisconsin’s right-to-work law. Judge Stadtmueller’s dismissal in September 2016 was based on the seventh circuit Sweeney v. Pence 2014 decision that upheld Indiana’s “nearly identical” law.

The Wisconsin law provides that “no person may require, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, an individual to…become or remain a member of a labor organization [or] pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value, to a labor organization.”

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Black and white gavel

In Sweeney, the seventh circuit determined that the National Labor Relations Act did not preempt Indiana’s right–to-work law, even if it prohibited the mandatory payment of any dues or fees to unions, and it did not result in a taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The court reasoned that unions are “justly compensated by federal law’s grant to [unions] the right to bargain exclusively with…employer[s].”

On this appeal, the IUOE conceded that Sweeney controlled, but argued that it was wrongly decided and should be overturned. The IUOE relied on a strong dissent in Sweeney and the close en banc vote to rehear it. Writing for the panel, however, Judge Joel Flaum rejected these arguments and noted that they were not “compelling reasons” to overturn a recent decision. Judge Flaum also added that the unions failed to direct the court to any intervening development in statutory, Supreme Court, or other intermediate appellate court decision undermining Sweeney’s validity.

The seventh circuit’s decision affirming the Wisconsin’s 2015 law suggests a continuing trend favoring the right-to-work movement at the judicial and legislative levels of government. In February of this year, Missouri enacted its right-to-work law becoming the 28th state with a right-to-work law on the books, closely following Kentucky’s adoption of its own law in January. Opponents in Missouri have sought a referendum seeking to repeal the law, but their efforts suffered a setback when union-led referendum summaries were ruled “unfair and insufficient.” In Kentucky, labor organizations have sued seeking to block the law.

At the federal level, Republican Congressmen Steve King of Iowa and Joe Wilson of South Carolina re-introduced the National Right to Work Act bill (an effort that went nowhere in 2015) in the hope that a Trump administration would approve such legislation. Within a month, Senator Paul Rand of Kentucky introduced similar legislation in the Senate. These bills would amend the National Labor Relations Act and Railway Labor Act to prohibit the use of union security clauses requiring union membership and payment of dues and fees.

Where all of this leads is unclear, but we can be certain of one thing for the near future – this battle will continue to be fought all across the country.

NLRB Decision Reminds Employers to Tread Cautiously Amidst Union Push

Contributed by Suzanne Newcomb, April 20, 2017

On April 13, 2017 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) set aside a vote defeating a union organizing campaign and ordered a new election because the workforce could have perceived management’s statements as impermissible promises to provide benefits if they voted down the union (see full decision here).

44905665 - hand put voting paper in ballot box. voting flat conceptDuring a unionizing campaign, management held a meeting in which it advised employees that another facility’s employees received a 12% pay raise the pay period after they rejected union representation. Management explained that the raises were the result of a survey of wages in that geographical area and stated that the company was in the early stages of conducting a similar survey in their area. All of these statements were true.

Management then opined that if the union won the election, any pay raise could take “a whole lot longer” – perhaps 6 months, a year, 18 months, and that there was a “really big chance” that they might not get the raise at all or could end up losing money. Finally, management added that although they were not promising anything, they planned to follow the same process and therefore, a “reasonable man” could expect a 12% increase.

A PowerPoint presentation shown during the meeting stated that the company was not making promises, the wage survey would continue regardless of the election outcome, the collective-bargaining process could result in wages going up or down or remaining the same, and included a hypothetical in which the union won the election and employees received a 12% raise.

The NLRB concluded that despite repeatedly stating that they were not making any promises, management implied that employees would receive a benefit if they defeated the union. Quoting a 1978 decision, the NLRB stated: “it is immaterial that an employer professes that he cannot make any promises, if in fact he expressly or impliedly indicates that specific benefits will be granted.

