Firm News

September 21, 2015

NLRB Widens the Goalposts for Labor Union Organizers (September 2015)

Filed under: Legal Updates — admin @ 7:01 pm

A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board could have a major impact on tens of thousands of employees who never thought that they would have to worry about labor unions.  In Browning Ferris Industries of California, Inc. et al., NLRB Case No. 32-RC-109684 (August 27, 2015), a majority of the five member Board held that a company was required to recognize and bargain with a union that was elected not by its own employees but instead by the employees of a services contractor.  In so deciding (over vehement dissent by two members), the Board overturned longstanding precedent and applied a new standard for determining “joint employer” status.

For decades, joint employer status and obligations applied only to entities that exercised “direct and immediate” control over workers, which generally excluded employees of outside contractors or franchisees. Under the Board’s new interpretation, an entity could be deemed a joint employer of a contractor’s employees — and be required to recognize and bargain with a union — if it has only indirect control over working conditions or has the right to control such conditions, even if it does not actually exercise that right.

By expanding joint employer status to include entities who merely have the right to control some aspects of the workplace indirectly, it is conceivable that collective bargaining obligations could apply to entities that have no actual employees at a particular location, such as general contractors, franchisors, or even property owners who engage outside contractors for cleaning or landscaping services. The Board’s new interpretation potentially could even restrict such an entity’s rights to terminate a service contract if such a termination could be deemed to discriminate against workers for whom the entity is deemed to be a joint employer.

To discuss how to prepare for the possibility that your business could be targeted for union organizing activity, please contact one of our attorneys.

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