In its long awaited decision in Mark Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the United States Supreme Court clearly and unequivocally held that it is a violation of public employees’ First Amendment rights to require that they pay an “agency fee” to the union that is their collective bargaining representative, to cover their “fair share” of their union representative’s bargaining and contract enforcement expenses. The Janus decision overturns the Court’s own 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which had found state and local laws requiring public sector employees to pay such fees to be lawful and constitutional. Commentators expect the decision to have serious economic consequences for unions in the heavily organized public sector.

While the Court in Abood had previously found that such laws requiring employees to pay representation or agency fees if they elected not to become dues paying members were permissible justified and to be upheld on the grounds that (1) they “promoted labor peace” and (2) that the effect of “free riders,” that is workers who benefitted from a union’s efforts but did not contribute to its efforts on their behalf justified mandating employees contribute, the Janus majority rejected both of these legal underpinnings in finding Abood had been improperly decided.

In Janus, Justice Samuel Alito concluded that the fears of interference with labor peace were unfounded based on the experience since 1977, and in any case, that these concerns, even if supported by evidence, could not satisfy the Court’s “exacting scrutiny” test that the majority held should be applied to circumstances such as these, where a state or local government entity sought to compel employees to subsidize the speech of others, i.e. their union representative and union member co-workers, who may endorse or support a union’s goals and objectives in collective bargaining and in its dealings with the employer. Notably, the analysis made clear that the speech in question was not political speech or campaign activity by unions, but rather speech in connection with positions taken in collective bargaining and labor relations. The Court also found that even if the agency fee statutes were evaluated under the less rigorous “strict scrutiny” test, it would have concluded that they were unconstitutional under that test as well.

What Does Janus Mean for Public Sector Employers and Workers?

At this time there are some 22 states in which agency fees are permitted by state or local law and an additional 28 states where they are not authorized. Under federal sector labor laws, the unions that represent employees of federal agencies and entities are not permitted to require employees to pay agency fees or become union members as a condition of continued employment.

With the Janus decision, simply put, provisions in collective bargaining agreements that require public employees to become union members, pay union dues or pay agency or representation fees as a condition of continued employment have been found to be unconstitutional and to impermissibly interfere with public employees’ freedoms of speech and assembly.

What is not yet clear is precisely how and when public sector employers and unions will be applying the decision. However, it is likely that as public employees who object to paying representation fees or paying union dues learn of this decision and the fact that they can no longer be compelled to pay agency fees or dues, employees will tell their employers to discontinue withholding fees and dues and paying them over to unions.

What is also already apparent is that there is likely to be resistance. Already, within hours of the release of the Janus decision, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo issued his own statement signaling his views and opposition to the decision. He also announced his intention to issue an executive order shielding the addresses and phone numbers of public employees to make it more difficult for advocates to reach out to state employees and notify them of their options.

What Does Janus Mean for Public Sector Unions?

Simply put, if public employees exercise their right to stop paying agency fees to the unions that represent them, the unions will feel an immediate and substantial hit in their revenue and all that comes with that. The amounts at stake are substantial. According to a report by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, approximately 200,000 public workers in New York State alone are presently paying agency fees of more than $110 million dollars annually.

The Court was not unmindful of the financial and other impacts that the decision will have on unions that represent public employees. As Justice Alito wrote

We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term, and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members. . . “But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received” until now.

The impact in other states like California, Illinois (where the plaintiff in Janus is employed) and other states will clearly be substantial.

What Does Janus Mean in the Private Sector?

The Court’s decision in Janus is limited in its direct and immediate impact to public sector and does not apply to private sector employees who are covered by collective bargaining agreements containing union security clauses. Those clauses, which are only found in contracts in states that are not right to work states, require employees to become union members or pay agency or representation fees as a condition of continued employments.

That said, it is highly likely that the Janus decision will have spill-over effects in the private sector. As we reported last year, unions have a duty to make clear to employees who they represent under contracts containing union security clauses, that employees have rights and are not required to pay the same amount as agency fees as those who are members.

Additionally, the past few years have seen a resurgence in states passing laws to become right to work states and outlaw mandatory membership and/or agency fees. It can be anticipated that the Janus decision will likely result in more states and advocacy groups considering such legislation.

Featured on Employment Law This Week: General Counsel Peter Robb has issued a memo to National Labor Relations Board regional directors that offers guidance in applying the Board’s Boeing decision when considering the legality of rules.

Robb instructs the regional offices to refer cases when there is uncertainty to the Board’s Division of Advice for direction. The General Counsel memo that was issued at the beginning of June provides very specific guidance regarding the placement of work rules into each of the three categories. The memo summarizes each of the three categories of rules. It provides concrete examples of the rules falling into each category and offers a brief analysis of the balancing test applied to each example. What is also significant about the memo is it serves as a reminder as to what has not changed since the Boeing decision.

Watch the segment below.

In Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis  (a companion case to NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA and Ernst & Young v. Morris), the U.S. Supreme Court finally and decisively put to rest the Obama-era NLRB’s aggressive contention that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prevented class action waiver in employees arbitration agreements, finding such waivers are both protected by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and not prohibited by the NLRA. In its 5-4 decision, the Court explained that the NLRB’s interpretation of the FAA was not entitled to deference because it is not the agency charged by Congress with the interpretation and enforcement of that statute.

The Supreme Court started with two questions:

Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration? Or do employees have a right to always bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?

The Court first answered these questions plainly, noting that though as a matter of policy there could be a debate as to what the answer should be, “as a matter of the law the answer is clear” that class action waivers are legal under the NLRA and enforceable under the FAA, going on to systematically dismantle the arguments made by former NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin, Jr. and related labor union and plaintiffs’ attorneys in amici briefs filed with the Court.

The Court’s majority opinion authored by Justice Gorsuch started with some history, noting that for the first 77 years of the NLRA there had been no argument by the Board that class action waivers violated the NLRA and that the FAA and the NLRA coexisted perfectly without conflict. As recently as 2010 the NLRB’s General Counsel took the position that class action waivers did not violate the NLRA. It was not until the Obama-era NLRB’s decision in the D.R. Horton that the NLRB took the then novel position that the NLRA’s “other concerted activities” protections created a substantive right to class action procedures. The Court then recited decades of precedent rejecting the relatively newly found aggressive NLRB position.

With respect to the FAA the Court reinforced that the courts must rigorously enforce arbitration agreements by their terms. The Court soundly rejected the NLRB’s argument that the FAA’s savings clause supported the NLRB’s position, explaining that the savings clause only applies to defenses applicable to any contract disputes, such as fraud, duress and unconscionably. In what could be helpful to arguments that other attempts to limit arbitration which are found in or being proposed in various state and local laws such as prohibiting arbitration of harassment claims or wage and hour claims under California’s Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) should be found valid notwithstanding the clear language of the FAA, the Court pointed out that the purpose of the FAA was to combat historic opposition to arbitration and, citing AT&T Mobility v. Conception’s validation of class action waivers generally, warned that the courts must guard against attempts to pervert the purposes of the FAA:

Just as judicial antagonism toward arbitration before the Arbitration Act’s enactment “manifested itself in a great variety of devices and formulas declaring arbitration against public policy,” Concepcion teaches that we must be alert to new devices and formulas that would achieve much the same result today.

With respect to the NLRA the Court, in addition to noting the historic context of both enforcement of arbitration agreements and the statute’s coexistence with the FAA, the Court observed that the NLRA’s protection of “other concerted activities” applies to subjects related to the right to organize, be represented by a union and bargain collectively, as well as other similar efforts of employees to freely associate with their coworkers in the workplace. Though not directly addressed by the Court, the language of the Opinion implies a much narrower reading of Section 7 rights under the NLRA than has historically been exposed by the Board and courts.

Finally, the Court addressed the fundamental underlying reality of the issue that the Board and the plaintiff employees’ position is an attempt to squeeze an elephant through a mouse hole by trying to use a novel interpretation of the NLRA to enforce FLSA rights in a manner which circumvents decades of established precedence. Ultimately, the Court ruled that in an employee can agree to arbitrate their FLSA rights under the FLSA, certainly nothing in the NLRA operates to prohibit such agreements.

On Wednesday, the Senate narrowly confirmed John Ring, a management-side labor attorney from Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, to the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or the “Board”).  With this vote, Ring fills the last remaining open seat on the Board, which was previously held by former Chairman Philip Miscimarra.  Ring’s term will expire on December 16, 2022.  The confirmation vote of 50-48 was largely down party lines, with only two Democrats voting in favor of Ring’s confirmation.  The strong opposition from the Democrats is likely due to the perceived efforts of the Trump administration to install pro-business members to the Board.  Several prominent Democratic senators, including Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), made very critical statements about Ring ahead of the vote.

On Thursday April 12th, the President announced that he was naming Ring to serve as Chairman of the Board. That action does not require Senate confirmation.  Marvin Kaplan who was previously named Acting Chairman will continue as a Board member. The addition of Ring to the NLRB once again gives Republican-appointees a 3-2 majority, which likely means several Obama-era pro-labor rulings will be overturned in the coming months and years.  When the Republican appointees briefly had a 3-2 majority at the end of 2017, several Obama-era decisions were overturned, including setting forth a new standard to evaluate handbook rules and overturning the Obama Board’s decision in Specialty Health Care eliminating micro-units.  Notably, with Ring’s appointment, it is likely that the Board will again revisit the standards for determining joint-employer status. In its  December 2017 decision in Hy-Brand  the Board overturned the Browning Ferris Industries decision, which had adopted a more lenient standard for determining joint employer status, and returned to a requirement of “direct and immediate control.”  While Hy-Brand was recently rescinded, it is expected that the newly constituted Board will  likely consider the issue again in the near future.

We will continue to monitor and provide developments on the Hy-Brand and other notable NLRB decisions.

