Posts tagged NLRB.
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On May 31, 2024, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (the “D.C. Circuit”) partially overturned a decision issued by the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) in Absolute Healthcare d/b/a Curaleaf Arizona v. National Labor Relations Board.

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On June 13, 2024, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Starbucks v. McKinney and, in doing so, clarified the standard applicable to the National Labor Relations Board’s (the “Board”) requests for preliminary injunctions under Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”).

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Update: On March 8, 2024, the Eastern District of Texas granted summary judgment in favor of the Chamber of Commerce and struck down the NLRB’s new final joint employer rule. The opinion conducts a thorough review of the history of the joint employer standard and ultimately concludes that the Final Rule is contrary to the common law. The opinion critiques the Board’s rulemaking stating they failed to adequately address the disruptive effects of the new rule, resolve ambiguities, or explain how it will not cause piece-meal bargaining.  The opinion then leaves the previous rule from ...

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The NRLB has hit another roadblock in its implementation of a new final joint employer rule (the “Final Rule”) as a Texas federal judge delayed its implementation until March 11. The Final Rule, which was supposed to take effect on February 26, would have made organizations liable for violations of the NLRA if they had direct or indirect control over the terms and conditions of employment of another firm’s employees. This change increases the potential of liability from franchising or contracting with third parties. To see more information on the implications of the Final Rule, see our previous articles here and here.

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A few months ago, we wrote about the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) publishing its widely anticipated final joint-employer rule (the “Final Rule”).  The Final Rule overrules the NLRB’s 2020 joint-employer rule and broadly expands the definition of joint-employer under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or “Act”). See Standard for Determining Joint Employer Status, 88 Fed. Reg. 73946 (October 27, 2023) (to be codified at 29 C.F.R. pt. 103).   

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The National Labor Relations Act (“Act”) empowers the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) to “take such affirmative action including reinstatement of employees with or without backpay, as will effectuate the policies of this Act.” 29 U.S.C. § 160(c). For much of the Board’s history, that has generally resulted in Board Orders that involve some combination of notice posting, backpay, and reinstatement.

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On January 31, 2024, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) for the National Labor Relations Board (the “NLRB” or the “Board”) found that Starbucks Corporation (“Starbucks”) violated federal labor law when certain of its managers asked employees whether they would be working their scheduled shifts or otherwise wanted to be scheduled for shifts during a planned strike that was communicated to management. Employers should take notice of the roadmap this decision provides to avoid similar pitfalls.

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As we previously reported here, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) upended years of settled law in Tesla, Inc., 370 NLRB No. 131 (2022), when it held that employers cannot restrict employees from displaying union insignia (e.g., buttons, clothing, pins, and stickers) on their clothing at work, absent a showing of “special circumstances”—a nearly impossible standard for employers to meet.

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This fall, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) published its case processing data for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY2023) – revealing a significant uptick in Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) Charge filings and union petitions since FY2022. Specifically, the NLRB saw a 10% increase in ULP Charges filed since FY2022. This year over year increase is significant, as there was a 19% increase in ULP Charges in FY2022 itself. The agency received just 15,082 ULP Charges in FY2021 while in FY2023, employees filed nearly 20,000 ULP Charges. This surge in ULP Charges during the last few years illustrates the increased scrutiny on employers’ compliance with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

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On October 30, 2023, President Biden issued a wide-ranging Executive Order to address the development of artificial intelligence (“AI”) in the U.S.  Entitled the Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence, the Order seeks to address both the “myriad benefits” as well as what it calls the “substantial risks” that AI poses to the country. It caps off a busy year for the Executive Branch in the AI space. In February the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published its Strategic Enforcement Plan highlighting AI ...

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On October 27, 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) published its anticipated Final Rule modifying the standard for determining joint-employer status under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  See Standard for Determining Joint Employer Status, 88 Fed. Reg. 73946 (October 27, 2023) (to be codified at 29 C.F.R. pt. 103).  The Final Rule overrules the NLRB’s 2020 joint-employer rule and broadly expands the definition of joint-employer.   

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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to coordinate investigations and enforcement actions between the two agencies.  The MOU is the latest step by OSHA to blur the lines between workplace safety law and labor law, and could result in more workplace citations from OSHA or unfair labor practice charges filed with the NLRB.

In September 2023, OSHA announced a proposed rule that would allow an outside third party selected by employees to accompany an OSHA compliance safety ...

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The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) recently adopted a Final Rule regarding representation-case procedures (“2023 Rule”).  The 2023 Rule substantially rescinds the 2019 amendments to the representation-case procedures (“2019 Rule”), and returns to the 2014 procedures (“2014 Rule”).  The 2023 Rule is effective for all representation case petitions filed on or after December 26, 2023.

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A National Labor Relations Board Administrative Law Judge dismissed the General Counsel’s allegation that the employer violated the National Labor Relations Act by not giving the union representing its employee notice and opportunity to bargain over the discharge of an employee it represented. Starbucks Corp., 02-CA-303077, et. al. (July 24, 2023). In doing so, the Administrative Law Judge teed up the issue for the Board to change the law on appeal. The law at issue is the Board’s prior precedent under Total Security Management Illinois 1, LLC, 364 NLRB 1532 (2016). The Board in Total Security created a new bargaining obligation which employers did not have prior to the case. Under Total Security, discretionary discipline is considered what is known as a “mandatory” subject of bargaining. Specifically, the Board held that prior to imposing serious discretionary discipline, such as a suspension or discharge, an employer must provide notice and opportunity to bargain with a union representing the employee at issue regarding what, if any, discipline to impose. Id. at 1536.

