Labor Relations

Late Start for Union Election Results in Rerun Election with Very Different Results

February 16, 2018

By Tyler T. Hendry and Louis P. DiLorenzo

Early in February 2017, a group of drivers at the Bronx Lobster Place, a wholesale seafood distributor, voted 14-12 in favor of union representation, with one challenged ballot.  Shortly after the election, the Lobster Place retained Louis P. DiLorenzo and Tyler Hendry in Bond's New York City office.  About one year later, after the National Labor Relations Board sustained the Lobster Place's objections to the conduct of the election, a rerun election was held.  This time, the drivers voted 22-3 against unionization.

Read More >> Late Start for Union Election Results in Rerun Election with Very Different Results

A Quick Summary of Recent NLRB Activity

February 9, 2018

By Subhash Viswanathan

In December 2017, the National Labor Relations Board issued some significant decisions reversing precedent that had been established by the NLRB under the Obama administration, and took other significant actions that may help balance the scales that had been tilted heavily in favor of union interests over the past eight years.  Here is a quick summary of those decisions and actions.

Read More >> A Quick Summary of Recent NLRB Activity

USCIS Moves Forward with Revised I-9 Employment Eligibility Form

July 17, 2017

By Alyssa N. Campbell

Today, July 17, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) released a new Form I-9 to replace the prior form which it released back in late January  of this year. For now, employers will have a 60-day grace period, giving them the option to use the updated form (Rev. 07/17/17 N) or continue using the previous Form I-9 (Rev. 11/14/2016 N) until September 17, 2017. As of September 18, 2017, however, employers must use the updated form for the initial employment verification for all new hires, as well as any applicable employment re-verifications. All prior versions of the Form I-9 will no longer be valid. The new Form I-9 has an expiration date of August 31, 2019.

Initially, the planned revisions to the Form I-9 were primarily meant to address USCIS’ proposed International Entrepreneur Rule, which was originally set to go into effect on July 17, 2017. Under the proposed rule, a foreign passport and Form I-94 indicating entrepreneur parole would be considered acceptable documentation for a foreign entrepreneur to use for employment eligibility verification purposes.  However, with the Trump administration’s freeze on all new regulations, the effective date for the International Entrepreneur Rule has been pushed back until March 14, 2018. Despite the delayed effective date for the proposed rule, the USCIS has still implemented a number of revisions to the form.

The good news for employers is that the current changes are relatively minor and should not have a major impact on the hiring and employment verification process. A summary of the revisions to the new Form I-9 appears below.

Revisions to the Form I-9 instructions:

  • The anti-discrimination and privacy act notices on the instructions are revised to change the name of the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-related Unfair Employment Practices to its new name, “Immigrant and Employee Rights Section”.
  • The phrase “the end of” is removed from the phrase “the first day of employment”.

Revisions related to the List of Acceptable Documents on Form I-9:

  • The Consular Report of Birth Abroad (“Form FS-240”) has been added as a new “List C” document. Employers completing Form I-9 online are now able to select Form FS-240 from the drop-down menus available in List C of Section 2 and Section 3. E-Verify users are also able to choose Form FS-240 when creating cases for employees who have presented this document for Form I-9.
  • All certifications of report of birth issued by the Department of State (Form FS-545, Form DS-1350 and Form FS-240) are now combined into one selection within List C.
  • As a result of the combination, all List C documents (with the exception of the Social Security card) are now renumbered.

According to a press release issued by the USCIS, in an attempt to make the revised Form I-9 more user friendly, all of the latest changes to the form will be included in a revised Handbook for Employers: Guidance for Completing Form I-9 (M-274).

Although the changes to Form I-9 are minimal, with the new administration’s heightened immigration enforcement, employers should consider reviewing their I-9 procedures and records to ensure compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”). If you have questions about the new Form I-9 or I-9 compliance issues, please contact the Bond Immigration Practice Group.

