Over the last several months, we have covered judicial developments relating to the NLRB’s D.R. Horton doctrine.  As a reminder, since its D.R. Horton decision, the Board has taken the position that class-waiver provisions in arbitration agreements infringe on the rights of employees to engage in concerted activities and, therefore, violate the National Labor Relations Act.  In 2016, varying rulings from federal appellate courts created a circuit split, and on January 13, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in three cases (out of the Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits) that present the issue of whether these class-waiver provisions violate Section 8(a)(1) of the Act.

 

On January 26, 2017, the NLRB’s Office of the General Counsel issued Memorandum OM 17-11, for the purpose of providing guidance on how Regional offices should handle cases involving D.R. Horton issues during the pendency of the appeal.  The memo provides that:

 

  • where the Regional office has determined that a pending case has merit, Regional offices are directed to propose that the parties enter informal settlement agreements conditioned upon the Board prevailing before SCOTUS;
  • where informal settlement is proposed but rejected by the parties, Regional offices are directed to move forward on cases determined to have merit; and
  • where the cases involve opt in/opt out clauses in mandatory arbitration agreements (or are otherwise distinguishable from the Murphy Oil decision – the Board’s current controlling authority on the D.R. Horton issue), Regional offices are directed to hold such cases in abeyance.

 

Thus, to the extent companies want to avoid agency-level litigation prior to the Supreme Court’s disposition, they should emphasize the existence of opt in/opt out clauses in the agreements at issue or any other distinguishing factor that may persuade the Board to stay the case until the Supreme Court rules.

 

We will continue to provide updates on any developments on this important issue from the Courts or the NLRB.

Sometimes common sense is not so common. By a Memorandum dated January 31, 2017, the General Counsel of the NLRB has taken the position that student athletes at private colleges and universities are employees within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act, notwithstanding the Board’s issuance of its decision of Northwestern University in 2015 in which it declined to exercise jurisdiction after a representation petition was filed by a union seeking to represent the Northwestern University’s football players.

So does that mean that if a football player has a serious health condition that the football coach will now have to provide FMLA to that player? Or, if the injury is more extreme, must the football coach then reasonably accommodate that player?  Or, pay overtime after 40 hours of practice?  Needless to say, you get my drift.  This has got to be one of the most ridiculous legal positions coming out of the NLRB in a long time.  Once again, the NLRB is extremely myopic and simplistic in terms of their view of the world, not taking into account the myriad of other issues that develop when such an ill-founded decision is made.  In particular, I am sure the NCAA is going to be thrilled with this approach by the Board.  Time and time again, after thorough review, the courts and other federal agencies have refused to adopt the viewpoint that such individuals are employees.  Indeed, as the 7th Circuit recently recognized in the case of Berger v. NCAA, 16-1558 (January 12, 2017), this issue has been settled for years and there is no reason to revisit it.  And while I am hopeful that in a matter of months, when we have a new GC in place at the Board, this memo will be made null and void, but in the interim we continue to have to put up with such nonsense being endorsed as our national labor policy.  Frankly, it is just embarrassing.

Earlier this month the United States Supreme Court decided to hear three cases which will resolve the split between various Courts of Appeals (discussed in our prior post here) as to whether individual arbitration agreements barring class arbitration actions in employment-related matters are enforceable. While the Court held in 2011 that the Federal Arbitration Act would allow companies to avoid consumer class actions by insisting upon individual arbitrations in their contracts, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, workers have contended that employment contracts are different. They have successfully argued that the National Labor Relations Act prohibits class waivers since it would impinge upon worker’s rights to engage in “concerted activities”. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals accepted such an argument in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (discussed in our prior post here), and the Ninth Circuit accepted such an argument in Ernst and Young v. Morris. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the same argument in National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil U.S.A. Continue Reading Mandatory Employee Arbitration Split To Be Heard By Supreme Court

Missouri’s new Republican governor has indicated that he fully supports right-to-work legislation, which failed to get past previous governor Jay Nixon in its last go-round. With that being the case, what would a right-to-work law mean for the employers in the state who have collective bargaining agreements with labor organizations?

