Labor Relations Today

Labor Relations Today

Senate Introduces Own Version Of Bill To Restore National Labor Relations Board Election Procedures

Posted in Expedited Elections, House of Representatives, Legislation, Micro Units, NLRA, NLRB Decisions, NLRB Rule-Making, Obama Board Reversal, Senate

On Wednesday, June 14, 2017, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced introduction of The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act (S. 1350):

A bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act with respect to the timing of elections and pre-election hearings and the identification of pre-election issues, and to require that lists of employee eligible to vote in organizing elections be provided to the National Labor Relations Board.

While the text of the bill itself is not yet posted online, Sen. Alexander issued a press release indicating the bill would:

  • Guarantee workers have time to gather all the facts to make a fully informed decision in a union election. No union election will be held in less than 35 days.
  • Ensure employers are able to participate in a fair union election process. The bill provides employers at least 14 days to prepare their case to present before a NLRB election officer and protects their right to raise additional concerns throughout the pre-election hearing.
  • Reassert the board’s responsibility to address critical issues before a union is allowed to represent workers. The board must determine the appropriate group of employees to include in the union before the union is certified, as well as address any questions of voter eligibility.
  • Empower workers to control the disclosure of their personal information. Employers would have at least seven days to provide a list of employee names and one additional piece of contact information chosen by each individual employee.

As such, it would seem that this bill may be a combination of a House bill by the same name (H.R. 2776), and another, the Employee Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 2775).  The House Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Subcommittee held a hearing on these two bills on the same day last week, with McGuireWoods partner and LRT editor Seth Borden appearing as a witness:

Republican Lawmakers Introduce Three House Bills To Roll Back National Labor Relations Board Quickie Election Rules

Posted in House of Representatives, Legislation, NLRB Rule-Making, Obama Board Reversal, Representation Elections

A trio of bills has been introduced in the House of Representatives to amend the National Labor Relations Act in an effort to roll back some of the more aggressive changes to the union representation election process implemented by the Obama Board.  The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act (H.R. 2776), Employee Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 2775), and Employee Rights Act (H.R. 2723), have all been introduced and referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which will hold a legislative hearing on the bills next Wednesday, June 14, 2017.

The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI), is described as a bill to “amend the National Labor Relations Board with respect to the timing of elections and pre-election hearings and the identification of pre-election issues.” The text of the bill would amend the Act to require that in all representation (RC) elections, within 14 days of the filing of a petition, an “appropriate hearing” would be held. That hearing would be:

non-adversarial with the hearing officer charged, in collaboration with the parties, with the responsibility of identifying any relevant and material pre-election issues and thereafter making a full record thereon.

This change to the statute would restore the decades-old procedures, pre-dating the April 2015 “Quickie Election” rules, whereby the Board would seek to resolve significant legal issues likely to impact the election prior to the conduct of the election.  This bill would also require a period of at least 35 days between a petition and the conduct of an election — up from the current median, 23 days, and the prospect under the current rules of an election as soon as 13 days after the filing of a petition.

Moreover, the second half of the bill would expressly incorporate the Board’s traditional “community of interest” factors for determining the appropriate unit in a representation proceeding. This inclusion would restore the decades-old standards cast aside by Board in its 2011 Specialty Healthcare decision to facilitate micro-unit organizing.

The Employee Privacy Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), seeks to “amend the National Labor Relations Act to require that lists of employees eligible to vote in organizing elections be provided to the National Labor Relations Board,” among other protections.  Prior to 2015, the Board’s longstanding Excelsior Underwear doctrine required an employer to provide to the Board, within 7 days of the Direction of Election, a list of all employees eligible to vote, including a home address for each.  The Board’s April 2015 “Quickie” rules modified this, so that the employer is required to provide the list within two days, and directly to the petitioning union.  Moreover, the alphabetized list must include

the full names, work locations, shifts, job classifications, and contact information (including home addresses, available personal email addresses, and available home and personal cell telephone numbers) of all eligible voters[.]

This bill would for the first time memorialize the obligation in the statute itself, but would restore the seven day time frame and the Board as recipient of the information. In addition, it would require that only one piece of contact information be provided for each employee, to be chosen by the employee him or herself.