NLRB Again Imposes Duty to Bargain Over Discipline Even Before Agreement on a Contract

September 15, 2016

On August 26, 2016, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision in Total Security Management Illinois 1, LLC, in which it held that an employer who is engaged in negotiations for an initial collective bargaining agreement with a recently certified union must provide the union with notice and an opportunity to bargain prior to imposing discipline on an employee within the bargaining unit.  By doing so, the NLRB effectively reinstated its prior decision in Alan Ritchey, Inc., which had previously been invalidated by the Supreme Court in NLRB v. Noel Canning. Prior to Alan Ritchey, employers had been able to continue to impose discipline consistently with past practices while initial negotiations with a recently certified union were ongoing, and they were able to do so without providing notice and an opportunity to bargain.  Employers can no longer comfortably do so without risking a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.  Instead, employers who are engaged in negotiations with a recently certified union will need to provide the union with notice and an opportunity to bargain over any discipline that will materially alter an employee’s terms of employment (i.e., termination, suspension, demotion, etc.). However, the duty to bargain will not apply to discipline that does not materially alter the terms of employment (i.e., a verbal or written warning).  The obligation also does not apply if the employer and the recently certified union have separately agreed on a disciplinary process. Employers who are in the process of negotiating an initial collective bargaining agreement with a recently certified union should be mindful of this obligation going forward.

The NLRB's Browning-Ferris Decision Significantly Lowers the Standard For Who Is a Joint Employer Under the NLRA

September 4, 2015

By Tyler T. Hendry

In Browning-Ferris Industries of California, Inc., the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”), in a 3-2 decision, expanded who may be considered a joint employer under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or the “Act”).  The Board’s decision significantly lowers the threshold for joint employer status, making it more likely that entities such as staffing agencies, franchisors, and contractors will be considered joint employers under the Act. A joint employer finding is significant because this means that an entity may be subjected to joint bargaining obligations and potential joint liability for unfair labor practices or breaches of collective bargaining agreements. Joint Employer Analysis Before Browning-Ferris Prior to the Board’s decision in Browning-Ferris, the standard for establishing joint employment was that both entities in question had to share the ability to control or co-determine essential terms and conditions of employment.  Hiring, firing, supervising, and directing employees were generally considered to be the essential terms and conditions of employment.  Board decisions further clarified that the type of control over the essential terms must be direct and immediate, and the alleged employer must have actually exercised that control -- it was not enough that it may have reserved some level of control through a contract.  Rather, the control had to be exercised in practice. Joint Employer Analysis After Browning-Ferris The Board significantly modified this approach in Browning-Ferris.  The Board’s stated new test, which sounds similar to the old test in words, but not in application, is that:

The Board may find that two or more entities are joint employers of a single work force if they are both employers within the meaning of the common law, and if they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment.

The application of this test is where the Board makes sweeping changes.  The Board will now evaluate the evidence to determine whether an alleged employer affects the means or manner of employees’ work and terms of employment, either directly or indirectly.  In other words, the control no longer needs to be direct or immediate.  Additionally, the Board found that it is not critical that the entity actually exercise such authority so long as it possesses or reserves the right to do so. The Board also expanded on those items found to be “essential terms and conditions” beyond just hiring, terminating, supervising, and directing employees.  The Board included such things as dictating the number of workers to be supplied, setting work hours, controlling seniority and approving overtime, and assigning work and determining the manner and method of work performance. In short, the new test makes widespread changes by finding indirect control significant in establishing an employment relationship, not requiring that such control actually be exercised, and including more terms and conditions of employment as relevant in this analysis that were previously not considered to be “essential.” Applying the New Test in Browning-Ferris The issue before the Board in Browning-Ferris was whether Browning-Ferris, which operated a recycling facility, was a joint employer with LeadPoint, a staffing company that supplied employees to perform various work functions at the facility.  Under the Board’s old test, it is almost certain there would have been no joint employer finding.  LeadPoint set its employees’ schedules, engaged its own human resources manager to work at the Browning-Ferris facility, and had the sole responsibility to discipline, review, evaluate, and terminate its own employees.  In addition, LeadPoint employed an Acting On-Site Manager, three shift supervisors, and seven line leads to manage and supervise LeadPoint employees working at the facility. Nonetheless, applying the new test, the Board found sufficient evidence of direct and indirect control (relying on control both exercised and reserved by contract) to support its joint employer finding.  The Board relied on the following facts in making its determination:  Browning-Ferris gave LeadPoint supervisors fairly detailed directives concerning employee performance that the LeadPoint supervisors then communicated to their employees; Browning-Ferris set some conditions on hiring that LeadPoint was contractually bound to follow (must have appropriate qualifications and meet or exceed Browning’s own standard selection procedures and tests); Browning-Ferris had the authority to discontinue the use of LeadPoint employees; Browning-Ferris determined when overtime was necessary; and Browning-Ferris' contract with Leadpoint prohibited LeadPoint from paying its employees more than Browning-Ferris paid its own employees who performed comparable work. Takeaways and Potential Implications The primary change resulting from Browning-Ferris is that indirect control over terms and conditions of employment may now be enough to create a joint employment relationship.  Unfortunately, the Board’s decision fails to provide any real clarity on just how much indirect control may be sufficient to create such a relationship.  The two dissenting members take issue with how broad the majority’s decision appears to be, stating that “the number of contractual relationships now potentially encompassed within the majority’s new standard appears to be virtually unlimited.”  The dissent then lists the following examples:

