For organized labor, Christmas has come early. Unfortunately, Americas’ employers received a lump of a coal
Late last week, President Obama’s National Labor Relation’s Board finalized the so-called “ambush election rules”—a gift that was at the top of every union’s wish list. By speeding up the timeframe for representation elections, this new regulation will significantly handicap employers’ ability to contest union organizing drives.
As Siegel O’Connor has previously noted, the average time between when a union files a representation petition—the first step in organizing a workplace into a union—is 38 days, but this new rule would reduce that to as few as 10 days. Consequently, unions could launch guerrilla-organizing campaigns that, because of the compressed timeline, deny management its legal right to discuss with their employees whether a union has anything worthwhile or constructive to offer them or the company.
Employers across the country have strongly criticized the change. For instance, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) issued the following statement:
This flawed rule is harmful to both workers and employers. By dramatically changing the procedures that govern union elections, the rule limits the information available to employees prior to entering the voting booth, potentially subjects employees to harassment at home and undermines the due process rights of employers.
Bottom Line for Employers
Fortunately for America’s employers, these new regulations don’t go into effect until April 2015; additional legal and legislative challenges are likely. In the interim, however, Employers should contact their respective members of Congress and demand an end to the Obama NLRB’s hyper-partisan antics. Employers are also urged to contact their labor counsel and begin developing a strategy for contesting ambush elections.Read More
Earlier this week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision (Purple Commc’ns Inc) giving employees the right to use employers’ email systems for non-business purposes—including union organizing. This ruling overturns the Board’s 2007 decision in Register Guard, and opens up yet another front in the partisan Board’s war against employers.
In its decision, the Board declared the analysis in Register Guard to be “clearly incorrect,” and one that focuses “too much on employers’ property rights and too little on the importantance of email as a means of workplace commutation.” As a result of this ruling, agues the Board, the NLRB “failed to adequately protect employees’ rights under the Act” and abdicated its responsibility to “adapt the Act to the changing patterns of industrial life.” Indeed, throughout its analysis, the Board justifies its ruling by referencing email’s new role as the “primary means of workplace discourse.”
Having dismantled Register Guard, the Board will now adopt a “presumption that employees who have been given access to the employer’s email system in the course of their work are entitled to use the system to engage in statutorily protected discussions about their terms and conditions of employment while on nonworking time.”
In an attempt to mollify employers, the Board offers the following three limitations on employee’s ability to use email for organizing purposes:
- This decision applies only to employees who have been granted access to the employer’s email system in the course of their work; employers are not required to provide such access
- Employers may justify a total ban on non-work use of email by demonstrating that special circumstances make the ban necessary to maintain production or discipline.
- This decision does not address nonemployees or any other type of electronic communication.
These limitations, however, offer little solace to employers already struggling to comply with the avalanche of union-friendly regulations churned out by an increasingly hostile NLRB.
A Powerful Dissent
The Board’s decision in Purple Commc’ns Inc., is unprecedented. As Board Member Philip Miscimarra notes in his dissent, “The [National Labor Relations] Act has never previously been interpreted to require employers, in the absence of discrimination, to give employees access to business systems and equipment for NLRA-protected activities that employees could freely conduct by other means.” Furthermore, it is all but impossible “to determine whether or what communications violate restrictions against solicitation during working.”
Member Johnson, who penned his own 32-page dissent, hammered the majority’s decision for essentially forcing employers to subsidize speech in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Johnson argues, “The First Amendment violation is especially pernicious because the Board now requires an employer to pay for its employees to freely insult its business practices, services, products, management, and other coemployees in its own email. All of this is now a matter of presumptive right…”
Looking forward, Johnson’s dissent warns that “Taken to its extreme, the majority’s…rationale would just as easily apply to taking over an employer auditorium, or conference room in the middle of the workday during an employer presentation/conference.
The Road Ahead
On a practical level, however, employers must now re-evaluate their internal rules and regulations regarding employee use of company email. Specifically, Purple Commc’ns Inc has now rendered most employee handbooks obsolete; employers should, over the next few weeks, review their employee email communications policy, and contact their labor counsel to examine how this stunning new decision will impact existing company policies.Read More
The Connecticut Appellate confirmed today that continued employment alone will not bind an existing employee to an adverse change in contract terms.
In Thoma v. Oxford Performance Materials, Inc., Conn. App. Ct., No. AC 35313, official release 9/23/14, the Court found that a terminated executive was entitled to benefits of her original employment agreement, despite having the executive having signed a second employment agreement negating said benefits.
Specifically, the Oxford executive signed a first employment agreement with provisions including severance pay in the case of termination without cause and received at increase in salary. Some time after, Oxford decided that the benefits in the first agreement were too generous and revised the agreement. Both parties signed the second agreement, which excluded any severance benefits and did not provide any further increase in salary. As provided in the first agreement, the executive’s salary increased. When Oxford terminated the executive over a year later and failed to pay her severance, she sued Oxford.
Ultimately, the Court’s decision should not come as a huge surprise to Connecticut employers. For some time, Connecticut courts have leaned toward requiring some form of additional consideration to bind existing employees to any adverse change in their terms or conditions of employment. Employers should know that if they want to incorporate a non-compete agreement or a mandatory arbitration clause, these significant restrictions on employees must be done in connection with hiring or some incentive other than continued employment to be binding and enforceable.Read More
This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court held that personal care assistants who are paid by the state of Illinois—but mostly supervised by the homecare recipients they serve—are not “full-fledged” public employees. As a result, these employees cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees.
In a 5-4 decision, the majority ruled that requiring personal care assistants to pay union dues would violate the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take.
The Court noted that these assistants are “different from full-fledged public employees,” because they work primarily for their disabled client, and do not receive the same benefits as regular state employees.
This decision deals a considerable blow to organized labor. Unions are losing members—and, in turn, the dues and fees provided by said members—at an astonishing rate. Had the court ruled in their favor, public-sector unions would have had access to 26,000 new members—and their wallets. And given that nine other states, including Connecticut, allow personal care assistants to join unions, the impact will be felt far beyond Illinois.
In making its decision, the court refused to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 Supreme Court cases that requires “full-fledged” public employees to pay dues, even if they are not members of the union. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, noted that:
Abood itself has clear boundaries; it applies to public employees. Extending those boundaries to encompass partial-public employees, quasi-public employees, or simply private employees would invite problems…If we allowed Abood to be extended to those who are not full-fledged public employees, it would be hard to see just where to draw the line, and we therefore confine Abood’s reach to full-fledged state employees.
However, labor unions will likely emphasize that the ruling stressed the unique nature of the personal care assistant:
PAs are much different from public employees. Unlike full-fledged public employees, PAs are almost entirely answerable to the customers and not to the State, do not enjoy most of the rights and benefits that inure to state employees, and are not indemnified by the State for claims against them arising from actions taken during the course of their employment. Even the scope of collective bargaining on their behalf is sharply limited.
Bottom Line for Employers:
Look for this decision to trigger a battle over the definition of “full-fledged public employees,” as well as a renewed organizing push from public sector unions.Read More