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D.C. Court of Appeals Highlights Importance of Offers of Proof in NLRB Representation Hearings Under Expedited Election Rules

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A recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in connection with an employer’s challenge to a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” of “Board”) representation election in which the Board certified a “wall to wall” bargaining unit provided clear evidence of just how critical it is for employers to make detailed “offers of proof” concerning issues the Board will not allow them to litigate under the amended election rules which took effect in April 2015.

While this case involved a representation petition filed before the new election rules took effect, its lessons concerning the importance of offers of proof concerning issues that the Board will not permit a party to litigate in a representation case under the amended rules are even more important now.

Judicial Review of the Board’s Representation Case Findings

After the union won the election and the employer challenged the Board’s unit determination by refusing to bargain, the Court recently held that the Board erred in finding that a “wall to wall” bargaining was appropriate because it ignored the facts the employer presented, without challenge, in an “offer of proof” offered at a Board conducted representation hearing.  The Court held that the offer of proof contained facts that supported the employer’s contention that the employees in the unit  the union sought to represent did not share a community of interest, which under the National Labor Relations Act (the “Act”) is necessary. See, NLRB v. Tito Contractors, Inc. (No. 15-1217, D.C. Circuit, February 3, 2017).

The Union Sought a Wall To Wall Unit

The union in this case petitioned for an election in in a single “wall to wall” unit, including workers in diverse job classifications at multiple facilities..  The employer argued that the proposed unit was not an appropriate unit under the Board’s unit determination standards and asked for a hearing on the issue.  The employer argued that a hearing was necessary because the  petitioned for unit was inappropriate because the employees performed different jobs at different locations and under different terms and conditions of employment and sought a hearing on that issue. While the Regional Director scheduled a hearing, the Hearing Officer refused to permit the employer to call witnesses and present its evidence on the issue. The Region instead directed the employer to make an offer of proof, describing what its witnesses and evidence would show, if it were permitted to present its evidence, to rebut the presumption under Board law that an employer wide unit was an appropriate unit.

The Hearing Officer’s Refual to Accept the Employer’s Offer of Proof Into Evidence

The employer made a detailed offer of proof showing that it operates a diverse contracting business comprising “two discrete halves”- one side that involves labor, and a second side that involves recycling. It explained that (1) the labor side employed painters, tile installers, masons and carpenters who performed work for customers, (2) the recycling business involved three separate recycling contracts with a different customer and (3) the recycling work is performed at multiple sites, located many miles from each other and under differing working conditions.

Upon the employer made its offer of proof, the Hearing Officer went off the record and consulted with the Acting Regional Director, and then summarily rejected the employer’s offer of proof and denied any hearing on the issue. An election was then directed in the wall to wall unit the union requested.

While the employer requested review of the Decision and Direction of Election (“D&DE”) and the Hearing Officer’s ruling on the offer of proof, the Board affirmed the Hearing Officer’s rulings including the refusal to accept the offer of proof into evidence and denied the employer’s request for review of the Acting Regional Director’s decision directing an election in the unit the union had requested in a perfunctory two line denial.

The Court’s Decision

After the election, the employer sought review by the Court of Appeals and the Board sought to have its findings affirmed and the order directing the employer to bargain with the union enforced.

The Court rejected the Board’s decision. The Court held that the requirement that the Board’s decision be supported by substantial evidence included a requirement that the Board consider and analyze contrary evidence as well.  The Court concluded that the offer of proof plainly showed evidence that countered the conclusion of a community of interest for three reasons.  First, neither the union nor the Board challenged the employer’s assertion that its business was comprised of two separate and discrete operations—labor and recycling – performing different types of work at different facilities.  Second, the Court concluded the Board erred when it ignored the facts contained in the employer’s offer of proof, which evidenced a lack of interchange among the employees in the two operations, a fact the Acting Regional Director acknowledged and cited as a justification for a mail ballot election.  Third, the Board ignored the significant differences among the employees’ wages, hours and working conditions.  Based on the Board’s failure to address the contrary evidence, the Court granted the employer’s Request for Review and remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings.

Judge Karen L. Croft Henderson, who authored the decision, added a separate concurrence in which she admonished the Board for issuing a two sentence order which, like the Region, failed to adequately consider the evidence outlined in the Offer of Proof.

What This Case Means For Employers

Although this case was decided under the Board’s pre-2015 expedited election rules, it offers a number of important lessons for cases under the new expedited rules which include increased reliance on offers of proof to avoid lengthy hearings.

First, the Court of Appeals held that the Board’s responsibility to base findings on substantial evidence included the responsibility to review and analyze contrary evidence, even if that evidence is only in an offer of proof that is rejected.

Second, employers, faced with the requirement of presenting an offer of proof, should include in such offer as much specific factual detail as necessary to support its arguments. By so doing, the employer may be able to establish a sufficient record for an appellate court to determine whether the Region and the Board gave the offer adequate consideration.

Finally, under the new election rules, the Board takes the position that an employer waives any issues that it does not raise in the Statement of Position that must be filed with the Regional Director and served on all other parties by noon on the business day prior to the eighth day after the petition is filed.  For that reason it is critical that an employer identify with as much particularity as possible all issues that it intends to raise at the hearing including all issues as to which it may seek to make offers of proof.