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National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo recently issued a memorandum announcing her broad opposition to non-compete agreements.  In GC Memo 23-08, Abruzzo set forth her belief that, “the proffer, maintenance, and enforcement of [non-compete] agreements violate Section 8(a)(1) of the Act.”  According to Abruzzo, overbroad non-compete agreements chill employees’ abilities to exercise their Section 7 rights because the provisions interfere with employees' ability to:

  • Concertedly threaten to resign to secure better working ...
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On May 1, 2023, the National Labor Relations Board issued its decision in Lion Elastomers, 372 NLRB No. 83 (2023), which will make it more challenging for employers to discipline workers who engage in abusive workplace conduct in connection with Section 7 activity under Board law.  The decision overrules General Motors, 369 NLRB No. 127 (2020), which logically and uniformly applied the Board’s traditional Wright Line burden-shifting framework to cases involving employee outbursts.  The Board’s decision reinstates a triad of “setting-specific” tests previously used to determine whether an employee’s opprobrious conduct forfeited the Act’s protection.  

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The National Labor Relations Board (“Board” or NLRB) recently decided in Noah’s Ark Processors, LLC d/b/a WR Reserve, 372 NLRB No. 80 (2023) to impose extraordinary remedies upon an employer who violated a court order imposing certain collective bargaining obligations and committed multiple violations of the NLRA throughout the collective bargaining process. The extraordinary remedies included: the posting and distribution of a notice explaining employee rights under the NLRA (in addition to the standard notice that states the NLRB found NLRA violations, the violator will not commit those violations in the future, and the remedies); the reading of the notices in the presence of employees by the employer’s chief executive officer, or, if the employer prefers, by a Board agent in the presence of the CEO; and site visits by an NLRB agent to determine compliance for one year.

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The National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB or the “Board”) Office of General Counsel (“GC”) released an internal advice memorandum on February 27, 2023, which indicates that the NLRB will seek to enforce the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or the “Act”) against employers that allegedly retaliate against employees for having workplace discussions about racism. The memorandum—which concerned employment actions the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, Inc. (the “Tyson Medical School”) took with respect to a faculty member/physician following various discussions about race in the workplace—sets forth an expansive interpretation of conduct that constitutes protected concerted activity under Section 7 of the Act so as to include general discussions “working to end systemic racism, including its impact at the [e]mployer.”

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On March 22, 2023, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or the “Board”), Jennifer Abruzzo, issued a memorandum providing guidance in light of the NLRB’s recent decision in McLaren Macomb, 372 NLRB No. 58 (2023). As previously reported, the Board in McLaren Macomb held that overly broad non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions in severance agreements violate employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA or the “Act”). The General Counsel’s memorandum—which is directed to the Board’s regional offices over which she exercises supervisory authority—seeks to clarify the scope of the McLaren Macomb decision, including: the types of provisions that may violate the NLRA; language that may be acceptable in light of the decision; whether the decision applies retroactively to previously executed severance agreements; and the potential applicability of the decision to supervisors. The memorandum is not legally binding, but it does give employers a more informed roadmap for how the Board initially will handle unfair labor practice (“ULP”) charges challenging severance agreements.

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An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the National Labor Relations Board (Board) recently issued a decision which hints that changes might be on the horizon for how the National Labor Relations Act (Act) is applied towards educational institutions with religious affiliations. Saint Leo University Inc., 2023 WL 2212789 (2023). The Board’s assertion of jurisdiction over religious institutions reflects a balancing between the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the rights of an institution’s employees under the Act. University of Great Falls v. NLRB, 278 F.3d 1335, 1343-44 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The test the Board currently applies in determining whether it has jurisdiction over an employer with religious affiliations is found in Bethany College, 369 NLRB No. 98 (2020). General Counsel Abruzzo indicated her interest in replacing the Bethany College standard with a new standard in her Mandatory Submissions to Advice. NLRB Gen. Counsel. Mem. 21-04, at 5 (Aug 12, 2021).

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The National Labor Relations Board (“Board” or NLRB) decided in McLaren Macomb, 372 NLRB No. 58 (2023) that an employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by offering furloughed employees severance agreements that contained confidentiality and non-disparagement provisions. “A severance agreement is unlawful if its terms have a reasonable tendency to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of their [NLRA] rights, and that employers’ proffer of such agreements to employees is unlawful,” announced the Board. In rendering the decision, the NLRB overruled Baylor Univ. Med. Ctr., 369 NLRB No. 43 (2020)[1] and IGT d/b/a Int’l Game Tech., 370 NLRB No. 50 (2020). In those cases, the Board decided that employers did not independently violate the NLRA simply by presenting employees with severance agreements containing non-assistance, non-disclosure, and non-disparagement provisions that arguably restricted NLRA rights absent some additional circumstances.

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The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has recently revived a portion of an election rule promulgated by the NLRB during the Trump administration.  In 2019, the NLRB promulgated an election rule which modified several “quickie” election procedures established by the NLRB during the Obama administration in 2014.  The 2014 Rule sped up the union election timeframe, and the 2019 Rule aimed to address criticisms that the timeframe was too short a time in which to meet the various new obligations triggered by the filing of a union representation petition while also adequately preparing for the representation hearing. The AFL-CIO sued in 2020 to block the 2019 Rule.

