A federal appeals court upheld the National Labor Relations Board’s determination that an employer violated the union rights of its workers.
Mondelez Global LLC has a baked goods production plant in New Jersey.
Most of its production workers are represented by a chapter of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.
Things go south
In 2016, the relationship between the employer and the union deteriorated. There were protests and disputes about overtime. Discussions intended to produce a new collective bargaining agreement fell through.
Three union officials — including the local’s president and two longtime union stewards — were strong union advocates who sometimes engaged in heated disputes with management.
On one occasion in 2016, the three replaced American flags at the entrance of employee locker rooms with flags. The flags said, “United We Stand.” The plant manager told the union officials to remove the flags, and they did.
On another occasion, two of the three union officials wore shirts with a pro-union message to a “day of unity” rally at work.
The plant manager and an HR manager asked them to remove the shirts. One ignored the demand. The other kept the shirt on under his sweatshirt.
Managers and supervisors sometimes expressed resentment toward the union.
In July of 2016, Mondelez terminated all three union officials. It said they had falsified their time records and left their work areas without authorization.
In addition, in 2016 Mondelez made a number of changes without notifying or bargaining with the union.
First, it increased the amount of time employees on short-term disability leave had to wait before they could return to work following their submission of a doctor’s note.
Second, it stopped allowing union officials to meet privately with new hires.
Third, it changed shift times of warehouse employees.
It also delayed and declined to provide information requested by the union, including information regarding the alleged falsification of time records.
The union local filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
The board determined that Mondelez violated the National Labor Relations Act when it discouraged employees from engaging in union activities by discharging the union officials because they assisted the union; when it declined to bargain collectively and in good faith by unilaterally changing the short-term disability leave policy, union access to new hires, and employee shift schedules; and when it declined to bargain collectively and in good faith by refusing to provide employee disciplinary records and new hire information as requested by the union.
Both sides appeal
Mondelez appealed, and the union cross-appealed for enforcement of the board’s order.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected Mondelez’s appeal and granted the union’s request for enforcement.
First, it upheld the board’s determination that Mondelez unlawfully discharged the union officials.
There was substantial evidence that the officials’ union activity was a motivating factor in their discharge, the appeals court said. It rejected the employer’s argument that the three would have been discharged even if they did not engage in any union activity.
The court also agreed that Mondelez acted improperly when it unilaterally changed the short-term disability policy. It agreed it improperly began denying the union access to new hires. It also agreed it wrongfully changed employee shift schedules.
Those actions effected material changes that were subject to collective bargaining, the appeals court said.
Finally, there was enough evidence to support the board’s finding that Mondelez did not adequately respond to the union’s request for information.
Mondelez’s petition for review was denied. The board’s cross-application for enforcement was granted.
Mondelez Global LLC v. National Labor Relations Board, No. 20-1616, 2021 WL 3074303 (7th Cir. 7/21/21).