  • Insurance companies that require employers to take certain actions with employees in order to comply with policy requirements for safety, security, health, etc.;
  • Franchisors;
  • Banks or other lenders whose financing terms may require certain performance measurements;
  • Any company that negotiates specific quality or product requirements;
  • Any company that grants access to its facilities for a contractor to perform services there, and then continuously regulates the contractor’s access to the property for the duration of the contract;
  • Any company that is concerned about the quality of the contracted services; and
  • Consumers or small businesses who dictate times, manner, and some methods of performance of contractors.

The dissent’s list showcases the potential reach of the Board’s new test and the potential to significantly alter the landscape of how employment is understood under the NLRA. While employers wait for the Board to issue more decisions further delineating the scope of this test, there are some practical steps employers can take.  Employers can revise their contracts to clarify that control over terms and conditions of employment rests with the contractor, use as little detail as possible in directing the work of the contractor, and stay out of all hiring, firing, and wage-related decisions.  Alternatively, some employers may choose to wait to make any changes until this decision is eventually challenged in federal court.  Employers should discuss with counsel how to best respond to this change. Ultimately, because of the wide array of factual arrangements involving contingent workers, franchisees, and independent contractors, and the reality of business relationships, there will certainly be some situations where letting go of some level of operational control is not a practical option.  This must be weighed against the risk of being found to be a joint employer, and carefully evaluated when entering into and reassessing all business relationships.

NLRB Revisits and Overturns Longstanding Precedent Regarding Disclosure of Witness Statements

July 31, 2015

By Sanjeeve K. DeSoyza
As we reported in an earlier blog post, the National Labor Relations Board issued the American Baptist Homes of the West (“Piedmont Gardens”) decision in December 2012, overturning more than 30 years of precedent shielding witness statements from disclosure.  In June 2014, however, the Supreme Court handed down the Noel Canning decision, in which it found that President Obama’s January 2012 Board appointments were invalid and thus the Board lacked the necessary quorum of three members to issue valid decisions from that date until August 2013 (when a full five-member Board was properly appointed).  As Piedmont Gardens was one of the Board decisions invalidated by the Noel Canning ruling, the Board issued an order setting aside the decision but retained the case on its docket. After reconsidering the case, the Board issued a decision on June 26, 2015, reaffirming its earlier decision.  In doing so, the Board overruled the blanket exemption -- first established by the Board’s 1978 Anheuser Busch decision -- that allowed employers to withhold witness statements in response to pre-arbitration requests for information.  Arguing that the Anheuser Busch rationale was “flawed,” the Board held that such statements are now subject to the same standard applicable to all other union requests for information:  an employer must furnish “relevant” information that is “necessary” to the union’s proper performance of its duties as collective bargaining representative. Under this new standard, an employer that seeks to withhold the production of witness statements on “confidentiality” grounds must first establish that:  (i) witnesses need protection; (ii) evidence is in danger of being destroyed; (iii) testimony is in danger of being fabricated; and (iv) there is a need to prevent a cover-up.  As the Board took pains to point out, “a legitimate and substantial confidentiality interest requires more than a generalized desire to protect the integrity of employment investigations.” If the required confidentiality showing can be made, the Board would then weigh the employer’s interest in confidentiality against the union’s need for the information.  Even if the Board finds that the confidentiality interest outweighs the union’s need, the employer cannot simply refuse to provide the information but “must seek an accommodation that would allow the [union] to obtain the information it needs while protecting the [employer]’s interest in confidentiality.” This decision places yet another unnecessary burden upon employers.  The Board cites no evidence that the old standard hamstrung unions in performing their collective bargaining duties.  Under Anheuser Busch, unions were still entitled to witness names and could conduct their own investigations.  Now employers can offer no assurance of confidentiality to employees, who will likely be more hesitant than ever to provide truthful accounts against their union brethren for fear of reprisal. In the wake of this decision, employers should reassess their investigatory methods, including best practices for preserving confidentiality, and avoid blanket rejections of union requests for witness statements.

