As a management-side labor firm, we are constantly in opposition to unions. So we particularly enjoy the irony when a union – as an employer – is found to have violated the National Labor Relations Act. (Yes, unions do violate the NLRA!) On December 1, 2015, in Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689 and Tamar C. Simmons, the National Labor Relations Board ruled the Union violated the NLRA by disciplining and threatening to fire one of the Union’s administrative assistants.
The employee was a member of Office and Professional Employees (“OPELU”) Local Union 2, a union which routinely represents workers within the ATU. (Yes, the union itself is unionized!) Her job duties consisted of answering phones, processing grievances, handling incoming mail, and ensuring that a bulletin board was current. OPELU filed a grievance on the employee’s behalf after the president of the Union transferred some of her administrative tasks to non-bargaining unit employees.
The grievance was eventually dropped, but that did not stop the Union President from interrogating the employee about the timing of her break time. He also got “very angry” at the employee for talking about her breaks with another employee and told her to stop doing so. He issued her a warning letter about her attitude and tone, and also counseled her about keeping the bulletin board updated. Of particular significance, he suggested that if the employee was unhappy at work, she should quit.
The Board found that the Union President’s overall behavior suggested harsher treatment of the employee following the grievance, which constitutes retaliation in violation of the NLRA. Specifically, the Board found that the Union President’s remark that the employee should quit if she was unhappy was an “implied threat” that the employee could be discharged for her union activity in the future. This threat was further exacerbated by the Union President telling the employee, “it’s either going to be me or you, because I’m not leaving.”
There are a couple of lessons here. It’s not uncommon for employers to tell an employee that he should look for another job if he’s unhappy – but this could be viewed as a threat of termination! So employers generally should be careful about making such statements.
But the more entertaining lesson is for all the unions out there: practice what you preach!