Multi-year legal fight to remove union opposed by majority of workers shows need for reform of NLRB rules that allow unions to block workers’ from holding decertification votes
Anchorage, AK (December 9, 2019) – A group of Alaskan school bus drivers have just prevailed in their years-long effort to remove an unpopular Teamsters union from their workplace. The union’s ouster comes after National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys provided free legal aid to Elizabeth Chase, the bus driver leading the charge to hold a decertification election so workers could vote out the union.
After workers sought for almost three years to remove the union, Teamsters Local 959 union officials finally stopped fighting the workers’ efforts by filing a disclaimer of interest with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 19 in Seattle. The disclaimer came after the Region dismissed the union’s latest unfair labor practice charge following Chase’s fifth request for review to the full NLRB in Washington, DC, contesting the Regional Director’s continued block of a decertification vote at the behest of Teamsters bosses.
Chase is an employee of Apple Bus Company near Anchorage, Alaska. In July 2017, she submitted a decertification petition to NLRB Region 19 asking for a secret ballot election to remove the Teamsters as the monopoly bargaining representative in her workplace. Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), if a decertification petition garners signatures from at least 30 percent of the employees in a bargaining unit, the NLRB is supposed to conduct a secret-ballot election to determine whether a majority of the employees wish to decertify the union. Chase’s initial petition was signed by more than 50 percent of the workers in the bargaining unit, far more than necessary to trigger a decertification vote.
The NLRB Regional Director blocked the decertification vote later that year, citing the Obama Labor Board-backed “successor bar,” which prohibits workers from removing an unwanted union simply because the ownership of an employer has changed hands. That “successor bar” is not mandated by the NLRA, which the NLRB is charged with enforcing.
Despite that setback, Chase and her coworkers continued their efforts to remove the Teamsters from their workplace, filing another decertification petition in 2018. This time, Teamsters officials moved to prevent the vote by filing successive “blocking charges” with the Regional Director, alleging unfair labor practices by Apple Bus. The Regional Director repeatedly allowed union officials to block a vote despite Chase’s pointing out that the Region failed to “explain specifically what causal connection(s) exist” between the petition and the union bosses’ allegations that made it necessary to stop the vote. All told, Chase requested five times that the full NLRB in Washington, DC, reverse the Regional Director’s decisions and let the vote proceed.
The NLRA, the federal law that the NLRB is tasked with enforcing, grants all workers the right to remove an unpopular union. Most restrictions manipulated by union bosses to halt decertification votes (such as the “successor bar” and “blocking charges”) are not established in its text but have been read into it by Big Labor-friendly Board Members under the Clinton and Obama administrations. Foundation staff attorneys have been fighting for workers for decades to eliminate these unfair, non-statutory limitations on workers’ rights to hold a vote to remove a union that has lost most workers’ support.
The NLRB is currently accepting comments on reforming the “blocking charge” doctrine and another non-statutory bar to decertification elections, the “voluntary recognition” bar. In comments to the Labor Board, Chase’s Apple Bus coworker Donald Johnson blasted the union’s ability to game the NLRB’s system to delay a decertification vote for years as “the most unfair and anti-democratic event I have been involved with in my entire life.” The window for submitting comments to the NLRB ends on January 9, 2020. Foundation attorneys have prepared comments they will file urging the Board to end both the “blocking charge” policy and “voluntary recognition” bar.
“The NLRB is tasked with protecting the right of employees to remove a union that is opposed by a majority of workers, but as this case shows us that right is undermined by non-statutory NLRB policies that allow workers to be trapped in union ranks for years at a time without even a decertification vote,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Though Ms. Chase and her coworkers are finally free from the coercive reign of a plainly unpopular Teamsters union, the NLRB must act quickly to roll back the undemocratic election bars and blocking charge policies that undermined their rights for almost three years.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in about 200 cases nationwide per year.