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On December 16, 2022, a National Labor Relations Board (Board) majority (Members Kaplan and Ring) issued a Decision and Order holding that an employer’s conduct did not warrant setting aside a union election where the employer failed to strictly adhere to regulations requiring employers to provide unions a voter list comprised of employee names and contact information (commonly known as an Excelsior list).

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Dozens of business groups submitted comments on December 7 to oppose the National Labor Relations Board’s proposed joint employer rule, arguing it would interfere with business-to-business contracting and needlessly entangle companies in collective bargaining negotiations related to employees they do not control.

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Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board” or “NLRB”) in American Steel Construction, Inc., 372 NLRB No. 23 (2022) decided that employers must meet a heightened burden to expand a voting unit sought by a union in a union election. The decision is a significant development because it makes it easier for unions to organize workforces. And it marks yet another reversal of precedent by the Board to the benefit of unions. (We’ve discussed prior reversals here and here.)

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On November 4, 2022, the NLRB published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) inviting public comment on a proposal that would rescind and replace the current “Fair Choice and Employee Voice” rule which was adopted by the prior Board-majority on April 1, 2020.  Three distinct policies regarding election-blocking charges, voluntary recognition, and construction industry bargaining relationships are under consideration.  The Board’s stated intent is to return the law in each of these three areas to that which existed prior to the April 1, 2020 rule. 

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On Monday, October 31, National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued GC Memo 23-02, “Electronic Monitoring and Algorithmic Management of Employees Interfering with the Exercise of Section 7 Rights.”  Specifically, the Memo seeks to address the growing employer use of “a diverse set of technological tools and techniques to remotely manage workforces.”  Examples of these technologies include wearable devices, security cameras, GPS tracking devices, keyloggers, and audio recordings.

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Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board” or “NLRB”) decided that an employer no longer can unilaterally stop union dues deductions from employee pay pursuant to a dues-checkoff clause once a collective-bargaining agreement (“CBA”) expires absent a lawful impasse during negotiations for a successor agreement. Valley Hosp. Med. Ctr., Inc., 371 NLRB No. 160 (2022) (“Valley Hosp. II”). The decision marks another reversal of Board precedent in favor of unions by the Biden NLRB. (We discussed a prior reversal, which concerned employee appearance policies here.)

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On September 7, 2022, the NLRB released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) and request for public comment regarding its latest iteration of the joint employer rule.  The NPRM proposes to rescind and replace the current final rule, entitled “Joint Employer Status Under the National Labor Relations Act,” which took effect on April 27, 2020.

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Earlier this week, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board” or “NLRB”) decided that employers cannot restrict employees from displaying union insignia (e.g., buttons, clothing, pins, and stickers) absent a showing of “special circumstances” in Tesla, Inc., 370 NLRB No. 131 (2022).  In connection with this ruling, the Board overruled Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 368 NLRB No. 146 (2019), which analyzed the lawfulness of facially neutral work rules that regulated the size and appearance of such union insignia under a less exacting standard.  Employers with policies that address employee appearance, such as dress code or uniform policies, should review those policies for compliance purposes in light of Tesla.

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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced a new partnership, which, in their words, will “better protect free and fair labor markets and ensure that workers can freely exercise their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.”  Through a memorandum of understanding (MOU), the agencies have agreed to collaborate with the stated aim of advancing workers’ rights to obtain fair market compensation and to freely exercise their legal rights under labor laws.

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On June 24, 2022, the NLRB sought an order forcing an employer who refused to negotiate with a certified union to pay back wages and benefits to employees that they allegedly could have earned absent the delay in bargaining during the time the employer appealed the NLRB’s certification of the union as the exclusive bargaining representative in federal court. In Pathway Vet Alliance, LLC, the General Counsel for the NLRB made the common allegation that the employer violated 8(a)(5) and (1) of the NLRA by refusing to recognize and bargain with a disputed but  certified union representative of its employees. What is noteworthy about this case is that Counsel for the General Counsel’s Motion for Summary Judgment urged the NLRB to “use this case as a vehicle to overrule its decision in Ex-Cell-O Corp.” and order the employer to “make the bargaining-unit employees whole for the lost opportunity to engage in collective bargaining.”

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The National Labor Relations Board (Board) announced on June 21, 2022, that it intends to engage in rulemaking with respect to several subjects. One of those which was revealed to be a subject of rulemaking was joint-employer status under the National Labor Relations Act (Act).

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On April 11, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel urged the Board to revive the long-abandoned Joy Silk doctrine, which has not been in effect in nearly 50 fifty years.

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The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) recently indicated an openness to revisiting the independent contractor standard employed by the Board when assessing whether individuals are covered under the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”).

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The National Labor Relations Board indicated in January that it may reconsider its legal standard for assessing whether employer work rules violate the National Labor Relations Act, and invited amicus briefs on the subject.  Several business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, filed briefs on March 8, 2022 urging the Board to maintain its existing standard under The Boeing Co., 365 NLRB No. 154 (2017).

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The Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division and the National Labor Relations Board released a Memo of Understanding announcing that the two agencies will be collaborating “to strengthen the agencies’ partnership through greater coordination in information sharing, joint investigations and enforcement activity, training, education, and outreach.” The MOU took effect upon both agencies’ approval in early December and will remain in effect for five years.

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On November 10, 2021, three federal agencies tasked with enforcing workplace laws announced a joint initiative to combat retaliation in the workplace.  As a refresher, the EEOC protects a worker’s right under Title VII and other non-discrimination laws to enjoy a workplace free from harassment and discrimination.  The DOL enforces federal labor standards per the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as health and safety regulations through OSHA.  The NLRB generally protects a worker’s right to organize to improve working conditions, among other rights guaranteed by National Labor Relations Act.