All employers are prohibited from interfering with, restraining, or coercing employees regarding their right to join a union. Prohibited conduct includes:

  • Providing or promising (expressly or implicitly) to provide benefits in an effort to thwart the unionization effort;
  • Withholding benefits that would have been provided absent the unionization campaign;
  • Taking or threatening adverse action for union involvement or sympathies;
  • Questioning employees about their union loyalties or that of their co-workers; and
  • Spying on union activities.

This list is not exhaustive. If you suspect an organizing campaign, exercise extreme caution and seek expert advice immediately.

The Survival of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, Part 3

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, March 29, 2017

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Gavel and scales of justice

Exactly a year ago today in what now appears to be a temporary reprieve, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.  An “equally divided court” affirmed the judgment of the 9th Circuit that “fair share” or “agency” fee provisions in public sector contracts were valid.  Up to that time, observers had anticipated that the Supreme Court would use Friedrichs to overturn its 1977 opinion in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which held agency fees were deemed proper if exacted for “collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment” but not for “ideological or political purposes.”  However, with the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court could not muster a majority and the status quo remained.

Fast forward to March 2017, and following Donald Trump’s victory in the race for the White House, we find ourselves in the middle of confirmation hearings to fill the Supreme Court vacancy with President Trump’s choice, Judge Neil Gorsuch, a conservative appellate judge from the 10th Circuit who, most would agree, will likely tip the scales in favor of overturning Abood.

Indeed, new cases are making their way through the system in an effort to put the fair share question back on the Supreme Court’s docket.  Just last week, the 7th Circuit affirmed a dismissal of a complaint in Janus v. AFSCME where Judge Posner noted that neither the 7th Circuit nor the district court can overrule the Abood decision.  Janus, which began as Rauner v. AFSCME, was first filed by Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner shortly after his election. Northern Illinois District Judge Robert Gettleman dismissed Governor Rauner’s complaint noting that Rauner had “no personal interest at stake” as he was “not subject to the fair share fees requirement.”  To keep the lawsuit moving forward, and with the backing of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Liberty Justice Center, Mark Janus and fellow state employee Brian Trygg intervened in the case.

In February 2017, Ryan Yohn and a number of his fellow teachers filed a case in the Central District of California against the California Teachers Association following the Friedrichs blueprint and seeking to enjoin Defendants from requiring nonunion employees to pay agency fees.  And, in the Western District of Kentucky, a class action filed by teachers working for Jefferson County Public School Board of Education where plaintiffs allege that requiring union nonmembers to pay a “fair share” fee is unconstitutional is currently pending and moving forward.

As noted by Justice Elena Kagan during the Friedrichs oral arguments in early 2016, overruling Abood will impact “tens of thousands of contracts with [agency fee] provisions…affect[ing] millions of employees” across the country.  Clearly, we have not heard the last word on this issue and it will most certainly make its way up to the Supreme Court.  Stay tuned!

Check out our previous articles on Abood and the challenges to public sector agency fees:

Part One: Will Abood V. Detroit Board of Education Survive?

Part Two: Abood v. Detroit Board of Education Survives…for now?

Missouri Has Become the 28th Right-to-Work State

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, February 10, 2017

On February 6, 2017, the newly elected GOP Governor Eric Greitens, signed into law a right-to-work (RTW) bill that passed the state’s Republican-controlled state legislature.

Nuts and Bolts of the Missouri RTW law

  • Effective date:  August 28, 2017
  • Who it applies to:  Both private and public sector employers (except those in the airline and railroad industries, as well as certain federal employers).
  • What it prohibits:
    • No employee can be required to become or remain a union member as a condition of employment.
    • No employee can be required to pay dues, fees or assessments of any kind to a union (or any equivalent of a dues payment to any charitable organization).
  • Penalties for violations:  Criminal sanctions – a violation is a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $750 and up to 15 days in jail. Civil sanctions – private parties may obtain injunctive relief, damages and an award of attorneys’ fees.
  • Effect on collective bargaining agreements:  For collective bargaining agreements (CBA’s) entered into before August 28, 2017, the law has no effect. However, the law will apply to any CBA renewal, extension, amendment or modification after August 28, 2017. This will likely jolt Missouri unions to seek contract extensions of existing CBA’s in order to delay the impact of the law.