NLRB General Counsel Issues Guidance Memorandum on Employee Handbook Rules

March 27, 2015

By Tyler T. Hendry
The General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) recently published a guidance memorandum that provides specific examples of lawful and unlawful employee handbook rules in the areas of confidentiality, professionalism and employee conduct, use of company logos, copyrights and trademarks, conflicts of interest, photography and recording, and interaction with the media and other third parties.  The memorandum also includes General Counsel-approved handbook rules that were adopted as part of an unfair labor practice settlement with the fast-food chain, Wendy’s. Over the past few years, the NLRB and its General Counsel have aggressively scrutinized many frequently used employee handbook provisions.  The basis for this scrutiny is the alleged infringement of the right of employees to engage in protected concerted activity under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  Section 7 activity includes the right to discuss, challenge, question, and advocate changes in wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment in both unionized and non-unionized work environments.  Of course, it also includes the right to engage in union organizing.  A majority of the current NLRB will deem an employee handbook provision to violate the NLRA if it specifically prohibits Section 7 activity or if “employees would reasonably construe” the rule as prohibiting such activity.  It is this “reasonably construe” language that has resulted in many common employee handbook provisions being declared unlawful by the majority of the current NLRB. While one could editorialize at length regarding the razor-thin distinctions drawn between the provisions found lawful and unlawful, the usefulness of the guidance for employers lies in its concrete examples, some of which are highlighted below. Confidentiality Rules A confidentiality policy will be deemed by the current NLRB to violate the NLRA if it specifically prohibits employee discussions regarding terms and conditions of employment, such as wages or workplace conditions, or if employees would reasonably construe the policy to prohibit such discussions. Unlawful
  • Do not discuss customer or employee information outside of work, including phone numbers and addresses.
  • Never publish or disclose the employer’s or another’s confidential or other proprietary information.  Never publish or report on conversations that are meant to be private or internal to the employer.
Lawful
  • No unauthorized disclosure of business secrets or other confidential information.
  • Do not disclose confidential financial data, or other non-public proprietary company information.  Do not share confidential information regarding business partners, vendors, or customers.
Employee Conduct/Professionalism Rules The memorandum reinforces that employees have the right to criticize their employer’s policies and actions toward its employees, and therefore, any policies prohibiting disrespectful, inappropriate, or rude conduct toward the employer have been deemed unlawfully overbroad.  In contrast, rules requiring employees to be respectful to co-workers, clients, and customers have generally been found to be lawful. Unlawful
  • Be respectful of the company, other employees, customers, partners, and competitors.
  • No defamatory, libelous, slanderous, or discriminatory comments about the company, its customers and/or competitors, its employees, or management.
Lawful
  • No rudeness or unprofessional behavior toward a customer or anyone in contact with the company.
  • Being insubordinate, threatening, intimidating, disrespectful, or assaulting a manager/supervisor, co-worker, customer, or vendor will result in discipline.
Use of Company Logos, Copyrights, and Trademarks The NLRB has found that a broad ban on use of an employer’s name, logo, or other trademark is unlawful because it may restrict the use of the company name and logo on picket signs, leaflets, and other protest material. Unlawful
  • Do not use any company logos, trademarks, graphics, or advertising materials in social media.
Lawful
  • Respect all copyright and other intellectual property laws.  For the employer’s protection as well as your own, it is critical that you show proper respect for the laws governing copyright, fair use of copyrighted material owned by others, trademarks, and other intellectual property, including the employer’s own copyrights, trademarks, and brands.
The release of this guidance suggests the NLRB will continue to aggressively enforce and scrutinize the employment policies of union and non-union employers.  An unlawful policy is itself a violation of the NLRA, and if an employee is disciplined or terminated for violating an unlawful policy, the discipline could be rescinded and the employer could be ordered to restore the employee to his/her position with back pay. As seen in the examples above, tweaking one or two words or adding additional context and clarification to what would be an otherwise overbroad policy can mean the difference between an unlawful or lawful policy.  Employers should, therefore, use this memorandum as a guide in reviewing and revising their handbooks and other employee rules.