First, right-to-work legislation does not result in any collective bargaining agreement suddenly being null and void. It is a very limited, surgical deletion of the union security clause from contracts.  And, while we do not know exactly what the law may provide, it will likely be something along the lines of previous legislation.  In other words, it will provide that any union security clause will be null and void and no employee shall be required to pay any dues or fees or similar charges to any labor organization as a condition of employment.

Accordingly, if an employee is not a union member and has not signed a dues check-off authorization card, the employer can cease deducting dues from the employee’s paycheck when the right-to-work law takes effect. However, an employer’s legal obligation is different if any employee has signed a valid dues check-off authorization card as such authorizations will likely be enforced, as a separate lawful agreement between the employee and the union.  The reason is that even after the effective date of a right-to-work law, an employer who has agreed to a dues check-off provision in the collective bargaining agreement may have a contractual obligation to continue to remit monthly dues to the union for employees who have signed dues check-off authorizations.  However that provision can be revoked.

The National Labor Relations Act provides some guidance in terms of the revocation process. In particular, it permits employers to deduct monies for dues “provided that the employer has received from each employee on whose account such deductions are made a written assignment which shall not be irrevocable for a period of more than one year or beyond the termination of the applicable collective bargaining agreement, whichever is sooner.”  Hence, while there may be an ongoing obligation beyond the effective date of the right-to-work legislation, there is a process for employees to revoke that authorization at a later point in time and not be responsible for any dues going forward.

The end result is that without financial support from a majority of the employees a union may simply walk away from the collective bargaining agreement they have with an employer as it simply is not cost effective to maintain the relationship. Hence while right-to-work legally only impacts union security and dues check-off, from a practical standpoint it may result in a defacto decertification of the union.

In a prior post, we discussed the Department of Labor’s issuance of a new final rule that expanded disclosure requirements for companies that hire union avoidance consultants.  The Department’s new “persuader” rule required employers to report the hiring of such consultants whenever these third parties engaged in indirect persuader activities (e.g., planning employee meetings, training supervisors to conduct meetings, and drafting or providing speeches to be made to employees), whereas the previous rule required disclosure only when the consultants engaged in direct contact with workers.

Subsequent to the DOL’s publication of the final version of the rule in late March, business groups and law firms sued to invalidate the rule.  Several states joined the case later as intervenors.  On November 16, a federal judge in Texas entered a “permanent injunction with nationwide effect,” blocking the DOL from enforcing the rule.  Judge Sam R. Cummings of the Northern District of Texas, had previously issued a preliminary injunction relating to the rule back in June.  In that earlier ruling, the Court had found that the rule effectively eliminated the Labor Management Disclosure Act’s advice exemption, was arbitrary capricious, and constituted an abuse of discretion.  In last week’s decision, the Court granted the Plaintiffs’ summary judgment motions and converted the preliminary injunction into a permanent injunction.

The Obama administration now faces the decision of whether to appeal the ruling, as they did with the Court’s preliminary injunction.  However, it is unlikely that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals would make any rulings on these issues prior to the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, after which the Department’s positions and strategy may change dramatically.  We will continue to keep you apprised of developments related to the persuader rule.

The legal environment for labor unions in Missouri, and across the nation, will change as a result of the 2016 state and national elections. In Missouri, the election of Eric Greitens as Governor and the supermajority of Republicans in the Missouri Senate signal the likely addition of Missouri to the list of states to have passed Right to Work laws. Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson recently said that passing a Right to Work law “would probably be the No. 1 issue” for the start of the legislative session in January. If enacted, Missouri would become the 27th state to pass Right to Work legislation.

Right to Work laws prohibit the use of “union security” clauses as part of any collective bargaining agreement, meaning union membership cannot be a condition of employment. More significantly if membership is not mandatory, union dues will not be mandatory. For most unions, who receive the majority of their money from dues, this has the capacity to reduce or even eliminate their ability to organize, let alone administrate union contracts.

A Right to Work law in Missouri also has the potential of increasing the amount of leverage employers bring to the bargaining table. If employees begin to resign their union membership at a significant rate, an employer will have an increased ability to negotiate for its own priorities as the fear of a strike will be lessened. Furthermore, each union may have to evaluate at what point continued representation is cost effective if employees choose to leave the union and stop paying dues at a high rate.