Finally, the Employee Rights Act, introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), purports to “provide protections for workers with respect to their right to select or refrain from selecting representation by a labor organization.”  The text of the bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act, among other things:

  • to allow recognition only via secret ballot election conducted by the Board;
  • to require selection by a majority of eligible unit employees — not just those voting;
  • to require elections be held in certified and recognized units which have experienced turnover or expansion in excess of 50 percent;
  • to require inclusion only of names and home addresses on voter eligibility lists, and to provide for an employee opt-out mechanism;
  • to restore entitlement to a pre-election hearing to resolve material factual issues;
  • to provide tougher financial penalties for union’s committing unfair labor practices; and
  • to require opt-in by employees who wish to have union dues used for non-representational activities.

These bills were previously introduced in the 114th Congress, but went no further after referral to committee.  The Health, Education, Labor & Pension Subcommittee of the Education and Workforce Committee will hold its legislative hearing on these bills next Wednesday morning, June 14, 2017, at 10:15 a.m., in Room 2175, Rayburn House Office Building.


Second Circuit Upholds NLRB Order Finding Grocer’s No Recording Policy Unlawful

Posted in Federal Court Litigation, NLRB Decisions, Unfair Labor Practices, Workplace Rules

On June 1, the Second Circuit issued a summary order in Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. v. NLRBaffirming the National Labor Relations Board’s order in Whole Foods Market, Inc., 363 NLRB No. 87 (2015), where the Board found that the employer’s rules prohibiting recording of company meetings or conversations in the workplace violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act.

In Whole Foods, the employer had two separate policies prohibiting recording. One provided:

In order to encourage open communication, free exchange of ideas, spontaneous and honest dialogue and an atmosphere of trust, [employer] has adopted the following policy concerning the audio and/or video recording of company meetings:

It is a violation of [employer] policy to record conversations, phone calls, images or company meetings with any recording device (including but not limited to a cellular telephone, PDA, digital recording device, digital camera, etc.) unless prior approval is received from your Store/Facility Team Leader, Regional President, Global Vice President, or a member of the Executive Team, or unless all parties to the conversation give their consent. Violation of this policy will result in corrective action, up to and including discharge.

The other provided:

It is a violation of [employer] policy to record conversations with a tape recorder or other recording device (including a cell phone or any electronic device) unless prior approval is received from your store or facility leadership. The purpose of this policy is to eliminate a chilling effect on the expression of views that may exist when one person is concerned that his or her conversation with another is being secretly recorded.  This concern can inhibit spontaneous and honest dialogue especially when sensitive or confidential matters are being discussed.

Overruling the administrative law judge, the Board, in a 2-1 decision, reasoned that Section 7 protects photography and audio or video recording if employees are acting in concert for their mutual aid and protection and no overriding employer interest exists:

Such protected conduct may include, for example, recording images of protected picketing, documenting unsafe workplace equipment or hazardous working conditions, documenting and publicizing discussions about terms and conditions of employment, documenting inconsistent application of employer rules, or recording evidence to preserve it for later use in administrative or judicial forums in employment-related actions.

In affirming and enforcing the Board’s order, the Second Circuit noted:

The Board’s finding that recording, in certain instances, can be a protected Section 7 activity was reasonable….So too was its finding that, because Whole Foods’ no-recording policies prohibited all recording without management approval, ’employees would reasonably construe the language to prohibit’ recording protected by Section 7.

Like the Board, the Second Circuit found that the employer’s policies prohibited all recordings without management approval.  The court also dismissed the employer’s argument that the statue purpose of the rules–to promote employee communication in the workplace–negated any chilling effect that the rules might have on employees’ exercise of Section 7 rights.

The Court did note, however, that not every no-recording policy that places some limits on recording audio and video in the work place violates the Act. It stated that the employer’s interests in maintaining such policies “can be accommodated simply by their narrowing the policies’ scope.”

National Labor Relations Board Finds Union Supporter’s Profanity-Laden Rant Unprotected by the National Labor Relations Act

Posted in NLRA, NLRB, NLRB Decisions

In a rare win for the employer, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) unanimously affirmed an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision that the termination of a union bargaining-committee representative for a profanity-laden rant did not violate the National Labor Relations Act. Brooke Glen Behavioral Hospital, 365 NLRB No. 79 (May 15, 2017).