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On November 10, 2021, National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo issued a memorandum outlining employers’ bargaining obligations with respect to compliance with OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard to Protect Workers from Coronavirus (“ETS”).

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On September 8, 2021, the House Education and Labor Committee issued proposed legislation in connection with the House’s new spending bill. Among other pro-union proposals issued in connection with the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, the proposed legislation seeks to amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by banning class and collective action waivers.

The proposed legislation says that no employer shall “enter into or attempt to enforce” any express or implied agreement not to “pursue, bring, join, litigate, or support any joint, class, or collective claim” arising from the employment relationship.   This is unwelcome news to employers who rely on class and collective action waivers in their arbitration agreements.

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A recent memorandum released by National Labor Relations Board (Board) General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo previews a Biden-appointed Board’s agenda and priorities. In the August 12, 2021 “Mandatory Submission to Advice” memorandum, General Counsel Abruzzo identifies three types of cases and subject matter areas that the General Counsel would like to “carefully examine.” These three types of cases and subject matter areas include: (1) cases where the Trump-appointed Board overruled past Board precedent, (2) “other initiatives and areas that, while not necessarily the subject of a more recent Board decision, are nevertheless ones [the General Counsel] would like to carefully examine,” and (3) “casehandling matters traditionally submitted to Advice.” Accordingly, General Counsel Abruzzo has instructed the Board’s Regional Directors to seek advice for cases that fall into these three categories.

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Scabby the Rat is a familiar sight in disputes between unions and employers. Scabby, a giant inflatable rat with red eyes, fangs, and claws, is often placed outside the places of business of employers with whom a union has a labor dispute (the “primary” employer).  Recently, the NLRB again addressed the issue of whether such union protests can be directed against a “secondary” neutral employer who does business with the primary employer but who is not party to the underlying labor dispute.

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On June 1, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned a NLRB determination that a manager’s incorrect blaming of a union for discrepancies in an employee’s paid-leave time constituted an unfair labor practice. The pivotal issue was whether the manager’s statements had a reasonable tendency to interfere with employees’ labor rights. As discussed below, the D.C. Circuit rejected the NLRB’s determination that the manager’s statements had a reasonable tendency to interfere with employees’ labor rights, reasoning that the manager’s misstatements were lawful expressions of the employer’s opinions.

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It is early in 2021 and already the NLRB has before it ALJ determinations that employee handbook policies conflict with the NLRA. When analyzing employee handbook policies, the Board generally applies the Boeing test, whereby a handbook policy’s potential interference with employee rights under the NLRA is balanced against an employer’s legitimate justifications for the policy, when viewing the policy from the employee’s perspective. While the NLRA and the Boeing test apply to a number of employee handbook policies, confidentiality, social media, and solicitation/distribution policies are especially vulnerable.

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With the ushering in of a new administration, several changes have quickly taken place at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Within hours of taking office, the Biden administration removed Trump appointee NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb and replaced him with interim General Counsel Peter Ohr.  (Ohr may only serve as acting General Counsel for 40 days, per the National Labor Relations Act, unless the administration submits a nomination to the Senate.)  At least one employer has already sought the dismissal of an unfair labor practice charge arguing that Ohr lacks authority to prosecute the case because Robb was unlawfully removed prior to the expiration of his term.

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On December 21, 2020 the NLRB adopted an ALJ’s determination that a union’s request for information about non-bargaining unit employees was relevant. One of the issues present in the case was whether a union’s request for information about non-bargaining unit employees sought relevant information. As discussed below, the NLRB upheld the ALJ’s determination that the information was relevant solely because the employer should have known the information was relevant based on the circumstances surrounding the request.

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Given the pervasiveness of social media in society, the National Labor Relations Board (Board) has been forced to frequently weigh in on the intersection between employee and employer’s social media activity and labor law. The Board has released a great catalog of cases over the past decade touching on issues related to the workplace and social media—these issues range from what social media policies and employer may enact to what discipline an employer may impose for an employee’s social media conduct.

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As we previously reported, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way representation elections are conducted.  From March 1 to November 16, 2020, the National Labor Relations Board issued 167 election decisions and, of those, only 2 manual elections have been directed to proceed in that time-frame.  This is a marked change in the Board’s longstanding preference for manual elections.  The overwhelming trend towards mail-in elections was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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As originally reported in the American Bar Association’s Summer 2020 Labor & Employment Newsletter, due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and the inherent risks in holding large gatherings of people, the prospect of mail ballot elections has recently received considerable national attention. Typically, this attention is focused on how mail ballot elections might affect voter turnout or election results in state and federal elections and whether it might benefit one party over the other. So far, state and federal elections have generally continued to be held with inperson voting occurring at polling places, albeit with new safety measures in place.

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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause uncertainty for employers across the country, but, as the National Labor Relations Board reiterated on September 18, it does not excuse labor law violations.

NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb issued General Counsel Memo 20-14 to summarize the types of COVID-related complaints that he has advised the agency to pursue since March 2020.  The theme is clear: in the vast majority of cases, the traditional rules of the National Labor Relations Act apply, even during a pandemic.

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Earlier this month, the NLRB General Counsel released a guidance memo urging the Board to apply the “more than ministerial aid” standard when evaluating whether an employer’s assistance in union organizing violates the National Labor Relations Act.