Trump’s election to the White House will have a significant effect on national labor policy as well. Trump will nominate two people to fill the vacancies in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), thus influencing its direction for years to come. Employers who have transitioned to new rulings on franchises, joint employers, handbook policies and numerous other issues will likely see many of these rulings abandoned or sent to the bottom of the list when it comes to any enforcement agenda. Further, when it comes to the Department of Labor, the new overtime guidelines will likely receive close scrutiny by the new administration and it is likely the proposed changes in the Persuader Rule will be abandoned.

Finally, the executive orders that President Obama has issued over the past 8 years could be rescinded immediately, if a newly inaugurated President Trump decides to take such action. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order and the Order Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity for federal contractors and subcontractors are just two of the likely targets of a Trump administration’s shift in labor and employment policies.

As the newly elected politicians take power, and newly appointment positions are filled, watch the Husch Blackwell Labor Relations Law Insider for updates.

On October 3, the National Labor and Relations Board (NRLB) Office of the General Counsel (OGC) issued a Memorandum from the Division of Operations-Management to all Regional Directors, Officers-In-Charge, and Resident Officers.  This Memo (Memorandum OM 17-02) reveals an aggressive new position from the OGC, one which attempts to overturn decades of Board precedent.

For years, the Board has limited workers’ ability to engage in partial or intermittent strikes. In some instances, the Board has used the term “partial strike” to include anything less than a total, traditional strike (where employees completely withdraw their labor and refuse to work until the parties settle the dispute).  This would include intermittent strikes, where employees go back and forth between working and striking.  Other times, the Board has used the term “partial strike” more narrowly to describe more specific types of limited, non-traditional strikes which are situationally distinct from intermittent strikes.  Regardless of the verbiage used, however, the Board has consistently found that Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which protects “concerted activity,” does not protect employees engaging in either of these types of limited strikes.  Under current Board precedent, therefore, employees who strike multiple times over the same labor dispute may be disciplined by their employers.

Now, the OGC wishes to dramatically extend Section 7 protection to cover multiple short-term strikes. The Memo states that the Board’s present test for determining whether such strikes are protected “is difficult to apply” and “exposes employees to potential discipline for activities that should be considered protected under Section 7 of the Act.”  Accordingly, the OGC will now be taking the position that the Board should modify the law regarding intermittent and partial strikes.  In furtherance of this effort, the Memo references an attached model brief and instructs its recipients to utilize the analysis contained in the model brief and incorporate those arguments into the General Counsel’s briefs submitted to Administrative Law Judges and the Board.

The arguments contained in the model brief “urge[] the Board to clarify this area of law by drawing clear conceptual distinctions between partial and intermittent strikes and redefining the circumstances under which intermittent strikes become unprotected.” More specifically, the General Counsel proposes a framework where multiple strikes (even if those strikes are over the same labor dispute) would be protected if: (1) the strikes “involve a complete cessation of work, and are not so brief and frequent that they are tantamount to work slowdowns”; (2) the strikes “are not designed to impose permanent conditions of work, but rather are designed to exert economic pressure”; and (3) the “employer is made aware of the employees’ purpose in striking.”  The model brief argues that this framework “more effectively protects” a worker’s right to strike, “dispenses with the unpersuasive rationales” on which the Board has previously relied, and “better addresses Supreme Court precedent.”

Unfortunately, such an expansion Section 7 protections would upend years of generally understood and accepted labor relations practices. And unsurprisingly, employers would suffer the most, as they attempt to navigate new distinctions and the nuances of newly-protected strikes that will undoubtedly disrupt operations more than traditional strikes.  Accordingly, employers will have an important role to play in NLRB proceedings by pushing back against the OGC’s new and threatening position.

In most situations the NLRB’s long established Weingarten doctrine can be applied in a fairly straight-forward fashion.  But I still get questions regarding the interplay of drug and alcohol testing when it comes to Weingarten.  This is probably due to the fact that the Ralphs Grocery Company decision, which issued in 2014, is a relatively new expansion of the Weingarten doctrine wherein an employee has the right to consult a union steward prior to taking a drug test.  And then more recently, in Manhattan Beer Distributors the Board expanded Weingarten rights further, in the context of drug and alcohol testing, as the Board established that an employee had a right to a union steward to be physically present for the alcohol or drug test.  An employer need only wait a “reasonable amount of time” for the union representative to be physically present; however, that time will be a function of the substance being tested for and the effect of time on the outcome of the test results.  In other words, alcohol will probably have a shorter timeline in terms of what is a reasonable period, versus marijuana, which stays in the system for days, if not weeks.

