Union Sues Member for $24,000 for Crossing Picket Line and Reporting to Work

In 2016, 40,000 Verizon workers walked off the job and went on strike during contract negotiations. The Communications Workers of America union spent 6 weeks on strike. After the strike ended, the CWA sued one worker who, kept working during the strike. According to the lawsuit, that employee “continued to work throughout the strike and earned considerable compensation including regular time compensation, overtime compensation, incentive compensation, and health care and other benefits.”

Per the union’s Constitution, it held its own trial where a jury of her brotherhood ruled that she owed the CWA over $24,000. Since she refuses to pay the penalty, the union filed suit asking a real federal court to uphold the fine imposed by the union’s kangaroo court.

All of this because an employee wanted to work.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com. 

 

NYC is Passing Outrageous Laws that Benefit Unions

Car Wash Licenses Cost Ten Times as Much for Non-Union Companies

Local Law 62 was passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor de Blasio in 2015 during a period of intense labor organizing among the city’s roughly 150 car wash companies, many of which are staffed by immigrant, non-union workers. The law made it illegal to operate car wash without a license and gave financial incentives to car wash companies that employed union workers. To get a license, companies need to post a bond which was a guarantee of solvency to cover workers’ wages. Companies whose employees were represented by a union posted a $30,000 bond. Companies whose employees were not represented by a union posted a $150,000 bond.

Thankfully, a federal judge shot down Local Law 62 because it “explicitly encourages unionization” and imposed an unfair burden on car wash companies where workers were not part of organized labor.”

This reminds of the inflated minimum wage laws that have spread across the country in cities like Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Washington D.C. Those laws have two sets of minimum wages: a minimum wage for union employees and a higher minimum wage for non-union employees. The goal for those laws is to make unionization the less expensive way to do business.  in Los Angeles:

Fast Food Workers Can Payroll Deduct Donations to a Charity of their Choice

New York City Council approved a bill allowing fast-food employers to withhold up to $12 per month from a worker’s paycheck and remit that amount to the “non-profit organization” of the employee’s choice. The purpose of this legislation, per Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-Queens) is “to make it easier for employees to support advocacy organizations working on their behalf.”

While the bill expressly states that money collected is not to go to a union, it likewise expressly states that the money can be funneled to Fight for $15. This is clever. If all fast food workers made the maximum contribution, the SEIU (who thus far has spent $90 million on the failed Fight for $15 campaign) stands to receive over $9 million per year in “contributions.”

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com. 

Difference between Employee and Non-Employee Off-Duty Access Policies

The NLRB and courts recognize that off-duty employees have greater rights than non-employees when it comes to accessing the employer’s property to engage in protected activity.

The NLRB applies a three-part test to determine if an employer’s off-duty access policy is valid under the National Labor Relations Act. An off-duty access policy is valid only if it: 1) limits access solely to the interior of the facility and other working areas; 2) is clearly disseminated to all employees; and 3) applies to off-duty employees seeking access to the facility for any purpose and not just to those engaging in union activity. In essence, employers may not maintain a rule or prohibit off-duty employees from accessing the exterior areas or other non-working areas of the employer’s premises.

The current NLRB will find that simply maintaining an overly broad off-duty access rule is unlawful. For example, off-duty employees distributed union pamphlets advocating for pay raises to other employees and customers just outside the main entrance of a store. The manager told the employees to leave, they did not leave nor were they disciplined for not leaving. The company had a long-standing policy prohibiting employees from loitering or “hanging out” around the company’s premises when off-duty. This policy prohibiting off-duty employees from hanging out in all areas of the employer’s premises was unlawful.

NLRB Chairman Miscimarra argued in his dissent that in evaluating work rules, the NLRB should place more emphasis on how a rule is actually applied compared to the more amorphous standard of how employees may “reasonably construe” a rule. Miscimarra is currently in the minority of the Board. As new Board members are appointed, the NLRB’s position on access rules and many other controversial issues may change.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com. 

What to Expect from an NLRB with a Slashed Budget

When President Trump released his 2018 budget, he slashed the NLRB’s apportioned amount by 6% and called for a staff reduction despite a projected increase to the Board’s caseload. The 6% reduction would result in the lowest total operating budget for the Board since 2009 (President Obama’s first year). Likewise, staff reductions would place the body-count at 400 below the 15-year average of 1,700 full-time employees. Right-sizing at its finest.

If Trump’s budget-slashing survives Congressional review, I expect several things to happen, all of which are good for companies.

  1. The NLRB will increase the pressure to settle unfair labor practice charges early to prevent NLRB personnel from having to travel to speak with potential witnesses. Companies with the ability to outlast the NLRB will be in a much better position than they are today.
  2. The NLRB will increase its time targets for deciding whether unfair labor practice charges have merit in the hopes that, given more time, a case will settle. The Board’s target dates for closing a file have become uncomfortably quick. This quickness results in more Complaints being hastily issued not based on sound legal principal, but based on investigators having to decide what to do before the end of the month. I bet you didn’t know Board agents (and Regions) are graded on how quickly they move a case along.
  3. NLRB witnesses will be less prepared for trial because NLRB attorneys will not have been able to meet with witnesses as much as in the past. Anytime the other side is underprepared is good for the Company’s defense.
  4. The processing time of representation petitions will be lengthened from the “ambush” election targets. Sweet irony. The Board will have a taste of its own medicine and probably won’t like it.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com. 