An employer violates Section 8(a) of the NLRA when it provides impermissible support to a union attempting to organize unrepresented employees, and Section 8(b) when it provides impermissible support to employees seeking to decertify or withdraw from a union.  Under current Board precedent, what constitutes “impermissible behavior” under Section 8(a) and 8(b) is governed by two different standards.  When an employer is accused of impermissibly supporting a union’s organizing efforts there’s a “totality of the circumstances” standard.  And, when an employer is accused of impermissibly supporting a decertification petition there’s a “more than ministerial aid” standard.  The application of these different standards to similar employer behavior yielded inconsistent conclusions for what is “impermissible” employer involvement in union organizing. Therefore, the General Counsel now urges the Board to adopt the “more than ministerial aid” standard for both situations.

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In a pending NLRB case, an employees’ rights advocacy group, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (“NRTW”), filed an amicus brief supporting poultry plant workers seeking to decertify their union,  the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (“UFCW”), even though there was a collective bargaining agreement in place between the UFCW and their employer. The facts of the case are complex. But, the issue presented in the amicus brief and reply from the union is simple: should the NLRB abolish the decades-old contract bar rule that prohibits an election to oust a union with a collective bargaining agreement in effect?

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On July 27, 2020 the NLRB issued a supplemental decision involving a labor law successor employer, which unilaterally implemented terms and conditions of employment prior to commencing operations. The question presented was whether and to what extent the successor could take further unilateral action, free of the duty to bargain with the union. As discussed below, the Board determined that the applicable standard in such cases is whether the successor’s unilateral action was “reasonably encompassed” by the unilaterally imposed terms.

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Over the past 40 years, the National Labor Relations Board (the Board) has grappled with the appropriate balance between an employer’s right to discipline an employee for abusive behavior and an employee’s right to engage in Section 7 activity. Much to the dismay of employers, this balancing act has historically tipped heavily in favor of protecting an employee’s right to engage in Section 7 activity at the expense of an employer’s right to discipline its employees for conduct such as using racial slurs while picketing, engaging in sexist behavior, or yelling obscenities at a supervisor while discussing wages. As a result, the Board has issued countless decisions finding an employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (the Act) for disciplining employees who engage in objectively offensive, racist, and abusive conduct while also engaged in Section 7 activity.

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The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has issued its third, and presumably final, decision in the lawsuit challenging the National Labor Relations Board’s new election rules. In the latest order, the Court granted summary judgement in favor of the NLRB on the remaining counts of the complaint.

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On June 12, 2020, the D.C. Circuit vacated a component of an NLRB decision that expanded employee rights under NLRB v. J. Weingarten. The D.C. Circuit rejected the NLRB’s determination that a mere statement of fact constituted an employee’s requests for union representation.

In a dispute between Circus Circus Casinos, Inc. (the “Employer”) and an employee, the Employer, pursuant to OSHA regulations and internal policies, required the employee to submit to a medical examination prior to participating in a fitting process for necessary equipment, to ensure the equipment would not jeopardize the employee’s safety. The employee refused to take the medical examination and returned to work. The Employer suspended the employee, pending an investigation into the employee’s refusal to take the mandatory medical examination. At the investigatory interview, the employee stated, “I called the union three times [and] nobody showed up, I’m here without representation.” The Employer proceeded with the interview, which culminated in the employee’s termination.

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As indicated in our previous blog on this topic, on May 30, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a two page order invalidating five elements of the NLRB’s 2019 election regulation, based on Count One of the plaintiff’s complaint.  On June 7, the court issued its promised memorandum opinion further explaining that order.

The opinion makes three key points.

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In mid-May the NLRB established a clear rule regarding stray marks on ballots in union representation elections, eradicating years of convoluted and inconsistent precedent. The decision, which applied retroactively, resulted in a union’s failure to amass a majority of the votes and, consequently, a reversal of the Regional Director’s Decision and Certification of Representation.

In a dispute between Providence Portland Medical Center (the “Employer”) and Service Employees International Union Local 49 (the “Union”), the representation election was decided by the narrowest margin, ultimately resulting in 383 votes for representation, and 382 votes against representation. Included in the mix was a single ballot with a clear “X” in the “Yes” box and a dark diagonal line with a smudge mark in the “No” box. The ALJ and Regional Director applied Board precedent and both concluded that the smudge mark on the diagonal line in the “No” box was an “obvious attempt at erasure,” resulting in the ballot being counted in favor of representation.

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One day before they were to go into effect, the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. blocked portions of the NLRB’s recently promulgated election rule, but left the agency free to implement the remainder.  American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations v. National Labor Relations Board, Civ. No. 20-cv-0675 (KBJ) (May 30, 2020).

Specifically, the Court granted the AFL-CIO’s motion for summary judgment “with respect to Count One of the Complaint”, but “will not vacate the remainder of the rule,” which was “remanded to the NLRB for reconsideration in light of this Court’s ruling.”

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In another decision recognizing employers’ rights to issue reasonable prohibitions even if they have some slight impact of employees’ right to engage in concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act, a beverage manufacturer’s rules banning cell phones in food production and warehouse working areas was recently upheld by the National Labor Relations Board.  Cott Beverages Inc., 369 NLRB No. 82 (2020).

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Social distancing and uncertainty about COVID-19 have altered many aspects of daily life, uprooted traditions, and redefined “normal.” Unions are seizing this opportunity in a push for electronic representation elections.

On May 6, a coalition of fourteen unions (the “Coalition”) urged Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and Chuck Schumer to fund and direct the NLRB to establish a system and procedures to facilitate electronic union representation elections. The Coalition highlights COVID-19’s effect on the workforce in unemployment, underemployment, and dangerous working conditions, and submits that these effects highlight the need for union representation. Further, the Coalition asserts that the nature of COVID-19 makes in-person representation elections impractical, and, in conjunction with employer objections to elections by mail, it is exceedingly difficult for workers to form unions in the current climate.