The employer, a hospital treatment center for patients with severe emotional and mental problems, was engaged in collective bargaining with a nurses’ union. During a bargaining session, the employee, a registered nurse, brought several mental health technicians (who were represented by a different union) to “observe.”  The employer objected to the technicians’ presence and left the meeting.

Several days later, the employer was conducting a tour of its hospital for managers and staff from an affiliated facility. When the tour group approached the registered nurse’s work area, she began screaming and demanding to know “who the visitors were and why they were there.”  Receiving no response, the registered nurse “again asked what the visitors were doing at the hospital, asked one particular visitor how many orientations he needed, and pointed out, sarcastically, ‘here’s the hallway, here’s the window.’”  At the conclusion of the tour, while the tour group was in the parking lot, the registered nurse again approached the group and, pointing at her supervisor, stated, “this one don’t do sh*t, she ain’t shi*t … I’m going to get you the f*ck out of here.”  The employer terminated the registered nurse for her unprofessional conduct.

The General Counsel challenged the termination arguing that 1) the registered nurse’s protected activity during the bargaining session was the motivating factor for the termination and 2) the registered nurse’s conduct during the tour constituted protected activity for which she was unlawfully terminated. The ALJ rejected both arguments, and the Board agreed.

First, the ALJ found no link, other than timing, between the bargaining session and the employee’s termination.  Instead, the “real motivating factor for the discharge was an independent set of circumstances completely divorced from any union or other protected activity-[the registered nurse’s] unprovoked misconduct that interfered with a legitimate tour group.”

Next, the ALJ rejected the argument that the nurse’s confrontations with the tour group constituted protected activity. As the ALJ explained:

[The registered nurse] was at work during two of the confrontations; and the third took place after work in [the employer’s] parking lot. The tour and its aftermath were not an invitation for her to interfere with the tour so as to turn those acts of interference into protected activity.  At best, [the registered nurse’s] testimony shows that in her mind, she perceived the tour as somehow related to her union activity.  But protected activity must be based on objective fact, not subjective perceptions of the party or witness making the claim.

The Board long has recognized that employees are permitted some leeway for impulsive behavior while engaged in protected activity. This case, however, demonstrates that an employer does not have tolerate misconduct unconnected to any workplace dispute or grievance.



U.S. Department of Labor Begins Process To Rescind Obama Administration’s “Defective” Persuader Rule Overhaul

Posted in Department of Labor, Federal Court Litigation, Obama Board Reversal, Persuader Rules

Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta has formally initiated the process for rescission of the 2016 DOL regulations narrowing the “advice exemption” to the LMRDA’s so-called “persuader rule.” The Office of Management and Budget’s website confirms the May 22, 2017 receipt of a DOL directive entitled, “Rescission of Rule Interpreting “Advice” Exemption in Section 203 (c) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.”

This action comes in conjunction with the Wall Street Journal‘s publication of an opinion piece by Secretary Acosta on May 22, entitled “Deregulators Must Follow the Law, So Regulators Will Too.” While focused primarily on the DOL’s approach to the previously delayed, and somewhat controversial DOL Fiduciary Rule, Sec. Acosta also announced this move thus:

Today there are several regulations enacted by the Obama administration that federal courts have declared unlawful. One is the Persuader Rule, which would make it harder for businesses to obtain legal advice. Even the American Bar Association believes the rule goes too far. Last year a federal judge held that “the rule is defective to its core” and blocked its implementation. Now the Labor Department will engage in a new rule-making process, proposing to rescind the rule.

As noted by the Secretary, on June 27, 2016, the District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a nationwide injunction against the Final Rule published on March 24, 2016.  This Final Rule would have required extensive and intrusive reporting by employers and their consultants or advisers who provide any sort of advice that might have some persuasive impact on the employees in their exercise of organizing rights – regardless of whether that consultant or adviser ever has any direct contact with the employees. Despite some clearly contradictory references, this would have required reporting about the lawyer-client relationship in violation of long-standing principles of privilege and confidentiality.  On November 16, 2016, the Court made its injunction permanent.

Bloomberg’s Ben Penn notes on Twitter:

In light of these developments, observations and the WSJ op-ed, it will be interesting to see how Sec. Acosta and the DOL approach the task of executing an agenda focused, in part, on walking back the regulatory expansions of the past several years.

