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.