NLRB Overrules 2007 Decision and Holds That Employees Have a Right to Use Their Employer's E-Mail System for Union Organizing

December 12, 2014

By Subhash Viswanathan

On December 11, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board ("Board") issued a 3-2 decision (with Board Members Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson dissenting) in Purple Communications, Inc., holding that employees have a presumptive right to use their employer's e-mail system during non-working time to communicate regarding union organizing and to engage in other protected concerted activities under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act ("Act").  The Board's decision overruled its 2007 decision in Register Guard. Purple Communications' electronic communications policy provided that its electronic communications systems and equipment were "to facilitate Company business" and that "all such equipment and access should be used for business purposes only."  The policy also prohibited employees from using its systems and equipment to engage "in activities on behalf of organizations or persons with no professional or business affiliation with the Company" and to send "uninvited e-mail of a personal nature."  There was no dispute that, under the Board's 2007 Register Guard decision, the policy was perfectly lawful as written. In the fall of 2012, the Communications Workers of America ("Union") filed petitions to represent employees at seven of Purple Communications' facilities.  After an election was held, the Union filed objections to the results of the election at two facilities and an unfair labor practice charge, alleging (among other things) that the electronic communications policy interfered with the employees' Section 7 rights. The Administrative Law Judge, relying on the Board's 2007 Register Guard decision, found the electronic communications policy to be lawful.  The Board majority, however, found that the Register Guard decision improperly placed too much weight on the property rights of employers in their own e-mail systems and too little weight on the Section 7 right of employees to communicate in the workplace about their terms and conditions of employment.  The Board majority also believed that the Register Guard decision failed to recognize the importance of e-mail as a means by which employees engage in protected communications.  Therefore, the Board majority overruled its Register Guard decision and held that employees have a presumptive right to use their employer's e-mail system during non-working time to engage in communications protected by Section 7 of the Act. The Board made clear in its decision that this presumption applies only to employees who have been granted access to the employer's e-mail system in the course of their work and does not require an employer to provide access to its e-mail system to employees who do not otherwise need it.  In addition, the Board held that an employer may rebut the presumption and justify a total ban on non-business use of its e-mail system by demonstrating that "special circumstances make the ban necessary to maintain production or discipline."  Virtually no guidance is provided in the decision regarding what those "special circumstances" might be, but the Board majority stated that "we anticipate that it will be the rare case where special circumstances justify a total ban on non-work e-mail use by employees."  The Board remanded the case back to the Administrative Law Judge for a determination of whether Purple Communications could successfully rebut the presumption and justify the scope of its prohibition on the personal use of e-mail. The restriction that employees may use their employer's e-mail system for Section 7 purposes only during non-working time raises a significant question:  can an employer monitor employee use of its e-mail systems during working time to ensure compliance with this restriction and discipline employees who are found to have engaged in Section 7 activity through e-mail during working time, without risking potential liability for unlawful surveillance or discrimination based on union activities?  According to the Board's decision, an employer may continue to notify employees that they should have no expectation of privacy in their use of the employer's e-mail system and may continue to monitor the use of its e-mail system for legitimate business purposes.  However, the Board stated that this monitoring is lawful only if "the employer does nothing out of the ordinary."  For example, the Board's decision leaves open the possibility that an employer's increased monitoring during a union organizing campaign or an employer's particular focus on employees who are known union activists could result in potential liability under Sections 8(a)(1) or 8(a)(3) of the Act. Members Miscimarra and Johnson both wrote strong dissenting opinions.  In the view of the dissenters, an employer's interests in controlling the use of its own electronic communications system should prevail over employees' interests in using that system for union organizing activities, especially in light of the availability of other electronic communications networks such as employees' own personal e-mail and social media sites. Many employers' electronic communications policies already permit employees to engage in some limited personal use of their e-mail systems as long as that personal use does not interfere with the employee's work duties or the work duties of other employees.  This type of policy may very well be lawful even under the Board's Purple Communications decision, because, on its face, it likely would not be interpreted to prohibit Section 7 protected activity during non-working time.  At this point, however, if your electronic communications policy contains a blanket prohibition on the use of your e-mail system for personal reasons, you may want to consider potential revisions to your policy. Andrew Bobrek, one of my colleagues in the Labor and Employment Department of Bond, Schoeneck & King, will be conducting a webinar on the Board's Purple Communications decision on Thursday, December 18, at 11:00 a.m.  More details will follow.

