For years, the National Labor Relations Board was hardly a blip on the radar for non-union employers. The Obama administration’s changed all that — and it could mean new headaches for companies of all sizes.
Consider what the NLRB’s been up to recently.
First, the agency has begun to flex its muscles to make social networks safe for pro-union activities.
The initial incident occurred when the NLRB issued a complaint against a Connecticut ambulance service, alleging that it illegally fired an employee because she posted negative remarks about her supervisor on her personal Facebook page.
The NLRB said the company’s Internet use policies “constitute(d) interference with employees in the exercise of their right to engage in protected … activity.”
Then the feds filed a complaint against another Connecticut employer, challenging the legality of a transportation company’s overall policy on “electronic communication.”
Finally, there was the report that the NLRB was filing a complaint against media giant Thompson Reuters, alleging the employer’s Twitter policy illegally restricted employee free speech.
Boeing’s production moves challenged
Next significant move: NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon issued a complaint against the Boeing Company, alleging the aviation giant violated federal labor law by deciding to transfer a second production line to a non-union facility in South Carolina.
Boeing had been producing 787 Dreamliner planes at a facility in the Puget Sound area of Washington state — where its employees have long been represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The company later said that in order to address a growing backlog of orders for the planes, it needed to create a second production line.
When Boeing announced its plans to locate the production line in South Carolina, the NLRB charged the company was doing so because of “unionized employees’ past strike activity and the possibility of strikes occurring sometime in the future,” according to an NLRB press release.
Action against state secret ballot initiatives
And just last week, the agency filed a lawsuit challenging an Arizona constitutional amendment that would require secret-ballot votes for union elections.
Four states have recently passed such constitutional amendments, which were sparked by organized labor’s recent efforts to push through federal legislation that would allow employees to form unions by simply signing a card indicating their support — the “card check” concept.
The other states with similar amendments are South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah.
NLRB officials said although the Arizona suit was the only one they’d pursue now, they’re leaving the door open for filing similar actions against the other three states.
On top of that, the NLRB is proposing to require virtually all workplaces to post an 11-by-17 notice explaining employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act — in other words, laying out exactly how employees can form unions.
‘Little-known but substantial’
What’s the takeaway for you? Here’s what Robert G. Brody and Sami Asaad of the law firm Brody and Associates had to say in a recent post on Industryweek.com:
“The message is clear: employee-rights advocates are bringing greater attention to the NLRA and its little-known but substantial employee protections …
“While many often think of the NLRA [and the NLRB] as only dealing with unions, in many ways, it acts as an extension of First Amendment protections and freedoms (specifically, speech and assembly) to private sector employees.”
Bottom line: Employees may well become aware of yet another resource to use against you in a legal action.