What Employers Need to Know Now: Neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay
Public Union “Agency Fees” Violate Employees’ First Amendment Rights
On the last day of its 2017‑18 term, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision protecting the First Amendment rights of public employees.
In Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court overturned an older decision that upheld a union’s right to force non-members to pay an “agency fee”—an amount slightly less than the cost of “full” union membership.
The case was brought by Mark Janus, an Illinois Department of Healthcare and Human Services employee, who argued the “agency fee” he was forced to pay to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME) constituted “forced speech.”
While AFSCME argued these “agency fees” would only be collected as reimbursement for collective bargaining expenses, the Supreme Court rejected this defense. Specifically, the Court recognized what millions of public-sector employees already understand: public union spending is so entwined with politics it’s impossible to determine what—if any activities—are truly non-political.
As such, the Court ruled that by requiring employees like Mr. Janus to pay an “agency fee,” the State was “forcing free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable. Such coercion, ruled the Court, violates the First Amendment.
Bottom Line for Public-Sector Employers: In the coming months, public-sector employers should expect a number of inquiries from employees who no longer wish to pay union fees. Employers should contact counsel to discuss how to navigate potential post-Janus legal landmines.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
Hopefully, you had an opportunity to enjoy some college football last year. If not, you might be out of luck, because if a new ruling from the National Labor Relations Board stands, the game will never be the same.
Yesterday, in a stunning decision, the Board held that, “all-grant-in-aid scholarship players for the [Northwestern University] football team who have not exhausted their playing eligibility are ‘employees’ under . . . the Act.”
So, how can student-athletes also be employees? The NLRB concluded the players “are not primarily students.” That conclusion came from the following findings:
- The players spent 50-60 hours a week on their “football duties” during the month-long training camp before the school year even started;
- The players spend an additional 40–50 hours a week during the 4–5 month football season;
- These hour commitments are “more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs”; and
- The time spent on football constituted “many more hours than the players spend on their studies.”
As a result of this ruling, the Northwestern University players, as well as athletes at other private universities who meet the above-noted criteria, can organize with a labor union. In fact, the Northwestern athletes have already joined the College Athletes Players Association.
In response to this decision, Northwestern University’s president emeritus said that if the football players were successful forming a union, he could envision a number of private universities punting their programs.
“If we got into collective bargaining situations, I would not take for granted that the Northwesterns of the world would continue to play Division I sports,” Henry Bienen said at the annual conference for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
Shortsighted and overly technical, the Board’s ruling will likely hurt the players its ostensibly trying to help—all the while adding new, dues-paying members to national labor organizations. Although Northwestern is going to appeal the Board’s ruling—a process that might take years—should this decision stand, the consequences could be dire.
If, for example, schools drop football programs, there will be fewer opportunities for student-athletes to attend a major university; more likely than not, these players will opt to skip the NCAA experience, and play football in Europe, Canada, or new “developmental” football leagues that will form should college programs be eliminated.
Rather than helping student-athletes earn their degrees while playing the game they love—and perhaps even earning a shot at a lucrative professional football career—the Board’s decision only ensures that fewer student-athletes will have an opportunity to earn a degree, which would prepare them for life after football.
But why allow a few inconvenient truths get in the way of this Hail Mary bomb to organized labor?
Photo credit: CBNC.comRead More
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
Last month, unions across America received a significant boost when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2011 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that allowed unions to organize smaller “micro units” of workers.
The 2011 case, Specialty Healthcare, 357 NLRB No. 83 (Aug. 25, 2011), aff’d sub nom, 727 F.3d 552 (2013), involved a union that wanted to try and organize a group of nonprofessional nursing assistants—despite the employer’s argument that other nonprofessional employees should have been included in the unit. In its ruling, the Board upheld the union’s position, while noting that if an employer believes employees should be included in a particular unit, it is the employer’s burden to demonstrate those workers “share an overwhelming community of interest.”
In its review of the Specialty Healthcare decision, the Sixth Circuit determined that the Board has “wide discretion,” in determining the constitution of a bargaining unit”—unless “the employer establishes that [the Board’s decision] is arbitrary, unreasonable, or an abuse of discretion.”
The Board’s decision in Specialty Healthcare turned 75 years of labor law on its head. And now, the Sixth Circuit has doubled-down on this seismic legal shift by affirming the Board’s decision. Yet, these rulings might still backfire on organized labor. Often, unions use micro units to gain a foothold in an employer’s workforce—the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. In order to prevent unions from using the Specialty Healthcare decision to establish organizing beachheads, employers are now going to fight harder to keep their companies union-free.