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Almost overnight, COVID-19 has radically altered the American workplace.  Employers and employees alike have been forced to adapt to unique issues related to employee health, compensation, leave, and in unfortunate circumstances, furlough or lay-off.

Such change may be accompanied by grievances, concerns, and fears.  And in some instances, employees will desire to communicate those anxieties to the greater public at large.  Naturally, employers will want to have some degree of control over this messaging, while preserving the rights of employees to express themselves individually or collectively.  These principles are sometimes difficult to reconcile.  But a recent NLRB decision, Karen Jo Young v. Maine Coast Regional Health Facilities, issued on March 30, illuminates some fundamental principles that can help employers manage this balance during these difficult circumstances.

Factual Summary

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An employer’s duty to bargain may change during emergency situations, and the General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board released a series of case summaries Friday to help employers navigate the exceptions.

General Counsel Peter Robb summarized nine Board cases addressing both general public emergencies and emergencies particular to individual employers.  Robb did not make any declarations about how the COVID-19 outbreak and associated response might affect bargaining obligations, but the summarized cases provide good examples of bargaining exceptions that may or may not apply.

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On February 26, 2020, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finalized its rule governing joint employer status under the National Labor Relations Act.

The final rule generally restores the “direct and immediate control” standard that the NLRB applied for decades prior to the 2015 Browning-Ferris decision, but provides additional guidance.

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In Country Wide Financial Corporation, 369 NLRB No. 12 (2020) (Countrywide), the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) ruled that an mandatory arbitration agreement violated the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”) because it restricted an employees’ ability to file and pursue unfair labor practice charges before the Board.

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Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board published a final rule modifying its representation case procedures.

The final rule takes effect April 17, 2020, and scales back—but does not completely undo—the changes to election regulations instituted by the Obama-era’s Board that have caused employers heartburn since 2015. Those changes effectively sped up the election process and cut down on employers’ ability to litigate many important legal issues prior to voting, putting employers at a disadvantage.

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In an October Advice Memorandum, the Office of the General Counsel for the NLRB (General Counsel) concluded that a union’s continued actions of unlawful insistence are not a refusal to bargain if bargaining negotiations have ceased.

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As we have previously reported here and here, courts and the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) have released a number of recent decisions favoring the enforceability of arbitration agreements in the employment context.

It is now settled law that class-action waivers in arbitration agreements do not violate the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”) or infringe on employees’ Section 7 rights under the Act.  In a recent decision, the NLRB extended this holding to allow employers to implement arbitration programs—including those with class-action waivers—in direct response to litigation by its employees.

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On September 20, 2019, the NLRB issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to exclude undergraduate and graduate students who perform paid work for private colleges and universities in connection with their studies from the definition of employee under the National Labor Relations Act.  The proposed rule would prevent undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants from unionizing or collectively organizing.

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A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board is another in a string of decisions where the Trump-appointed Board has attempted to rebalance a property owner’s rights with the rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act of those individuals who work on the property. In Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation d/b/a Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 368 NLRB No. 46 (2019), the Board overruled its previous precedent and held that a property owner may prohibit Section 7 activity by off-duty employees of a licensee or contractor performing work on the property owner’s premises.

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In Cordúa Restaurants, Inc., 368 NLRB No. 43 (2019), the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) issued its first major decision following the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Epic Systems, addressing a number of issues of first impression and providing guidance on the permissible scope and implementation of class action waivers.  

 In Cordúa, a group of employees had filed a collective action under the FLSA.  In response, the employer promulgated and maintained a revised arbitration agreement, requiring employees to agree not to opt in to class or collective actions.  In distributing the revised agreement, the employer explained that employees would be removed from the work schedule if they declined to sign it.  In addition, another employee was discharged for filing a class action wage lawsuit against the employer and discussing wage issues with his fellow employees.

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The National Labor Relations Board has issued the first part of its planned series of revisions to labor union election procedures.  The revisions arrive five years after the Obama-era Board’s controversial 2014 changes that created the so-called “ambush election” procedures.

On August 12, a three-member majority, over a one-member dissent, issued a 113-page proposed rule that would modify three of the Board’s election processes: (1) its handling of “blocking charges,” (2) the restriction on elections after an employer’s voluntary recognition of a union, and (3) the standard for contractually-negotiated recognition of a union in the construction industry.

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In Johnson Controls, Inc., 368 NLRB No. 20 (July 3, 2019),  the NLRB adopted a new framework for determining a union’s representative status once an employer has made a lawful anticipatory withdrawal of recognition based on disaffection evidence that the union has lost its majority status. Specifically, under Johnson Controls, a union seeking to demonstrate that it has reacquired majority status must do so in a secret ballot election conducted by the Board, rather than in an unfair labor practice proceeding.

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Last month, the National Labor Relations Board held that employers do not have to allow non-employees to use their cafeterias or similar public spaces for promotional or organizational activities.  See UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, 368 NLRB No. 2 (June 14, 2019) (“UPMC”).  In so holding, the Board overruled decades-old precedent.

UPMC specifically involved “public spaces,” a sometimes-gray area in union organizing.  Public spaces are somewhat-private areas on employer property that are also open to the public, such as employee cafeterias or snack bars, as compared to fully-public areas such as retail floors.

