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NLRB Issues Major Decision Imposing Bargaining Obligation Over Discipline Before Union Reaches Contract

Alan Ritchey Inc., 359 N.L.R.B. No. 40, 12/14/12 [released 12/19/12], is a major NLRB decision. The time after a union is certified until it reaches its first contract is often long and difficult.

This decision holds, for the first time, that an employer MUST bargain with the union BEFORE imposes major discipline on unit employees notwithstanding the fact that a CBA has not been reached. As the NLRB stated:

Not every unilateral change that affects terms and conditions of employment triggers the duty to bargain. Rather, the Board asks “whether the changes had a material,substantial, and significant impact on the employees’ terms and conditions of employment.” Toledo Blade Co., 343 NLRB 385, 387 2004 emphasized.

This test is a pragmatic one, designed to avoid imposing a bargaining requirement in situations where bargaining is unlikely to produce a different result and, correspondingly, where unilateral action is unlikely to suggest to employees that the union is ineffectual or to precipitate a labor dispute. We draw on this basic principle, adjusted to fit the present context, today.

Disciplinary actions such as suspension, demotion, and discharge plainly have an inevitable and immediate impact on employees’ tenure, status, or earnings. Requiring bargaining before these sanctions are imposed is appropriate, as we will explain, because of this impact on the employee and because of the harm caused to the union’s effectiveness as the employees’ representative if bargaining is postponed.

Just as plainly, however, other actions that may nevertheless be referred to as discipline and that are rightly viewed as bargainable, such as oral and written warnings, have a lesser impact on employees, viewed as of the time when action is taken and assuming that they do not themselves automatically result in additional discipline based on an employer’s progressive disciplinary system.

Bargaining over these lesser sanctions—which is required insofar as they have a “material, substantial, and significant impact” on terms and conditions of employment—may properly be deferred until after they are imposed.

(emphasis added).

via Adjunct Law Prof Blog: NLRB Issues Major Decision Imposing Bargaining Obligation Over Discipline Before Union Reaches Conract.

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NLRB recent decisions

This is the list of the most recent and significant decisions decided by the NLRB:

Hispanics United of BuffaloThe Board found that the employer unlawfully fired five employees because of their Facebook posts and comments about a coworker who intended to complain to management about their work performance. In its analysis, the Board majority applied settled Board law to the new world of social media, finding that the Facebook conversation was concerted activity and was protected by the National Labor Relations Act. Member Hayes dissented.

Alan Ritchey, Inc. – In a unanimous decision that resolved the last of the two-member cases returned following the 2010 Supreme Court decision in New Process Steel, the Board found that where there is no collectively-bargained grievance-arbitration system in place, employers generally must give the union notice and an opportunity to bargain before imposing discipline such as a discharge or suspension on employees. Member Hayes was recused.

Latino Express In a decision that will affect most cases in which backpay is awarded, the Board decided to require respondents to compensate employees for any extra taxes they have to pay as a result of receiving the backpay in a lump sum. The Board will also require an employer ordered to pay back wages to file with the Social Security Administration a report allocating the back wages to the years in which they were or would have been earned. The Board requested briefs in this case in July 2012. Member Hayes did not participate in the case.

Chicago Mathematics & Science Academy – Rejecting the position of a teachers’ union, the Board found that it had jurisdiction over an Illinois non-profit corporation that operates a public charter school in Chicago. The non-profit was not the sort of government entity exempt from the National Labor Relations Act, the Board majority concluded, and there was no reason for the Board to decline jurisdiction. Member Hayes dissented in part.

United Nurses & Allied Professionals (Kent Hospital) – The Board, with Member Hayes dissenting, addressed several issues involving the rights of nonmember dues objectors under the Supreme Court’s Beck decision. On the main issue, the majority held that, like all other union expenses, lobbying expenses are chargeable to objectors, to the extent that they are germane to collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment. The Board invited further briefing from interested parties on the how it should define and apply the germaneness standard in the context of lobbying activities.

WKYC-TV, Gannet Co. Applying the general rule against unilateral employer changes in terms and conditions of employment, the Board found that an employer’s obligation to collect union dues under a check-off agreement will continue after the contract expires and before a bargaining impasse occurs or a new contract is reached. Member Hayes dissented.

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