A recent court case shows the worst blunders a company can make when a union tries to organize workers.
The case involved a Wisconsin firm that was confronted with a labor union’s efforts to get workers to join. Management at the company reacted by taking three stern steps:
- Requiring that employees get approval from the company before posting any union material on company bulletin boards.
- Telling union advocates they violated company policy in distributing pro-union flyers in the company parking lot.
- Telling union advocates that passing out union buttons in the workplace and leaving buttons near a time clock violated company policy.
Further, the company discouraged employees from talking about the union during working hours, and told shift leaders they were classified as “supervisors” and so were prohibited from participating in union activities.
The NLRB found that the company violated the National Labor Relation Act, and a court affirmed the finding.
What should have been done
So, where did the company go wrong?
Bulletin boards. Courts have ruled that employees don’t have open access to employer bulletin boards. Why, then, couldn’t the company stop employees from posting union messages on the boards? The short answer is that the company had no bulletin-board policy, but all of a sudden instituted one when employees tried to post union material. That, the court said, was clear evidence that union-organizing was being singled out.
Distribution of union material. Again, courts recognize that employers have property rights and the right to limit distribution of material during working hours and in the workplace. However, the court ruled that the company crossed a legal line when it banned such activities as placing flyers on employees’ vehicles in the company parking lot. The bottom line is that employers have strong rights in the workplace and during duty hours. Those rights weaken when the employee leaves the building and is no longer on duty — even if the activity takes place in a company-owned parking lot. The company ban on leaving union buttons near time clocks similarly was ruled illegal, since it didn’t interfere with work and wasn’t a work-time activity. Note: The court saw through the company’s attempt to characterize the ban as an “anti-clutter” policy.
Reclassifying “supervisors.” The shift leaders, who were reclassified as supervisors and barred from union activity, did not have the authority to transfer or direct employees or to recommend rewards. The court ruled that the sudden reclassification of the shift leaders — without substantially changing their duties and responsibilities — was a clearly illegal attempt to stifle pro-union activity.
Cite: Loparex LLC v. NLRB.