Board Rules Casino Violated Act By Barring Former Employee From Socializing In Nightclub

Posted in NLRB Decisions, Uncategorized

The National Labor Relations Board has held that a casino operator violated Section 8(a)(1) of the Act by forbidding a former employee from “socializing” at one of its nightclubs after she joined a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) class action lawsuit.   In MEI-GSR Holdings, LLC dba Grand Sierra Resort & Casino, 365 NLRB No. 76 (May 16, 2017), the Board majority ruled:

[T]he relevant question under Section 8(a)(1) is not whether the Respondent affected Sargent’s wages, hours, or terms and conditions of employment, but whether (in the words of the Act) the Respondent has “interfere[d] with, restrain[ed], or coerce[d] employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7.” As explained, the Respondent’s actions, taken in response to Sargent’s protected lawsuit, would have reasonably tended to interfere with employees’ exercise of their statutory rights.

The former employee at issue, Tiffany Sargent, worked for the casino for two weeks.  Following the conclusion of this very brief employment, she continued to hang out at one of the casino’s nightclubs. Approximately eighteen (18) months later, Ms. Sargent and another employee filed a class and collective FLSA action against the casino on behalf of themselves and similarly situated employees. A year after the filing of the suit, the casino began denying her access to the nightclub and expressly referring to the litigation.  The Board held:

The Respondent’s exclusion of Sargent, in response to her participation in protected concerted activity, would reasonably tend to chill employees from exercising their Section 7 rights. Upon observing or learning of this targeted action against the lead plaintiff in the FLSA lawsuit, the Respondent’s employees reasonably would conclude they, too, might be subject to reprisals and reasonably would be deterred from participating in a work-related lawsuit or other protected concerted activity.

Chairman Miscimarra filed a dissent, disagreeing that the ban, to the extent motivated by the pendency of non-NLRA litigation, violated the NLRA.  The dissent argued that there were other employees pursuing the FLSA action who were not similarly banned from the nightclub, and that the employer had many legitimate business interests which would justify its actions.  In sum, the Chairman concluded:

I do not believe that Congress, when enacting the NLRA, intended to guarantee that every former employee would have a right of access to the private property of his or her former employer whenever he or she joined other employees in a non-NLRA lawsuit against that former employer.

President Trump To Name Two Labor Attorneys To Fill National Labor Relations Board Vacancies

Posted in NLRB Administration, Obama Board Reversal, Presidential Appointments, Senate

Bloomberg reports that the Trump Administration plans to name attorneys Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel to fill the two vacant member seats on the National Labor Relations Board.  According to the report, sources indicate that these two are currently under the routine FBI review process for executive branch nominees, and the administration expects to formally advance the nominations in June.  Per Bloomberg:

The administration hopes to have the new members confirmed by the Senate before the August recess, the sources said. Business lobbyists and other stakeholders have been prodding the White House to fill the seats, a move they say will help to peel back various Obama administration labor initiatives.

Regarding the presumptive nominees, the report notes:

Kaplan is an attorney for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent federal agency that hears cases involving alleged workplace safety violations and adjudicates disputes between the Labor Department and employers. He previously served as the Republican workforce policy counsel for the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Emanuel is a management-side lawyer at Littler Mendelson, based in Los Angeles. He has worked with a wide range of business clients, including by challenging state laws allowing unions to enter employers’ private property, according to the firm.

Upon nomination and confirmation of these two members, as previously noted here, one should reasonably expect Chairman Miscimarra to pursue a fairly aggressive agenda during the remaining few months of his term to roll back the more extreme and overreaching decisions of the Obama Board.  Likely targets include:

Traditionally, the Board has avoided overturning precedent without three votes in favor, so the seating of a full Board would be critical to pursuit of such an agenda.  It will be interesting to see the extent to which this factors into the speed and substance of this confirmation process.

NLRB Denies Petition to Use Its Rulemaking Power to Extend Weingarten Rights to Nonunion Employees

Posted in NLRA, NLRB, NLRB Rule-Making, Weingarten Rights

On May 3, 2017, the National Labor Relations Board unanimously denied a petition filed by a former NLRB attorney asking the Board to grant nonunion employees the right to have a representative present during investigatory interviews that could reasonably result in discipline. The petition stems from a November 15, 2016 letter by Charles S. Strickler, Jr. requesting that the NLRB use its rulemaking power to reverse the Board’s decision in IBM Corp., 341 NLRB 1288 (2004), and extend Weingarten rights to nonunion employees.