The NLRB Holds That Certain Activity on Facebook is Not Protected

December 3, 2014

The exact limits of employee protected speech on social media are still finding definition, but a recent National Labor Relations Board decision identifies at least one limit:  premeditated insubordination.  In Richmond District Neighborhood Center, the Board held that two employees who discussed their plans on Facebook to engage in insubordinate activity on the job did not engage in protected activity, and the employer therefore did not commit an unfair labor practice by rescinding their rehire offers. In Richmond, the employer operated a teen center in San Francisco.  At an employee meeting, the employer solicited feedback on the program and employees submitted their perceived “pros” and “cons” regarding the program.  Following the meeting, two employees requested a follow-up meeting and the employer denied their requests.  During the subsequent summer break (during which employees are sent offer letters for rehire), the employer sent the two employees offer letters and the two employees engaged in the following conversation on Facebook about their plans to return to the program the following year: EMPLOYEE 1:  I'll be back, but only if you and I are going to be ordering s***, having crazy events at the Beacon all the time.  I don't want to ask permission, I just want it to be LIVE.  You down? EMPLOYEE 2:  Im gOin to be a activity leader im not doin the [teen center] let them figure it out and when they start loosn kids i aint helpn HAHA EMPLOYEE 1:  hahaha.  Sweet, now you gonna be one of us.  Let them do the numbers, and we'll take advantage, play music loud, get artists to come in and teach the kids how to graffiti up the walls and make it look cool, get some good food.  I don't feel like bein their b**** and making it all happy-friendly-middle school campy.  Let's do some cool s***, and let them figure out the money.  No more Sean.  Let's f*** it up.  I would hate to be the person takin your old job. EMPLOYEE 2:  Im glad im done with that its to much and never appriciated sO we just gobe have fuN dOin activities and the best part is WE CAN LEAVE NOW hahaha I AINT GOBE NEVER BE THERE even thO shawn gone its still hella stuCk up ppl there that dont appriciate nothing EMPLOYEE 1:  You right.  They dont appreciate s***.  Thats why this year all I wanna do is s*** on my own.  have parties all year and not get the office people involved.  just do it and pretend they are not there.  i'm glad you arent doing that job.  let some office junkie enter data into a computer.  well make the beacon pop this year with no ones help. EMPLOYEE 2:  They gone be mad cuZ on wednesday im goin there aNd tell theM mY title is ACTIVITY LEADER dont ask me nothing abOut the teen cenTer HAHA we gone have hella clubs and take the kids ;) EMPLOYEE 1:  hahaha!  F*** em.  field trips all the time to wherever the f*** we want! EMPLOYEE 2:  U f**** right see u WednesdaY EMPLOYEE 1:  I won't be there wednesday.  I'm outta town.  But I'll be back to raise hell wit ya.  Dont worry.  Whatever happens I got your back too. After a co-worker took a screenshot of the conversation and showed the employer, the employer rescinded the employees’ rehire offers.  The Board's General Counsel challenged the revocation of the offers as an unfair labor practice, arguing that the employees’ Facebook conversation constituted protected concerted activity under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. The Board disagreed, noting that the “Facebook exchange contains numerous statements advocating insubordination” which could not be “easily explained away as a joke, or hyperbole divorced from any likelihood of implementation.”  The Board distinguished the conversation from “brief comments” which, in contrast, might be dismissed as hyperbole.  The Board held:  "The magnitude and detail of insubordinate acts advocated in the posts reasonably gave the Respondent concern that [the employees] would act on their plans, a risk a reasonable employer would refuse to take.  The Respondent was not obliged to wait for the employees to follow through on the misconduct they advocated.”  Accordingly, the employees’ conduct was not protected and the employer did not commit an unfair labor practice by withdrawing the rehire offers. This decision demonstrates that even the current Board has a limit to what type of employee conduct on social media must be tolerated by employers.  Although this decision will likely enable employers to more confidently take action against employees who discuss premeditated insubordination on social media, the distinction between true threats of insubordination and what the Board might consider to be hyperbole is somewhat murky.  Employers should still tread carefully before disciplining employees for conversing on Facebook about work-related issues.

