NLRB will rule out defining students as employees

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You can forget about NLRB cases that classified graduate students as statutory employees. The handwriting is clear that the NLRB will adopt a rule saying that they are not.

The proposed rule is elegantly simple:

"Students who perform any services, including, but not limited to, teaching or research assistance, at a private college or university in connection with their undergraduate or graduate studies are not employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the Act."

The NLRB published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) [PDF] in the Federal Register on September 23, 2019, proposing a rule regarding students. Addressing a recurring question regarding the definition of “employee” under Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the proposed rule would exempt from the NLRB’s jurisdiction undergraduate and graduate students who perform services for financial compensation in connection with their studies.

Through issuance of the NPRM, the Board seeks public comment on its proposed view that students who perform services – including teaching and/or research – for compensation at a private college or university in connection with their studies are not “employees” under the NLRA. The basis for this proposed rule is the Board’s preliminary position, subject to revision in light of public comment, that the relationship these students have with their school is predominately educational rather than economic.

In announcing the proposed rule, NLRB Chairman John F. Ring stated: “In the past 19 years, the Board has changed its stance on this issue three times. This rulemaking is intended to obtain maximum input on this issue from the public, and then to bring stability to this important area of federal labor law.” Chairman Ring was joined by Board Members Marvin E. Kaplan and William J. Emanuel in issuing the proposed rulemaking. Board Member Lauren McFerran dissented.

Public comments are invited on all aspects of the proposed rule and should be submitted within 60 days of the Notice’s publication in the Federal Register, either electronically to www.regulations.gov, or by mail or hand-delivery to Roxanne Rothschild, Executive Secretary, National Labor Relations Board, 1015 Half Street S.E., Washington, D.C. 20570-0001. Any person wishing to comment on any ongoing rulemaking by the National Labor Relations Board must do so in accordance with the applicable Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Communications submitted in any other manner, including comments on this website, will not be considered by the Board. 

Will the NLRB crack down on highly offensive speech?

It's about time.

The NLRB is requesting briefs on whether the Board should reconsider its standards for profane outbursts and offensive statements of a racial or sexual nature.

The current NLRB cases really cannot be defended. If – during a strike or during picketing – an employee makes the most outrageous statements (rude, racially offensive, sexually offensive), then this is part of "protected" activity and the employer cannot fire or otherwise discipline an employee for doing that.

Of course, some rough language ought to be tolerated when a union and employer are engaged in economic warfare. But let's find a rule that no longer protects speech that is simply ugly racial and sexual slurs.

The Board seeks public input on whether to adhere to, modify, or overrule the standard applied in previous cases in which extremely profane or racially offensive language was judged not to lose the protection of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Specifically, the notice seeks comments relating to the following cases: Plaza Auto Center, 360 NLRB 972 (2014), Pier Sixty, LLC, 362 NLRB 505 (2015), and Cooper Tire, 363 NLRB No. 194 (2016).

About the invitation for briefing, Chairman John F. Ring stated: “The Board’s request for briefing on this important topic reflects its long-standing practice of seeking input from interested parties when the Board believes it can benefit from such briefing. We look forward to considering the views of all interested parties.”

Chairman John F. Ring was joined by Members Marvin E. Kaplan and William J. Emanuel in inviting the filing of briefs. Member Lauren McFerran dissented.

Amicus briefs not to exceed 25 pages in length shall be filed with the Board in Washington, D.C. on or before November 4, 2019. The parties are permitted to file responsive briefs not to exceed 15 pages in length on or before November 19, 2019.

The case is General Motors LLC, 14-CA-197985 and 14-CA-208242. Click here to read the notice and invitation to file briefs.

 

NLRB proposes rulemaking on employee free choice

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The NLRB will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking [Federal Register] on August 12, 2019, proposing three amendments to its Rules and Regulations that "would better protect employees’ statutory right of free choice on questions concerning representation."

Blocking Charge Policy: Replace the current blocking charge policy with a vote-and-impound procedure. Elections would no longer be blocked by pending unfair labor practice charges, but the ballots would be impounded until the charges are resolved.

Voluntary Recognition Bar: Return to the rule of Dana Corp., 351 NLRB 434 (2007). For voluntary recognition under Section 9(a) of the Act to bar a subsequent representation petition—and for a post-recognition collective-bargaining agreement to have contract-bar effect—unit employees must receive notice that voluntary recognition has been granted and a 45-day open period within which to file an election petition.

Section 9(a) Recognition in the Construction Industry: In the construction industry, where bargaining relationships established under Section 8(f) cannot bar petitions for a Board election, proof of a Section 9(a) relationship will require positive evidence of majority employee support and cannot be based on contract language alone, overruling Staunton Fuel, 335 NLRB 717 (2001).

Public comments are invited on all aspects of the proposed rule and should be submitted within 60 days of the Notice’s publication in the Federal Register.

NLRB Sets Standards Affecting Beck Objectors

 

NLRB Sets Standards Affecting Beck Objectors
Union Lobbying Expenses Are Not Chargeable

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No surprises here:

Nonmember objectors cannot be compelled to pay for union lobbying expenses, the National Labor Relations Board ruled today. The Board majority held that lobbying activity, although sometimes relating to terms of employment or incidentally affecting collective bargaining, is not part of the union’s representational function, and therefore lobbying expenses are not chargeable to Beck objectors. The ruling relies on relevant judicial precedent holding that a union violates its duty of fair representation if it charges agency fees that include expenses other than those necessary to perform its statutory representative functions.

