The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, September/October 2020 edition. To view other editions or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.
Non-statutory NLRB policy hinders workers’ right to vote out an unwanted union
WASHINGTON, DC – The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has announced that it will review the so-called “contract bar” doctrine, which prevents employees from exercising their right to vote an unpopular union out of their workplace for up to three years if union officials and their employer have finalized a monopoly bargaining contract.
This is the latest development in a case by a Selbyville, Delaware-based Mountaire Farms poultry employee, Oscar Cruz Sosa, against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 27 union. Cruz Sosa submitted a petition in February for a vote on whether Local 27 should be removed as monopoly bargaining agent in his workplace. The petition was signed by hundreds of his coworkers, more than the percentage required to trigger such a vote.
Worker Obtains Foundation Help after Union Attempts to Block Vote
After he submitted the petition, UFCW bosses immediately claimed that the “contract bar” should block Cruz Sosa and his coworkers from even having an election, because the monopoly bargaining agreement between Mountaire and the union had been signed less than three years earlier.
Cruz Sosa then obtained free legal assistance from National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys in defending his and his coworkers’ right to vote. With Foundation aid, he also hit UFCW agents with federal unfair labor practice charges for imposing an illegal forced-dues clause on the workplace and threatening him after he submitted the petition.
When the NLRB Regional Director in Baltimore heard the election case, he ruled that the union contract contains an unlawful forced-dues clause that mandates workers immediately pay union dues upon hiring or be fired. Under NLRB precedent, an illegal forced-dues clause means the “contract bar” cannot apply, allowing the vote to proceed.
UFCW’s Desperate Attempt to Block Vote Triggers NLRB Review of “Contract Bar”
Despite the longstanding precedent supporting the Regional Director’s ruling, UFCW union lawyers filed a Request for Review, asking the full NLRB to reverse the Regional Director and halt the election.
In response, Cruz Sosa’s Foundation staff attorneys opposed the union’s efforts to block the vote. They also argued that, if the Board were to grant the union’s Request for Review, it should also reconsider the entire “contract bar” policy, which has no statutory basis in the NLRA. The Foundation’s legal brief noted that the “contract bar” runs counter to the rights of workers under the NLRA, which explicitly include the right to vote out a union a majority of workers oppose.
Just hours after the voting process in the decertification election had begun, the NLRB issued its order granting the union’s Request for Review, while also accepting the Foundation’s request to reconsider the entire “contract bar” doctrine. The order noted “that it is appropriate for the Board to undertake in this case a general review of its ‘contract bar’ doctrine.”
Given the precedential import of this case, the NLRB solicited amicus briefs on whether the “contract bar” should be allowed to stand. UFCW officials, still desperate to throw a wrench in Cruz Sosa and his coworkers’ effort to vote them out, demanded that the NLRB rescind its request for amicus briefs in the case, but that effort was quickly rebuffed.
“We urge the NLRB to swiftly overturn this outrageous non-statutory policy, which lets union bosses undermine for up to three years the free choice of workers that is supposed to be at the center of federal labor law,” commented National Right to Work Foundation Vice President and Legal Director Raymond LaJeunesse. “The very premise of the NLRB-created ‘contract bar,’ that union bosses should be insulated from worker decertification efforts, is completely backwards.”
LaJeunesse added: “Union officials across the country use all types of tactics to get workers into unions but rely on government power and legal tricks to prevent them from getting out.”