Unions Continue to Battle

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Flag of Missouri

The Missouri AFL-CIO has submitted different versions of a proposed initiative petition to the secretary of state’s office that is aimed at reversing the RTW law. Basically, with enough signatures, it would present the opportunity for Missouri voters to decide in 2018 whether to adopt a constitutional amendment that would protect contracts that require employees to pay union representation fees.

Perspective

Seven of eight states that surround Missouri have existing right-to-work laws, including Kentucky, which passed a right-to-work law last month. The current tally of RTW states includes: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina,  North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming. Just last week, the New Hampshire senate passed a RTW bill, which is awaiting passage by the state House.

On a federal level, two Republican Congressmen re-introduced the National Right to Work Act last week. The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act to prohibit the use of union security clauses which require union membership and payment of dues and fees.

If there was any doubt, this flurry of activity confirms that the right-to-work movement is recharged.

Blunted by the Board: NLRB Weakens Employer’s Right to Permanently Replace Strikers

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, June 30, 2016

11058927 - protesters crowd landscape background illustrationFor more than 75 years, employers have had broad access to a powerful weapon to counterbalance a union’s ability to engage in an economic strike: the right to permanently replace those economic strikers. On May 31, however, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) replaced that powerful weapon with a water gun. In a 2-1 decision, the NLRB held that despite the economic nature of a strike, an employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by permanently replacing strikers because the employer was motivated by “a purpose prohibited by the Act.” American Baptist Homes of the West, 364 NLRB No. 13 (May 31, 2016). This ruling effectively overruled long-standing NLRB case law which stood for the principle that employer motive to permanently replace strikers is irrelevant in the context of an economic strike.

In this case, the union and employer were engaged in contract negotiations for 4 months before the union issued a notice of intermittent strike (5 days). Picket signs confirmed that the union was striking over economics:  health care and pension. After day one of the strike, the employer exercised its right to permanently replace a majority of the economic strikers. In finding that the employer violated the Act, the NLRB focused on the following facts:

  • The individual who made the decision to hire the permanent replacements admitted that she was motivated by her desire to avoid another strike at the facility. She “assumed that because these people [temporary workers who the Company extended the permanent job offers to] were willing to work during this strike, they’d be willing to work during the next strike.”
  • When the union’s attorney asked the employer’s attorney for an explanation for the permanent replacements, he replied that the employer “wanted to teach the strikers and the Union a lesson.”

If this Board decision is upheld by the Courts, it will likely result in a marked shift of power at the bargaining table that will empower unions to use the leverage of a strike (including intermittent strikes) with less risk to its members, while weakening the employer’s ability to use the leverage of permanent replacements. As described by the dissenting NLRB member, this decision is “a substantial rearrangement of the competing interests balanced by Congress when it chose to protect various economic weapons, including the hiring of permanent replacements.”

Bottom line:  Since March 2016, NLRB charges involving allegations of unlawful motive in the permanent replacement of economic strikers have been subject to heightened scrutiny. NLRB regional offices are required to send these cases up to the NLRB’s Division of Advice in Washington, D.C. for “centralized consideration.” Accordingly, any employer who may consider permanent replacement of economic strikers should consult with counsel to ensure there are legitimate business reasons to defend the decision to permanently replace strikers.

Prevent Lawsuits: Implement Good Employment Policies and Gather Evidence Supporting Terminations

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, May 11, 2016

A recent federal appellate court decision underscores the importance of strong employment policies to establish the company’s expectations and potentially save the company from protracted and expensive litigation.

In Tsegay v. Amalgamated Transit Union, 1235, the court found that a union refusing to arbitrate a grievance did not breach its duty of fair representation to a union member terminated for using a mobile device while operating a passenger vehicle. No. 15-6102 (6th Cir. Apr. 27, 2016).

texting while drivingAfter passenger complaints of texting-while-driving, employer Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Transit (“MTA”) investigated driver Tsegay’s conduct, including video footage. MTA concluded that Tsegay looked at an electronic device in his lap several times in violation of company policy, and committed other moving violations which could be separate bases for termination. MTA suspended Tsegay without pay, and then terminated him following a meeting with his union representative for misconduct as well as dishonesty.