The Board majority also held that it is not enough for a union to provide objecting nonmembers with assurances that its compilation of chargeable and nonchargeable expenses has been appropriately audited. Citing the “basic considerations of fairness” standard adopted by the Supreme Court, the Board held that a union must provide independent verification that the audit had been performed. Failure to do so violates the union’s duty of fair representation.

The case, United Nurses & Allied Professionals (Kent Hospital) [PDF], is the Board’s long-awaited decision affecting certain rights of nonmember objectors under the Supreme Court’s decision in Communications Workers of America v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988). In that decision, the Supreme Court held that private-sector nonmember employees subject to union security who object to the expenditure of their agency fees for activities other than collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment can only be compelled to pay that portion of the agency fee necessary to the union’s performance of “the duties of an exclusive representative of employees in dealing with the employer on labor-management issues.”

Chairman John F. Ring was joined by Members Marvin E. Kaplan and William J. Emanuel in the majority opinion. Member Lauren McFerran dissented.

Another attack on public sector unions

There's a petition for certiorari pending at the US Supreme Court asking the Court to take up the issue of "Whether it violates the First Amendment to appoint a labor union to represent and speak for public-sector employees who have declined to join the union." Uradnik v. Inter Faculty Organization [Briefs]

Kathleen Uradnik sought a preliminary injunction challenging the constitutionality of an exclusive collective bargaining representative in the public sector, asserting that “the University and State of Minnesota [should] not appoint the Union to speak for her and not force her into an expressive association with it.”

The trial court denied the preliminary injunction, and the 8th Circuit affirmed in December 2018, having decided that Uradnik "cannot show a likelihood of success on the merits of her compelled speech argument."

The Supreme Court may or may not want to hear this case, so we'll just hide and watch.

NLRB overrules 2014 case on how to decide who is an independent contractor

SuperShuttle DFW, Inc. (NLRB 01/25/2019) [PDF]

Part of a series - Employment Law Case of the Week - by Ross Runkel.

The NLRB announced on January 25 a return to its long-standing independent-contractor standard, reaffirming the Board’s adherence to the traditional common-law test. In doing so, the Board clarified the role entrepreneurial opportunity plays in its determination of independent-contractor status, as the D.C. Circuit has recognized.

The case, SuperShuttle DFW, Inc. (NLRB 01/25/2019) [PDF], involved shuttle-van-driver franchisees of SuperShuttle at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Applying its clarified standard, the Board concluded that the franchisees are not statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act but rather independent contractors excluded from the Act’s coverage.

The Board found that the franchisees’ leasing or ownership of their work vans, their method of compensation, and their nearly unfettered control over their daily work schedules and working conditions provided the franchisees with significant entrepreneurial opportunity for economic gain. These factors, along with the absence of supervision and the parties’ understanding that the franchisees are independent contractors, resulted in the Board’s finding that the franchisees are not employees under the Act. The decision affirms the Acting Regional Director’s finding that the franchisees are independent contractors.

This decision overrules FedEx Home Delivery, a 2014 NLRB decision that modified the applicable test for determining independent-contractor status by severely limiting the significance of a worker’s entrepreneurial opportunity for economic gain.

Chairman John F. Ring was joined by Members Marvin E. Kaplan and William J. Emanuel in the majority opinion. Member Lauren McFerran dissented.

Joint Employers - the NLRB’s latest word

Joint Employers - the NLRB’s latest word.

Part of a series - Employment Law Case of the Week - by Ross Runkel.

In 2015 the NLRB revised its joint-employer test by (1) putting the focus on whether a putative employer has the right to control the workers (even if that right is not exercised) and (2) considering indirect control (not merely direct control) as a factor. The DC Circuit has affirmed that formulation, although the case was remanded for greater articulation of the scope of "indirect" control. Browning-Ferris v. NLRB (DC Cir 12/28/2018) [PDF]

Most workers at Browning-Ferris's recycling plant are employed by a staffing company, who “has the sole responsibility to counsel, discipline, review, evaluate, determine pay rates, and terminate” the workers that it provides. When a Teamsters union petitioned to represent these workers, the NLRB decided that Browning-Ferris and the staffing company were joint-employers of the workers.

The DC Circuit held that "the right-to-control element of the Board’s joint-employer standard has deep roots in the common law. The common law also permits consideration of those forms of indirect control that play a relevant part in determining the essential terms and conditions of employment. Accordingly, we affirm the Board’s articulation of the joint-employer test as including consideration of both an employer’s reserved right to control and its indirect control over employees’ terms and conditions of employment." However, the court faulted the NLRB for failing to distinguish evidence of indirect control that bears on workers’ essential terms and conditions from evidence that simply documents the routine parameters of company-to-company contracting. Therefore, the court remanded to the NLRB for it to "explain and apply its test in a manner that hews to the common law of agency."

DISSENT: The dissent would have issued no decision at all because the NLRB is now engaged in a rulemaking process directed at precisely the issues that were decided in this case. On the merits, the dissent argued that under the common law "employees of a true independent contractor [here, the staffing company] cannot be considered employees of the company [here, Browning-Ferris] who hired the contractor." The dissent also faulted the majority for ignoring the fact that the common law of joint-employer may vary according to the nature of the business arrangement between companies.

NOTE: The NLRB is engaging in a rulemaking process regarding its joint-employer standard. Interested parties may file comments on or before Monday, January 14, 2019.