As we have explained several times before, the controversial 2011 Specialty Healthcare decision opened the door for unions to organize smaller, union-friendly groups of employees. Specialty Healthcare allows unions to create micro-bargaining units, which are a small portion of the total number of employees at a particular worksite. Unions can target these smaller groups and organize them more effectively and quickly than organizing an entire department or workplace. Micro-units create a logistical nightmare for companies, as one company could have to manage several unions with several different union contracts. The different terms and conditions of employment in each contract require more time from management and make it more likely that a supervisor will make a mistake in administering the contract.
Unfortunately, the Board further expanded the reach of Specialty Healthcare in a recent case where the union organized a unit at a commercial printer that included pre-press, digital press, offset bindery, digital bindery, and shipping and receiving employees, but excluded offset-press employees. During a printing project, the project would start in pre-press, move to offset-press, and then move to offset bindery. By excluding the offset-press employees, the union cherry-picked one small group of employees to remove from an integrated work process.
The company challenged the proposed unit and argued that the offset-press employees needed to be included in the petitioned-for unit. Despite the offset-press employees working closely with the other employees in the petitioned-for unit and all employees working toward the same final product, the Board found that the petitioned-for unit was appropriate.
This case demonstrates that even where employees work in the same space and form part of the same workflow, they do not all have to be included in the unit. This gives unions the ability to cobble together a unit of union-friendly employees to increase their chances of successfully organizing the employees. Unions are gaining the ability to decide exactly who they want to be in their union, a powerful tool in union organizing.
Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.