NLRB General Counsel prosecuting NNOC union officials for keeping so-called “neutrality agreement” hidden from workers opposed to union
Corpus Christi, TX (September 16, 2020) – A Corpus Christi-based nurse has just asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to review a decision by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) which denied her access to a nationwide union “neutrality agreement” struck in secret between her employer, HCA Holdings (which operates Corpus Christi Medical Center and Doctor’s Regional Medical Center, among many others) and National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) union organizers.
The ALJ’s decision dismissed a complaint that the NLRB General Counsel had issued for the nurse, which sought to force union officials to disclose the secret bargain after both they and HCA agents had worked to limit the nurse and her coworkers from exercising their right to vote out the union.
The nurse is receiving free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, who have filed exceptions to the ALJ’s ruling and a brief supporting those exceptions with the full NLRB to get the ruling overturned. NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb, the agency’s top prosecutor, has also filed similar exceptions asking the Board to review and overturn the ALJ’s ruling.
“Neutrality agreements” are secret deals finalized between union officials and employers, usually without the knowledge of employees in a workplace. They frequently contain provisions that require employers to silence opposition to unionization, hand over workers’ personal information for coercive “card check” drives that bypass the protections of a secret ballot election, provide union organizers with preferential access to the workplace, and even ensure employers will assist union agents in squashing employee efforts to decertify, or remove, the union.
The nurse in this case, Marissa Zamora, began circulating fliers and other materials in June 2018 to educate her coworkers on how they could obtain a vote to decertify the union. Her brief states that union agents “repeatedly ripp[ed] down her fliers” and that HCA officials denied “her access to post material on protected bulletin boards, where her material would be shielded from vandalism.” Zamora subsequently asked both NNOC and HCA officials to show her a copy of any “neutrality agreement” that might have triggered those efforts to block her and her coworkers’ rights. All her requests were denied, despite her having conversations with HCA agents that suggested a “neutrality agreement” did exist.
Zamora filed federal unfair labor practice charges at the NLRB, challenging NNOC’s refusal to provide the secret agreement. The NLRB General Counsel issued a complaint supporting the claims in Zamora’s charges. During a two-day trial, her brief notes, it was shown that the “neutrality agreement” “in fact existed, but it was a closely guarded secret between NNOC and HCA, to be kept strictly confidential from employees and all third parties.” However, the ALJ presiding over the trial dismissed the complaint on the grounds that Zamora had never seen the agreement so her request for it was speculative. The ALJ also revoked several subpoenas that would have forced NNOC union bosses to reveal the agreement.
Zamora’s brief in support of her exceptions to the ALJ’s ruling now seeks a reversal of that decision, arguing that the ALJ erred because he held Zamora to “an impossible…Catch-22 standard” and dismissed the complaint because “she could not prove the contents of a neutrality agreement that was deliberately kept hidden from her.” The brief also argues that union officials, as the employees’ agents, have a duty to disclose everything they negotiate with the employer.
Foundation staff attorneys have assisted many employees who have been subjected to union coercion as the result of “neutrality agreements.” One of them is Seattle Embassy Suites housekeeper Gladys Bryant, who this summer received a favorable ruling from the NLRB General Counsel after UNITE HERE union bosses forced unionization on the hotel’s employees with a hasty “card check” drive. She asserted that, under a “neutrality agreement,” Embassy Suites had provided hotel workers’ personal information to union bosses, which went well beyond the “ministerial aid” standard limiting how employers can assist union bosses with unionization.
In light of Zamora’s and Bryant’s cases, and similar others filed by Foundation attorneys, the NLRB General Counsel issued a memo earlier this month instructing regional NLRB officials to take additional steps to enforce workers’ rights against such backroom “neutrality agreements.” This will end a longstanding double standard that allowed employers to provide more than “ministerial aid” as part of a “neutrality agreement” but not to equally assist workers seeking to vote out an unwanted union.
“Ms. Zamora’s case is just another example of how union bosses use secret backroom ‘neutrality agreements’ to maintain their grip on power in a workplace, even over the objections of the workers they claim to ‘represent,’” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “It is long past time that the NLRB stopped looking the other way while union organizers use these backroom deals to undermine the rights of rank-and-file workers.”
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 more than 250 cases nationwide per year.