Such an unanticipated consequence might toss a bit of cold water on organized labor’s post-Specialty Healthcare celebrations, but employers should still be wary. The Sixth Circuit’s decision will not only pave the way for an increase in union organizing activity; it will likely also embolden a National Labor Relations Board that already seems intent on giving organized labor an unfair advantage.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
In an important victory for employers and proponents of individual freedom, U.S. District Judge James Boasber threw out a recent NLRB “Snap” election mandate.
Woody Allen and the Quorum Requirement
“According to Woody Allen, eighty percent of life is just showing up,” Boasberg wrote in an opinion issued today. “When it comes to satisfying a quorum requirement, though, showing up is even more important than that.”
In this case, Boasberg held that only two of the three members of the Board actually voted on the rule—3 members are required to constitute a quorum. Although the Board claimed its “snap” election rule was based on a 2-1 vote, the Board’s sole Republican member, Brian Hayes, was not able to cast his vote, as he was given only a few hours notice via the NLRB’s electronic ballot system. Boasberg ruled that, despite the Board’s claims to the contrary, Hayes’ inability to vote did not constitute a vote. Therefore, with a final vote of just 2-0 on what’s supposed to be a five-member Board, the court ruled that there was no quorum and therefore the rule was invalid.
As a result, representation elections will continue under previously established procedures unless the board votes with a proper quorum.
Bottom Line for Employers
Boasberg’s decision is, most likely, a temporary reprieve for employers. Given that Obama has (through dubious recess maneuverings) appointed new members to the Board, the passage of yet another Snap election rule seems likely—as does the another battle over whether a quorum exists. Until the President stops playing games with recess appointment—or a more business friendly President is elected—employers should expect uncertain regulatatory climates to persist.Read More
Terence Flynn, a Republican, nominated to the Board by President Obama has resigned from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) effective July 24, 2012. In the interim, Flynn has recused himself from all agency activities.
Flynn was one of three recess appointments made by the Obama Administration.As the constiutitonality of these appointments remains suspect, each one is currently being contested in court. Specifically, the lawsuit filed against these appointments claims that, becayse Congress was technically in session when the appointments were made, the Administration lacks the authority to make an “interm” appointment.
Flynn’s resignation now leaves the NLRB with three Democratic appointees, and just a single Republican. Considering the current political climate in our nation’s capital, its unlikely the President will make another appointment before the 2012 election. And should the President buck conventional widsom and make a new appointment, the odds of such an appointment being Republican are almost zero.
Flynn’s resignation sets the stage for another political battle between the administration and the Congress over a NLRB appointee. This new battle will continue even as litigation over the temporary appointment continues in the court.
It is unlikely we will see a resolution of this issue until after the elections this Fall.Read More
This morning, April 17, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted an emergency injunction delaying the implementation of the NLRB Notice Posting rule. The court will hear oral arguments to fully review the law and issue a ruling expected sometime this summer. This ruling by the court of appeals comes on the heels of the decision on Friday, April 13, 2012 by the District Court of South Carolina invalidating the whole NLRB Notice Posting rule.
“The facts in this case and the law have always been on the side of manufacturers, and we believe that granting an injunction is the appropriate course of action for the court. The ‘posting requirement’ is an unprecedented attempt by the board to assert power and authority it does not possess,” said Jay Timmons, NAM’s president and CEO, in a statement.
Other business groups celebrated the injunction.
“For the last several months, [Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)] has vigorously fought NLRB’s politically motivated policies that threaten to paralyze the construction industry in order to benefit the special interests of politically powerful unions,” said Geoff Burr, ABC’s vice president of federal affairs, in a statement. “The NLRB’s notice posting rule is a perfect example of how the pro-union board has abandoned its role as a neutral enforcer and arbiter of labor law.”
Bottom Line for Employers
In our opinion, these decisions will require the NLRB to postpone the April 30, 2012 date. Check back here for more information.Read More
From our friends over at LaborUnionReport, a must-read posting about an Obama-appointee’s recent ruling regarding the NLRB’s union posters:
Last week, “Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson approved the union-dominated National Labor Relations Board’s mandate on nearly all private-sector companies to post so-called “union rights posters.” Additionally, Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, declined to hear a challenge to Obama’s recent NLRB appointments.
In the union rights poster ruling, Berman Jackson ruled that the NLRB did not exceed its statutory authority to require private-sector employers that fall within the scope of the NLRB to post notices to employees advising them of their right to unionize. This means that most companies with two or more employees (outside of the airline or railroad industries) will be required to post the union rights posters (see PDF copy here) on April 30, 2012.”
Read the rest of the article over at LaborUnionReport.Read More