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The Board’s recent decision in Merck, Sharp, & Dohme Corp., 367 NLRB No. 122 (May 7, 2019)  highlights the differences that can arise as a result of the collective bargaining process in the terms and conditions of employment for employers with a divided workforce of non-union and union-represented employees.

In Merck, the Board majority reversed the Administrative Law Judge’s ruling that the employer had violated Section 8(a)(3) and (1) by offering a new, one-time paid holiday, “Appreciation Day” to all of its non-union employees to the exclusion of its union-represented employees.

Here are some factual background and key points of the NLRB’s decision in Merck:

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On May 13, 2019, in Outokumpo Stainless USA, LLC v. N.L.R.B., No. 17-15498 (11th Cir.), the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit enforced an NLRB order finding that stainless steel producer Outokumpo’s posting of a side letter along with a NLRB settlement notice “constituted non-compliance with the terms of the Settlement Agreement” and that “default judgment was thus proper under the plain terms to which the Company had previously agreed.”

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Many workplace policies and employee handbooks contain restrictions on employees speaking to the media.  Through these policies, employers often seek to limit what organizational information is disclosed to third parties, and to exercise at least some control over statements that may be attributed to the company.  Such restrictions, though, may be found to violate employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”) due to overbreadth when not drafted carefully.  And, while the National Labor Relations Board in the Trump era has seemed willing to revisit pro-worker rulings, the General Counsel last month released an Advice Memorandum affirming this long-standing precedent.

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In a recent decision, the National Labor Relations Board reversed decades of precedent regarding a successor employer’s bargaining obligations following the asset purchase of an entity with a unionized workforce.

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In a 3-1 decision released last week, the National Labor Relations Board reversed decades of precedent regarding a successor employer’s bargaining obligations following the purchase of an entity with a unionized workforce. The Board’s decision in Ridgewood Health Care Center significantly reined in the application of the “perfectly clear successor” doctrine, which requires a successor employer to maintain the status quo of its predecessor employer’s terms and conditions of employment.

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On March 12, 2019, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to enforce a bargaining order against the University of Southern California (“USC”), finding that part of the order “runs afoul” with Supreme Court precedent, NLRB v. Yeshiva Univ., 444 U.S. 672 (1980).

The case is Univ. of S. Cal. v. NLRB, Nos. 17-1149, 17-1171, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 7203 (D.C. Cir. Mar. 12, 2019) and involves managerial versus non-managerial employees.  Though specific to the academic context, it represents a significant addition to Yeshiva and NLRB v. Bell Aerospace Co., 416 U.S. 267 (1974), where the Supreme Court held that “managerial employees” are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

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As anticipated and previously reported, the Republican-controlled Board is overturning Obama-era rulings. For example, in a recent decision, SuperShuttle Inc. DFW, Inc. (16-RC-010963), the National Labor Relations Board affirmed the Board’s adherence to the traditional common-law agency test.  This decision overrules the NLRB’s 2014 Decision, FedEx Home Delivery, 361 NLRB No. 65, which had modified the NLRB’s long-standing test for independent contractor status.

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The National Labor Relations Board’s current joint employer standard received a mixed review from a federal circuit court late last month, providing some guidance on how courts may evaluate the Board’s ongoing rulemaking efforts.

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Before the lame duck period of the 115th Congress, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and a group of 58 Democrat co-sponsors, introduced the Restoring Justice for Workers Act (H.R. 7109), which would prohibit  employers from requiring employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements.

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Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (the “NLRB”) approved and released its Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2019-2022. Congress requires government agencies like the NLRB to formulate strategic plans every four years and release those plans to the public. These plans must include general goals and objectives of the agency and a description of how those goals will be achieved. This iteration of the NLRB’s Strategic Plan largely focuses on the agency’s goals to reduce the processing time for unfair labor practice charges and representation cases, acknowledging the problem that “[o]ver the years, the amount of time it takes for cases to be processed and for resolutions to be reached has increased and backlogs of cases have developed. This initiative has been developed to reverse these trends.”

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It’s now officially public: under the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB)  General Counsel Peter B. Robb, unions may face greater scrutiny and a higher burden in defending against claims that they violated the duty of fair representation.  Under the National Labor Relations Act, unions owe this duty to its members and can be liable under Section 8(b)(1)(A) if they represent them arbitrarily, discriminatorily, or in bad faith.

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The NLRB’s Office of the General Counsel recently issued an internal directive regarding the manner in which NLRB Regions prosecute duty of fair representation charges against unions.  Under the National Labor Relations Act, unions have a duty of fair representation to the members of the bargaining unit it represents by engaging in conduct that is not arbitrary, discriminatory or in bad faith, particularly with regard to the processing of worker grievances.  Board law has established (and unions typically offer as a defense) that “mere negligence” alone does not amount to arbitrary conduct that would serve to breach the duty of fair representation.

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Hunton Andrews Kurth special counsel and former NLRB general counsel Ronald Meisburg recently wrote an article, “Navigating NLRB: Attacking Instability With APA Rulemaking”, as part of Law360’s Expert Analysis series.  

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The National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) has taken the first step to potentially reshape labor law since the May 21, 2018 Epic Systems case, in which the Supreme Court held that class waivers in arbitration agreements do not violate the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”).

On August 15, 2018, the Board vacated its decision and order in Cordúa Restaurants, Inc., 366 NLRB No. 72 (April 26, 2018), where a three-member panel of the Board held that an employee engaged in concerted, protected activity by filing a class action wage lawsuit against his employer.

The Board’s recent vacating of this order is noteworthy for two reasons.