NLRB ALJ Rules That An Interim Grievance Procedure Does Not Require An Arbitration Option

June 17, 2014

By Sanjeeve K. DeSoyza
In a decision issued last week, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) for the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) ruled that an interim grievance procedure between an employer and a newly-certified union did not have to include an arbitration option in order to relieve the employer of the obligation to provide the union with notice and an opportunity to bargain before imposing significant discretionary discipline. As we previously posted, in late 2012, the NLRB issued a groundbreaking decision in Alan Ritchey, Inc., requiring for the first time that in the absence of a binding agreement addressing discipline, an employer must provide the union with a bargaining opportunity prior to issuance of significant discretionary discipline (i.e., suspension, demotion, or discharge).  This issue would ordinarily arise during the period after a union is newly certified, but before an agreement has been reached with the employer on an initial contract. The Alan Ritchey decision did not specifically address whether an interim grievance procedure had to offer an arbitration option if internal grievance efforts failed to resolve any disagreement over the proposed discipline.  There was no binding agreement between the employer and the union in the Alan Ritchey case and, recognizing the significant change in the law that the decision entailed, the NLRB decided to apply the new requirement on a prospective basis only. In Medic Ambulance Service, ALJ Cracraft found that an interim grievance procedure did not require an arbitration option to satisfy the Alan Ritchey requirements.  In Medic Ambulance, while negotiations for an initial collective bargaining agreement were underway, the employer and the newly certified union agreed to follow the first two steps set forth in the grievance/arbitration section of the employer’s expired agreement with a prior union.  The parties also expressly agreed, however, that the third step (arbitration) would not be available until a new contract was signed. ALJ Cracraft found that the agreement regarding the first two grievance steps constituted an agreed-upon interim grievance procedure that relieved the employer of its obligation to bargain with the union prior to imposing significant discretionary discipline.  The General Counsel for the NLRB contended that the procedure did not satisfy the Alan Ritchey requirements because it did not include an arbitration option, but ALJ Cracraft summarily rejected that argument:
Surely if the Board intended to mandate arbitration as a part of an interim grievance procedure, its decision would have clearly provided such guidance.  Thus, in disagreement with the General Counsel, I find that Alan Ritchey does not specifically require that an interim grievance procedure contain an arbitration component.
Having concluded that arbitration was not a required element of an interim grievance procedure, the ALJ held that the two-step “grievance only” procedure was sufficient to relieve the employer of its obligation to provide the union with notice and an opportunity to bargain before it terminated several employees. The ALJ's Medic Ambulance decision offers a welcome constraint to the far-reaching scope of the NLRB's Alan Ritchey decision.  Employers should be cautioned, however, that the ALJ's decision is not binding precedent and the union may still pursue an appeal to the NLRB.