The union proceeded through the first two stages of the grievance process: filing a written grievance, and an in-person meeting with MTA, the union president, and Tsegay. The union presented the evidence (video, passenger’s letter, and MTA policy regarding cell phones) to its members, who voted not to proceed to arbitration. Instead of appealing this decision, Tsegay sued his union for breach of the duty of fair representation.

Tsegay claimed that the union acted arbitrarily by not going to arbitration. He argued that his cell phone records demonstrated that he was not using his phone while he was driving. However, the appellate court noted that there are many uses of a mobile device that may not appear in cell phone records, such as reading old messages, browsing the internet, and playing games. The appellate court found that the union’s decision to not arbitrate was reasonable because it was based on the union members having viewed the evidence.

This case demonstrates how employment policies and gathering the right evidence help avoid lawsuits.  In this case MTA demonstrated:

  • A written policy prohibiting mobile device use while working and driving;
  • Complaints leading to an investigation, and
  • A proper investigation showing the likelihood of a violation.

Employment policies should be written to convey several messages including, outlining appropriate conduct, company expectations, and safety considerations. The policies should:

  • Communicate clearly to multiple audiences (employees,  managers, others working on behalf of the company, and any reviewing administrative agency or jury) of varying education and language fluency; and
  • Provide a clear understanding of what constitutes appropriate and acceptable conduct.

Enforcing reasonable and effective policies will provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory basis for discipline, avoid discrimination/retaliation lawsuits, and help employers successfully protest unemployment benefits. Policies should be reviewed by attorneys to ensure legal compliance.

Abood v. Detroit Board Of Education Survives…for now?

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo

Back in November of last year, I wrote about Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, “one of five cases to watch” during the Supreme Court’s 2015 term according to Washington’s The Hill newspaper.

At the beginning of the term, many observers had anticipated that the Court’s conservative majority would use Friedrichs to overturn its 1977 opinion in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a case which upheld “fair share” provisions in public sector union contracts as dues properly exacted for “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes” so long as their dues were not used for other ideological or political purposes. However, the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia caused Friedrichs to limp to the finish line without a winner even being declared. On Tuesday March 29th, the Court issued a one sentence decision that the judgment of the 9th Circuit was “affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

Gavel2During oral arguments on January 11th, Justice Samuel Alito questioned whether Abood was even workable, and challenged California Solicitor General Edward Dumont to draw a line between legitimate contract administration fees and lobbying fees, specifically pointing to Section 3546(b) of the California Government Code which provides that agency fees may be used for “the cost of lobbying activities designed to secure advantages in wages, hours, and other conditions of employment, in addition to those secured through meeting and negotiating with the employer.” On the other side of the argument, Justice Elena Kagan focused on the issue of overruling long-standing precedent that would impact “tens of thousands of contracts with [agency fee] provisions…affect[ing] millions of employees.” The path seemed cleared for a 5-4 decision in favor of striking down the fair share fees and overturning Abood until February 13th when news broke out that Justice Scalia had died while on a hunting trip in Texas.

Had the Supreme Court overturned Abood, it would have had a profound impact across the country’s twenty five states that permit compulsory “fair share” for teachers, firefighters, police and other public workers. Certainly, the decision is a reprieve for unions. The parties can petition for a rehearing. Pursuant to the Court’s rules, such a petition would have to be approved by 5 Justices, which is highly unlikely in light of the 4-4 vote in the decision. As a result, a new case may have to be filed and processed through the lower courts. Assuming the Republicans stay firm on their position to block Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination, this constitutional question will not be resolved until after the 2016 Presidential election and will rest squarely on the shoulders of the new Justice that is ultimately appointed and confirmed.