As union membership continues to tumble, organized labor is getting desperate. First, the unions sought help from Washington; the Employee Free Choice Act, the RAISE Act and the President’s unconstitutional “recess” appointment to the National Labor Relations Board all were attempts by labor-friendly politicians to help unions gain access to the non-union American workforce. Now, federal agencies are riding to Big Labor’s rescue, using the power of the executive branch to help organizers recruit more dues-paying union members.
Earlier this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-the Department of Labor’s workplace safety watchdog-issued a guidance letter that offered a new interpretation of a long-standing rule.This new interpretation will allow labor union officials to participate in safety inspections at the request of an employee even if the employer is non-union.
During an OSHA safety inspection, employees are entitled to have an observer accompany the government investigators on the investigators’ tour of the workplace. For nearly half a century, this observer was understood to be an actual employee of the workplace in question; indeed, OSHA’s own interpretative manual uses the word “employee” when describing the observer. But in this new guidance letter, written by OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard E. Fairfax, labor union officials could participate in safety inspections at the request of an employee-even if the employer is non-union.
By re-interpreting this “observer” law in such an expansive fashion, OSHA is giving unions an unprecedented opportunity to not only gain access to non-union facilities—an organized labor “Trojan Horse”—but also to advance the idea that without union representation employees’ personal safety is at risk
While ostensibly serving as “observers,” union representatives will be able to spread a pro-union message among employees, a sales pitch reinforced by the sudden discovery of a number of potential safety hazards and OSHA violations. Alleged violations need not be legitimate for the union’s gambit to succeed; they need only generate concern among the company’s workforce that management is fostering potentially unsafe working conditions. And with an organizer on-site, masquerading as an observer, the solution to this sudden spike in safety violations will be offered: union representation.
Employers can still fight back. First, companies must be prepared for the scenario described above. When an OSHA inspector and an organized-labor observer arrive at your worksite, it is critical to demonstrate an interest in identifying and remedying any potential safety issues. Such concern, however, does not mean acquiescence to bullying by an “observer” attempting to undermine employees’ faith in management. Have an OSHA expert, whether it is an attorney or a member of your management team, accompany the “observer” on his/her tour of your workplace. Be prepared to counter any exaggerated or erroneous violations made by the observer—a critical step in undermining the union’s credibility—while demonstrating to employees that management takes safety seriously. Furthermore, make sure the “observer” is only allowed to participate in the actual inspection; do not let him/her wander the facility unsupervised.
Already struggling with a massive increase in federal regulations, health-care “reforms” and a sea of red tape, employers now must contend with a federal government determined to reverse the decline in organized labor’s membership roles. But employers can, and, indeed, must, take proactive steps to protect their rights and the rights of their employees.Read More
Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a controversial NLRB decision—Mezonos Maven Bakery, 357 NLRB No. 47—regarding the award of backpay to undocumented aliens. Specifically, this case considered whether “undocumented workers who have engaged in fraud or criminal activity in violation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in obtaining or continuing their employment are entitled to backpay where their employer…hired and retained them knowing they were undocumented.”
Finding that the instant matter was materially different from the Board’s decision in Hoffman Plastic, the administrative law judge initially found in favor of the employees. In Hoffman Plastic, the Board‘s holding precluded backpay in a scenario where the alien “violates the IRCA by presenting the employer with fraudulent documents,” and the “employer is unaware of the fraud.”
Specifically, the ALJ ruled that the instant matter was materially different from Hoffman Plastic because the employer—not the employee—violated the IRCA. As a result, the ALJ concluded that a backpay remedy was necessary. The Board, however, disagreed.
The Board Applies Hoffman Plastic
In August 2011, the Board declined to adopt the ALJ Order. According to the Board, Hoffman Plastic’s “holding is categorically worded” with “no distinction based on the identity of the IRCA violator.” As a result, Hoffman Plastic “broadly precludes backpay awards to undocumented workers regardless of whether it is they or their employer who has violated the IRCA. Indeed, “regardless of which party violated the IRCA, the result is an unlawful employment relationship.
A Matter of Public Policy
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has weighed in as well, upholding the Board’s interpretation of Hoffman Plastic. In its decision, the Second Circuit places particular emphasis on public policy concerns: “Awarding backpay would ‘not only trivialize the immigration laws,” but would also “condone and encourage future violations.” Quoting Hoffman Plastic, the Second Circuit addressed the ALJ’s suggestion that aliens who did not present fraudulent documents but who are in the U.S. illegally, noting that it sees “no reason to think that Congress nonetheless intended to permit backpay where but for an employer’s unfair labor practices, an alien-employee would have remained in the United States illegally, and continued to work illegally, all the while successfully evading apprehension by immigration authorities. “
The Second Circuit did. However, remand the matter back to the Board for consideration of one additional issue: Whether to grant petitioners requested remedy of reinstatement contingent on the production of work authorization documents.Read More
In a critical new ruling, the National Labor Relations Board held that “union job targeting programs, including those funded in part by voluntary deductions from the wages of union members employed on State-funded public works projects, are clearly protected under Section 7 of the Act.” This latest ruling throws up yet another roadblock in front of contractors already contending with a stagnant economy and burdensome regulations.
Job targeting programs, also known as market recovery funds, are yet another one of the economic weapons organized labor can deploy against non-union contractors. As part of these programs, unions collect dues which are then used to subsidize “union friendly” contractors. Yet, job targeting programs aren’t just about keeping organized labor’s allies in business; these subsidies put non-union contractors on the defensive, as the union shops are able to lower the gap between union and non-union contractors.
In this case (J.A. Croson Company, 359 NLRB No.2, 2012), the collective bargaining agreement contained a dues-checkoff provision requiring member employers to “deduct and remit to the Union, pursuant to voluntary authorizations signed by unit employees, due in the amount of 1.75 percent of the employees’ gross wages as a “Market Recovery Assessment.” The money collected was then used to fund the union’s “job targeting program, which funneled money to unionized contractors. The purpose of this program was clear: to “lower union contractor’s overall costs to complete targeted projects, enabling union contractors to submit competitive bids.”
In response to the union’s job targeting program, J.A. Croson Company, an ABC member, filed a lawsuit charging that the wage deductions violated state law. The Ohio Supreme Court eventually held that this lawsuit was preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (Act), and an administrative law judge found that Croson’s lawsuit did not violate the Act. The Board, however, reversed the judge’s ruling, holding instead that union job targeting programs are “clearly protected by Section 7 of the Act.” Consequently, the Board also held that Croson’s state court lawsuit was preempted by the Act, and that Croson’s lawsuit did not garner First Amendment protection: Indeed, by merely filing the lawsuit, Croson violated Section 8(a)(1) by interfering with union activity.
As a result of the Board’s J.A. Croson Company decision, the playing field has, once again, been titled in favor of organized labor.Read More