OK to Fire HR Generalist for Threatening to Unionize Workers

A company was growing and wanted to hire someone who could ensure that it remained compliant with workplace laws, so it hired an HR Generalist. After auditing personnel files and payroll, the HR Generalist drafted a letter that said, among other things:

  • He had major concerns about the workplace;
  • One employee was racist;
  • One employee shouldn’t play uncensored music;
  • The company’s paid time off policy was sub-par because employees were making less than the average demographic salary;
  • He and other employees were misclassified as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act; and
  • One manager was age- and sex-biased

The HR Generalist concluded by saying he has and “will continue to give serious thought in regards to contacting the NLRB and attempting to organize and eventually form a union.” The HR Generalist did not discuss any of his concerns with other employees. He was fired after his supervisor read the letter. He filed a charge with the NLRB, and, of course, the NLRB issued a Complaint against the Employer.

The NLRB believed that terminating the HR Generalist was a preemptive strike to prevent him from engaging in statutorily protected conduct. Thankfully, the Administrative Law Judge rejected this theory since the HR Generalist never discussed any of the concerns raised in his letter with other employees. Per the ALJ, the HR Generalist “was interested only in protecting his own job by threatening to initiate a variety of legal actions, and that he had no interest in promoting, supporting, or assisting other employees in seeking to address any of those issues.

On appeal, a unanimous NLRB upheld the ALJ’s decision. Notably, the NLRB said the HR Generalist and the Company shared an expectation that he would bring non-compliance issues to the company and together they could find solutions to the problems. The HR Generalist betrayed the Company by pursuing a course of action inconsistent with the purpose for which he was hired.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com. 

Unions Divided on Pathway to Organize Gig Economy Workers

Unions remain baffled in how to organize workers in the gig economy. The gig economy is a term use for companies, like Uber, whose business model is built on the use of independent contractors. Independent contractors are, by law, not allowed to join unions. But that is not stopping unions from creatively trying to represent the independent contractors.

 

Remember when Seattle City Council passed an ordinance allowing ride-share drivers to join unions? Well, that ordinance is on-hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce seeking to invalidate it. In the meantime, union organizers are considering quasi-union models for independent contractors. One option bandied about is to create an industry-wide oversight board with the power to audit sharing-economy businesses and negotiate certain terms and conditions of work.

 

The gig economy is not limited to just Uber. It also includes Lyft personal car service, Instacart personal grocery shoppers, Postmates food deliverers, and home cleaning and repair service providers linked with customers through online platforms such as TaskRabbit and Handy, to name a few. As technology continues to develop, conventional wisdom believes that the gig economy will proliferate which means 1) less employees for unions to organize, and 2) more independent contractors for unions to figure out how to organize.

 

A Teamster lobbyist recently said “Labor unions are kind of split, and they certainly don’t have a single voice on how to [unionize gig workers] and how to create an organizing model that makes sense.”

 

The Independent Driver’s Guild is trying to fill some of that void for Uber drivers in New York. The Guild is funded by Uber and works in partnership with the International Association of Machinists. (IAM representing independent contractors in the taxi/ridesharing industry sounds about right these days.) The Guild has established an appeals system for drivers kicked off of the Uber platform and convinced Uber to scrap a policy requiring luxury vehicle drivers to also pick up lower-paying fares.

 

Notice the Guild hasn’t done anything with prices or pay. When you have a bunch of businesses (which independent contractors are) coming together to fix prices among them, you may have antitrust issues. Antitrust law exempts unions that bargain on behalf of employees they represent. But, according to Mike O’Brien, a member of the Seattle City Council, “My understanding of antitrust law is that it was intended to break up the robber barons colluding to limit competition. [To say] that these companies want to use it to stop low-wage workers from joining together seems to be a stretch.”

 

To be sure, unions would like dues money from gig workers, but as it relates to rideshare gig workers, unions would rather they go out of business. Follow me here. Each effort that chips away the rideshare gig worker from being an independent contractor places the worker, and the company, closer to a traditional taxi company which will ruin the very thing (whatever that is) that makes the gig economy successful. Americans outside of New York City and Chicago do not regularly use taxi cabs. Americans throughout the United States use Uber. Organizing Uber equals turning Uber into a cab company which equals no one will use it which results in Uber going out of business. A union wins if it organizes a company or the company goes out of business. A union loses if its workers are non-union.

 

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com. 

Fight for $15 Leader Paid $146,000 to Fight, Not Protest

By now readers of this blog have heard about worker centers and the worker center called Fight for $15 whose mission is to establish a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. Anecdotally, the Fight for $15 leader (who is the subject of this post) said that $15 was chosen as their preferred minimum wage not because of solid economic theories but because it “made sense.” According to him, “$10 was too low and $20 was too high so we landed at $15.”

Back to your regularly scheduled programming. Fight for $15 staged a protest against McDonalds in Chicago in mid-May. The leader of Fight for $15 is Ken Fells. When Mr. Fells was asked whether he was paid to attend the “March on McDonalds” in May, he said, “No I am not.” This is parsing words at its finest.

Fight for $15 is a worker center affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Fight for $15 is not a union, and thus does not have to file paperwork detailing its income or expenses. The SEIU, on the other hand, is a union and must detail its income and expenses on a Form LM-2. The SEIU’s 2016 LM-2 lists Mr. Fells as its “deputy organizing director” who is “on loan” to the “Fight for $14” campaign with a salary of $146,000 per year.

Later in the interview, Mr. Fells divulged some of the tactics his Fight for $15 activists employ to pressure fast food restaurants. For example, when a restaurant fires an employee, “McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King – these places specialize in selling burgers. We specialize in fighting. So it’s hard for them to fight us and sell burgers at the same time,” he said. “So if they were to fire one of our workers or cut one of our worker’s hours, we try to have a reasonable conversation with them because we’re very reasonable individuals.” If that doesn’t work, then we’ll bring in 150 people and shut their store down day after day after day.”

To date, Fight for $15 has spent millions of dollars trying to disrupt the fast food industry without a single union organizing victory to its credit.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 285-5342 or emailing him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.