NLRB Regional Director Finds College Football Players Qualify as Employees and Can Unionize

March 27, 2014

By Katherine Ritts Schafer
In a stunning and potential landmark decision, a Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board has found that football players receiving grant-in-aid scholarships from Northwestern University (the “University”) are “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act.  In his decision released Wednesday afternoon, the Regional Director determined that “players receiving scholarships to perform football-related services for [the University] under a contract for hire in return for compensation are subject to [the University]’s control and are therefore employees within the meaning of the Act.”  Accordingly, the Regional Director ordered that an election be conducted among all football players receiving grant-in-aid scholarships who have not exhausted their playing eligibility for the University. In support of his decision, the Regional Director found that the players receive compensation for the athletic services they perform in the form of scholarships, which pay for the players’ tuition, fees, room, board, and books and can total as much as $76,000 per calendar year for up to five years.  Furthermore, the Regional Director found that the players are under the strict control of the University throughout the year.  The coaches determine the location, duration, and manner in which the players carry out their football-related activities; they monitor the players’ adherence to NCAA and team rules; and they control “nearly every aspect of the players’ private lives,” including their living arrangements, applications for outside employment, off-campus travel, social media posts, and communications with the media.  In contrast, the Regional Director held that “walk-ons do not meet the definition of ‘employee’ for the fundamental reason that they do not receive compensation for the athletic services that they perform.” The University has confirmed that it plans to appeal the decision to the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C.  If upheld, the decision has the potential to dramatically alter the world of big-time athletics in higher education as it would open the door for scholarship athletes at all private universities to unionize.  Indeed, the decision could have implications for scholarship students in a number of areas beyond athletics. The Union, College Athletes Players Association (“CAPA”), which has the financial backing of the United Steelworkers, is seeking, among other demands, financial coverage for former players with sports-related medical expenses and the creation of an educational trust fund to help former players graduate.

Union's Rejection of Company's "Final" Proposal Does Not Always Signify Impasse

January 6, 2014

By David E. Prager

In collective bargaining, a “final” proposal is often a term of art, used to signal the end of a party’s willingness to move.  However, negotiators frequently will continue to move even after a purportedly final offer.  In the view of the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB"), “final” does not always really mean final.  Recently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the NLRB's view.  In Carey Salt Co. v. NLRB, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the NLRB's holding that labor negotiations had not reached impasse, even though the union had asked for the company’s “final” proposal, the company had provided it, the union had rejected it, and the parties had thereafter confirmed that they were far apart. These facts, on their face, would seem to suggest that the parties had reached impasse, and that the company was therefore entitled at that point to suspend negotiations and implement its final offer.  However, the NLRB looked behind these facts, and concluded that the union, when it requested the company’s final offer, had not intended to bring negotiations to a halt.  The NLRB credited the union’s testimony that the union had wished only to poll its membership on the company’s position and continue bargaining.  The union’s negotiator testified – without significant rebuttal – that his request for a “final” offer had included the caveat that the parties negotiate further after receiving it.  Under these circumstances, the NLRB held, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed, that the company had prematurely seized on the final offer phraseology to declare impasse and to decline to meaningfully negotiate thereafter. This strategy had disastrous consequences for the company, not the least of which was that it was ultimately responsible for wages lost during an ensuing strike, which – as a result of the company’s premature cessation of negotiations and implementation of its final offer – was held to constitute an “unfair labor practice strike.”  Although the Fifth Circuit does not have jurisdiction over employers in New York, the Court's decision illustrates the treacherous waters that employers in any state must navigate when assessing whether impasse – always an evasive concept – has truly been reached.  The Fifth Circuit's decision includes a particularly scholarly recitation on the subject of impasse in collective bargaining, recounting and discussing precedent on this difficult issue. A second issue addressed in the case is whether, and under what circumstances, purportedly “regressive” proposals – i.e., company proposals that reduce previous terms or concessions – can be a factor in assessing “bad faith” bargaining on the part of the company.  The NLRB held that the company had bargained in bad faith by introducing so-called regressive proposals.  However, the Fifth Circuit rejected the NLRB's position, clarifying that regressive proposals are lawful as long as they are not designed or intended to avoid or frustrate bargaining.  The Fifth Circuit found no evidence that the regressive proposals had been deployed in a bad faith manner in this instance.  Therefore, the Court rejected the NLRB’s sweeping conclusion of bad faith based on these proposals alone.