Weingarten rights stem from a Supreme Court decision in which the court held that union-represented employees have the right to a union representative during investigatory interviews. In 2000, a Democratic-controlled Board extended those same rights in a 3-2 decision to non-union employees in Epilepsy Foundation of Northeast OhioIn IBM Corp., a Republican-controlled Board reversed Epilepsy Foundation in another 3-2 decision. Despite expectations that the law would once again change under President Obama, the Board was never presented the issue, and thus IBM Corp. survived President Obama’s administration.

OSHA Rescinds Guidance Allowing Nonunion Employees to Select Union Representatives to Participate in OSHA Inspections

Posted in Department of Labor, Representation Elections, Unions

On April 25, 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Deputy Assistant Secretary released a memo withdrawing a 2013 interpretation that allowed nonunion employees to designate a union representative to participate in an OSHA inspection at their work site.

In 2013, despite OSHA’s own regulations requiring that the employee representative be an actual employee of the employer being inspected, OSHA issued a guidance memorandum stating that “there may be times when the presence of an employee representative who is not employed by that employer will allow a more effective inspection.” Under that interpretation, employees would be permitted to select a union representative to participate in an OSHA inspection despite the fact that that union representative was not an employee.

In withdrawing the 2013 Interpretation, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for OSHA simply stated that the 2013 Interpretation is “unnecessary” given the language of the OSH Act and OSHA’s regulations specifying the limited exception when non-employees are allowed to participate. Thus, although the April 25th memorandum is good news for employers, it does not shut the door entirely to union representatives’ participation in OSHA inspections. If non-union employees can show good cause and demonstrate that the non-employee union representative is “reasonably necessary” to the inspection, OSHA could still allow the union representative to participate. While that should be a tough standard for a union to meet, employers should nevertheless be prepared to counter any such argument that a union representative (or a subject matter expert provided by the union) is necessary.

National Labor Relations Board Says AT&T Privacy Rule Goes Too Far

Posted in NLRA, NLRB Decisions, Unfair Labor Practices, Workplace Rules

Last week a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administrative law judge ruled that AT&T Mobility interfered with employees’ labor rights with an overly broad privacy rule. The rule prohibited employees from recording any conversation without approval from the company’s legal department. In AT&T Mobility, LLC, NLRB Case No. 05-CA-178637 (April 25, 2017), the ALJ found that the rule set forth below violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act which prohibits employers from interfering with employees’ Section 7 rights:

Privacy of Communications

Employees may not record telephone or other conversations they have with their coworkers, managers or third parties unless such recordings are approved in advance by the Legal Department, required by the needs of the business, and fully comply with the law and any applicable company policy.

The rule was questioned by sales associate, Marcus Davis after he attended a termination notice meeting for another employee and recorded audio of the meeting without management’s prior knowledge. After the meeting, local area sales manager, Andrew Collings, contacted the human resources department for guidance. Collings then instructed the local store manager to retrieve the company owned phone, delete the 20 minute recording and coach Davis on the company policy. Davis challenged the rule and filed an unfair labor practice charge at the NLRB.

In defense of the rule, AT&T argued that the policy was in place to protect the privacy of customer information. The judge found that although AT&T has a pervasive and compelling interest in protecting customer information, when balanced against employees’ Section 7 rights, the rule is overbroad and in violation Section 8(a)(1) of the Act. Specifically, the judge noted that recent NLRB decisions had suggested that “protected conduct may include a number of things including recording evidence to preserve it for later use in administrative or judicial forums in employment-related actions,” and there were narrower ways for the employer to protect its legitimate interests without interfering with these employee rights. The judge also found that the employee was illegally threatened with disciplinary action, possibly termination, if he violated the privacy rule.

Accordingly, AT&T was ordered to rescind the rule and refrain from any action that would limit the exercise of employees’ Section 7 rights. It remains to be seen whether the company will comply now, or contest the decision before the NLRB itself. The order fits into the trend of NLRB decisions the last few years finding against work rules prohibiting photography and other forms of recording in the workplace. It does not entirely prohibit all rules limiting workplace recordings, but does reject broad rules containing a blanket ban on all workplace recordings.

Cross-posted at McGuireWoods’ Password Protected Data Privacy & Security News & Trends blog.