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The National Labor Relations Board issued a decision that serves as a reminder to employers of their bargaining obligations upon implementing changes to their business.  Rigid Pak Corp., 366 NLRB No. 137 (2018) involves a unionized company (“Rigid”) that manufactured and sold plastic products.  Rigid maintained an injection-molding division and a blow-molding division housed on different sides of its facility.  The injection-molding division manufactured open-head containers, lids, and crates while the blow-molding division manufactured plastic bottles.  In 2014, Rigid encountered various financial difficulties, and to address them, the company entered into a supply agreement to outsource its work to a third-party manufacturer.

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As we reported last December, the NLRB, in The Boeing Company, 365 NLRB No. 154 (2017), reversed its workplace rule standard under Lutheran Heritage.  Specifically, instead of assessing whether an employee could “reasonably construe” a workplace rule as barring the exercise of rights under the NLRA, the new test will evaluate the nature and extent of the potential impact on NLRA rights and the legitimate justifications associated with the rule.  The results of the new balancing test will place the rule in one of three categories: Category 1 (lawful work rules), Category 2 (work rules that warrant individualized scrutiny in each case), or Category 3 (unlawful work rules).

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In a major win for employers, the U.S. Supreme Court held that arbitration agreements with class action waivers do not violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  The Court’s narrow 5-4 decision paves the way for employers to include such waivers in arbitration agreements to avoid class and collective actions.

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Recently, the NLRB created significant uncertainty as to the joint employer test under the NLRA when it vacated a December 2017 decision that resurrected the standard that existed prior to 2015.  Such a standard determines the existence of a joint employer relationship by assessing whether one entity has “actually exercised joint control over essential employment terms (rather than merely having ‘reserved’ the right to exercise control)” and the control is “’direct and immediate’ (rather than indirect)” and exercised in a manner that is not “limited and routine.”

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On April 16, newly confirmed member John Ring was sworn in as the fifth member and Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, establishing a Republican-controlled Board.   While all has been relatively quiet with regard to rulings from the Board,  we will likely see a rise in activity now that the NLRB (with a  newly-minted majority) is poised to roll back some of the Obama-era rulings.

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The National Labor Relations Board (the “NLRB”) and McDonald’s Corp. have reached a settlement agreement in the long-running employment retaliation case brought against McDonald’s that hinges on whether McDonald's Corp., as a franchisor, has enough control over its franchisees to be considered a "joint employer" of the franchisees’ employees.  The case stems from allegations that McDonald’s unlawfully retaliated against franchisee workers who joined the “Fight for $15” movement.  In bringing this case against McDonald’s, the NLRB has argued that even having only “indirect control” over a worker is enough for a franchisor like McDonald’s to be held liable for the employment practices of its franchisees.   The NLRB’s case against McDonald’s was bolstered by the Board’s 2015 Browning-Ferris decision, which departed from decades of legal precedent in holding that entities who merely possessed—as opposed to directly and immediately exercised—control over workers could be deemed joint employers for purposes of assessing liability under the National Labor Relations Act.

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Recently the National Labor Relations Board invited interested parties and amici to submit briefs in Velox Express, Inc. (15-CA-184006) to address under what circumstances, if any, the Board should deem an employer’s misclassifying statutory employees as independent contractors constitutes a violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”).  Briefs from parties and interested amici must be submitted on or before April 16, 2018.

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We previously informed you of the National Labor Relations Board’s decision in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. and Brandt Construction Co., 365 NLRB No. 156 (2017), in which the Board  overruled the controversial joint employer test which it had announced in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015).

On February 26, 2018, the Board entered an order vacating the Hy-Brand decision, 366 NLRB No. 26 (2018).  It did so in light of a determination by the Board’s Designated Agency Ethics Official, that Board Member William Emanuel “is, and should have been ...

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We have reported on several Board decisions issued by a new Republican majority in the final days of 2017, but questions remain as to what issues the Board will address next to scale back on Obama-era precedent.  In recent weeks, Republican Board Members have provided some hints in a pair of footnotes in two unpublished decisions.

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Raytheon Network Centric Systems, 365 NLRB No. 161 (Dec. 15, 2017) (“Raytheon”), is one of several decisions issued this month by the National Labor Relations Board’s (the “Board”) new Republican majority which reverse Obama-era precedent.  Raytheon overrules the Board’s decision E.I. du Pont de Nemours, 364 NLRB No. 113 (2016) (“DuPont”), which limited the changes employers can make unilaterally in a union environment.  Raytheon clarifies the degree to which employers may rely on past practice to make unilateral changes to terms of employment once a collective bargaining agreement has expired, and, more specifically, offers welcome guidance to employers with regard to continuation of health benefits under those circumstances.

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The National Labor Relations Board issued a much-anticipated decision on Thursday, overruling its controversial 2015 Browning-Ferris decision that unions and employees argued drastically expanded the definition and scope of the Board’s joint-employer doctrine.  In Browning-Ferris, the Board departed from decades of precedent and held that entities who merely possessed—as opposed to directly and immediately exercised—control over workers would be deemed joint employers for purposes of assessing liability under the National Labor Relations Act.  The Board used the Browning-Ferris decision to expand its reach under the joint-employer doctrine to include, for example, companies that relied on staffing agencies and in some cases, parent companies that did not exercise immediate or direct control over a subsidiary’s workers, but had the potential authority to affect certain terms and conditions of employment.  The Browning-Ferris decision faced heavy criticism from employers as well as an appeal of the decision itself to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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