Again, the employee must request the union representation. There is no duty on the part of the employer, absent a contractual requirement otherwise, to seek out union representation for these circumstances.  So be aware of these new restrictions and apply them wisely, otherwise your discipline will more than likely be found unlawful and an otherwise clean discharge will turn into the nightmare of reinstatement and full backpay.

On Tuesday, October 18, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that it will once again postpone the enforcement date of the “employee involvement” provisions of its new rule on drug-testing, retaliation claims, and accident reporting, entitled “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses,” 81 Fed. Reg. 29624 (May 12, 2016).  This is the second such delay since the final rule was published in May.  OSHA had initially planned for the rule to take effect in August, but the agency later announced a delay in enforcement that would last until November 1.  This second, most recent delay in enforcement is set to last until December 1.

 

The agency has implemented the second extension in response to a request from United States District Judge Sam Lindsay to delay the enforcement date. Judge Lindsay is presiding in a case filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (in Dallas) in which the National Association of Manufacturers and other industry groups and private companies have sought injunctive relief to prevent enforcement of certain provisions in the new rule. TEXO ABC/AGC, et al. v. Thomas, et al., No. 3:16-CV-1998 (N.D. TX July 8, 2016).  Judge Lindsay informed OSHA (and the other parties) that the additional time was necessary for him to consider the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, which would result in a nationwide stay in the enforcement of the rule until the rule has been fully litigated in the courts.

 

We will provide updates as this case continues to develop.

On September 2, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision in Patterson v. Raymour’s Furniture Co., the most recent case in what has become an all-out war between employers and the NLRB over the use of class-waiver provisions in arbitration agreements.  The decision, consistent with prior Second Circuit precedent enforcing such waivers, maintains the status quo for an issue with a recently-formed circuit split (discussed in our prior post here).

Beginning with its decision in D.R. Horton, the Board has taken the position that class-waiver provisions in arbitration agreements infringe on the rights of employees to engage in concerted activities and, therefore, violate the National Labor Relations Act.  Prior to May 2016, each federal appellate court that addressed the issue had rejected the Board’s reasoning and enforced these types of arbitration agreements.  However, in May and August 2016, the Seventh and Ninth Circuits, respectively, issued decisions finding that such agreements violated the NLRA and were not entitled to enforcement under the Federal Arbitration Act.  These decisions created a circuit split with the Fifth, Eighth, and Second Circuits, each of which had previously enforced these types of agreements.

However, just as the Eighth Circuit doubled-down on its rejection of the NLRB’s position in June (Cellular Sales of Missouri, LLC v. NLRB), the Second Circuit in Patterson has refused to reverse course on the issue.  Unfortunately, the Court’s application of pro-employer precedent on this issue was less than enthusiastic.  First, the Court chose to issue its decision through a “summary order,” which holds no precedential value.  Further, rather than stating its actual agreement with the prior Second Circuit decision enforcing class-waiver provisions in arbitration agreements (Sutherland v. Ernst & Young LLP), the Court merely stated that it was “bound” by that prior holding until it is overruled, perhaps suggesting that an en banc Second Circuit should reevaluate the Court’s position on the issue.  Even more explicitly, the decision states, “If we were writing on a clean slate, we might well be persuaded . . . to join the Seventh and Ninth Circuits and hold that the EAP’s waiver of collective action is unenforceable.”

In sum, employers should be wary of taking too much comfort in the Second Circuit’s decision in Patterson.  Although an immediate reversal of Second Circuit precedent would have been devastating, employers would have preferred a more ringing endorsement of Sutherland’s holding.  Regardless, the enforceability of class-waiver provisions in arbitration agreements is an issue that is far from settled, and given the circuit split, the Supreme Court’s involvement will almost certainly be necessary.