Tag Archives: discipline

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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Lawyer’s misconduct did not prevent class action certification

In a class action, lawyers’ conduct when contacting (or trying to contact) possible putative class members, is regulated by the court or federal statute.

In this case, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined  that class counsel’s faxing of unsolicited advertisement was misconduct.  The decision rested on the question of whether the law firm bribed a third-party in order to obtain a list of the possible putative class members.  Due to a lack of evidence that the payment of $5,000 was a bribe, the court allowed the class to be certified.

I raise this case because it raises the issue of attorney misconduct.  First of all, there are across-the-states ethics rules that govern attorneys’ conduct.  You can access ethics rules governing attorneys by going to the state court’s website and looking for the Board of Professional Responsibility or ethics rules.

As the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals highlighted multiple times, the law firm’s misconduct could possibly warrant disciplinary action.  The Court of Appeals commented that litigants and attorneys should report to the relevant bar authority (the Board of Professional Responsibility) instances of attorney misconduct.  Otherwise, the court warned, unpunished and inappropriate attorney conduct will continue.

In fact, there are ethical rules that discuss the reporting of misconduct.  In Minnesota, Rule 8.3 discusses the reporting of professional misconduct.  Rule 8.3 states, in relevant part,

(a) A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority.

Secondly, in a class action, the class representatives through their class counsel must show that the class counsel can appropriately represent the class.  In other words, the court must decide that the law firm can properly represent the entire class (which may in the hundredths).

So, if a law firm possibly engaged in misconduct, i.e. shows a lack of integrity – is the law firm’s representation proper?  The court did state that unethical conduct (regardless of whether it is prejudicial) raises “serious doubt” as to counsel’s ability to adequately represent the class.

via Courthouse News Service.

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Wisconsin labor fight heats up

Public school teachers filed a class action against a public school district that claims it can cut their pay at will and fine them up to $2,500 if they don’t sign their contracts on time.

The class action, which has a putative class size of 230 teachers, alleges that the school district’s contracts have illegal and unenforceable provisions.  For example, the contract allows

  1. The district to fire or reduced the pay and benefits of tenured teachers for vague and undefined reasons;
  2. The district can fine tenured teachers $1,000 to $2,500 if they don’t sign the contract by the time the school district wants it, or seek release from the contract.

The class action further claims:

  • The 2012-13 contracts illegally allow the district to “make salary adjustments ‘due to disciplinary action and/or changes in full-time equivalency warranted by the district,'” in violation of Wis. Stat. § 118.21;
  • The contracts illegally allow the district to cut salary and benefits “if in the sole discretion of the district, the educator fails to meet the expectations referenced in the contract, acts in a manner that is not in the best interests of the district’s students, fails to abide by the terms of the Employee Handbook, fails to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the job description, or if the district decides to reduce the professional staff for financial or other lawful reasons,” in violation of Wis. Stat. § 118.21, § 118.21, and state contract law; and
  • The contracts illegally set up “a liquidated damages schedule that begins assessing damages on June 1,” with fines beginning at $1,000, escalating to 2,500, for failing to sign contracts by June 15, or seeking release from contract; this “unlawfully assesses damages to teachers seeking release from their contracts prior to the statutory date for acceptance.”

The contracts state “that failure to return a signed contract … would result in non-renewal of the teacher’s contract,” the teachers say: “A stigma is attached to being non-renewed by a school district, as it suggests that a teacher’s employment was not continued for performance reasons or misconduct.”

The class cites violation of Wisconsin Statute 118.21, under which the school district must fix teachers’ wages, violation of Wisconsin Statute 118.22, under which the school district must set the contract acceptance date at June 15, and violation of Wisconsin Statute 118.23, under which it can terminate permanent only employees for good cause.

via Courthouse News Service.

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NLRB Clarifies Social Media Case Analysis

I mentioned this case before in a prior post.  Nevertheless, it warrants a follow up post dealing specifically with this case: Hispanic United of Buffalo.

In Hispanic United of Buffalo,the NLRB clarified the analysis for Facebook and other social media cases.

The facts are fairly typical for the increasing number of Facebook cases.  One employee had been complaining about the performance of co-workers and informed one of them that she was going to report her criticisms to the boss.  The co-worker posted a message on her Facebook page noting the criticism, saying she had “about had it,” and asking her fellow co-workers how they felt.  Four of them posted a defense of their work on the Facebook page, all while off-duty and on their own computers.  The employer fired all five for bullying the critical employee on Facebook.

All three Board members (Block, Griffin, and Hayes) agreed that the usual analysis for Section 8(a)(1) terminations–Meyers Industries–is applicable.  There wasn’t much discussion on this point, which is not surprising, as there is really nothing special about using social media other than it’s newer and cooler than more traditional forms of communication.  This essentially confirms what the General Counsel and many commentators (including yours truly) has been saying for a while, but it’s obviously a lot more helpful for the Board to make that clear.

via Workplace Prof Blog: NLRB Clarifies Social Media Case Analysis.

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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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