Featured on Employment Law This Week: NLRB Vacates Hy-Brand Joint-Employer Decision

The NLRB’s Browning-Ferris test is once again the law of the land — A 3-member panel has reversed the Board’s December Hy-Brand decision, which had nixed the Browning-Ferris joint-employer test, and returned to a “direct control” standard. The reversal comes after an inspector general report that found that Member William Emanuel should have recused himself. The Browing-Ferris test considers a company a “joint-employer” if it has the right to exercise either direct or “indirect control” over employees. Once the Senate acts on the nomination of republican John Ring to fill the Board’s vacant fifth seat, the Board is expected to once again roll back Browning-Ferris with a test like the one in Hy-Brand.

Watch the segment below and read our recent post.

On February 26, 2018, in a unanimous decision by Chairman Marvin Kaplan and Members Mark Pearce and Lauren McFerren, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or the “Board”) reversed and vacated its December 2017 decision in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. (“Hy-Brand”), which had overruled the joint-employer standard set forth in the 2015 Browning-Ferris Industries (“Browning-Ferris”) decision. The decision followed the release of a finding that a potential conflict-of-interest had tainted the Board’s 3-2 vote. What this means, at least for the moment, is that the lower standard for determining joint-employer status in Browning-Ferris is the law once again.

What Is The Browning-Ferris Standard?

As we previously reported, under the Browning-Ferris standard, “[t]he Board may find that two or more entities are joint employers of a single work force if they are both employers within the meaning of the common law, and if they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment.”  Under Browning-Ferris, the primary inquiry is whether the purported joint-employer possesses the actual or potential authority to exercise control over the primary employer’s employees, regardless of whether the company has in fact exercised such authority.  This standard is viewed as employee and union-friendly, and led to the issuance of complaints alleging joint-employer status in an increased number of circumstances.

What Did Hy-Brand Set As the Test for Joint-Employer Status?

Later, in Hy-Brand, as we noted, the Board rejected the Browning-Ferris standard and returned to a more employer-friendly standard, based on the common law test for determining whether an employer-employee relationship exists as a predicate to finding a joint-employer relationship and adding more than just the right to exercise control.  Under Hy-Brand, a finding of joint-employer status would require proof that putative joint employer entities have actually exercised joint control over essential employment terms (rather than merely having “reserved” the right to exercise control), the control must be “direct and immediate” (rather than indirect), and joint-employer status will not result from control that is “limited and routine.”  This decision had stopped at least some cases relying on Browning-Ferris in their tracks.

What Happens Next?

While Hy-Brand has been reversed for the time being, we expect the Board, once the Senate acts on President Trump’s nomination of John Ring to fill the seat vacated this past December by then Chairman Philip Miscimarra, to reinstate the joint-employment standard articulated in Hy-Brand or a similar standard.

As noted above, the reversal of Hy-Brand follows the ethics memo published by NLRB Inspector General David Berry finding that Member William Emanuel should have abstained from the decision in Hy-Brand because of the fact that the law firm of which he was a member was involved in the case.  There are a number of other cases in which similar conflict issues have arisen, also arguing that Member Emanuel should recuse himself.

Congress May Act

Separate and part from a future Board decision, as we noted in November, the House of Representatives passed the Save Local Business Act (H.R. 3441) which, if enacted, would amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act to establish a Hy-Brand-like direct control standard for joint employer liability.  The reversal of Hy-Brand may now put increased pressure on the Senate to pass the bill.

What Should Employers Do Now?

Employers and other parties with matters before the Board involving joint-employer issues now, whether in the context of unfair labor practice cases or representation cases, now will need to focus on both the Browning-Ferris standard and the Hy-Brand test to ensure that they preserve all arguments and issues recognizing the likelihood that sooner rather than later the Board will adopt a test that requires more than is required under Browning-Ferris to establish the existence of a joint-employer relationship, with all of the attendant responsibilities.  We will continue to follow this issue and report on developments.

Featured on Employment Law This Week: Should the misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor be found to violate the NLRA?

The National Labor Relations Board is seeking amicus briefs on whether the misclassification of an employee as an independent contractor should be found to violate the National Labor Relations Act. Former NLRB general counsel Richard Griffin argued that misclassification violates the NLRA because it impacts the rights that employees have under the Act, including the right to engage in concerted activities with co-workers, join a union and engage in bargaining. To date, the Board has not ruled on the question. Amicus briefs must be filed by April 16th.

Watch the segment below and read our recent post.

Resolving a split between circuits, this week the United States Supreme Court, in CNH Industrial v. Reese rejected what has come to be known as the Yard-Man standard, and reaffirmed that collective bargaining agreements must be interpreted according ordinary contract principles.  Although the Supreme Court has long held ordinary cannons of contract construction apply to collective bargaining agreements, some federal courts developed a specialized set of inferences, known as the Yard-Man inferences, which allowed them to read beyond the actual contract terms, to reach what in some cases have been more employee-friendly results when ordinary interpretation principles would not.

The Supreme Court’s first attempt rein this concept was in 2015,  in M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett.  There, the Sixth Circuit had applied the Yard-Man inferences to read into collective bargaining agreement language an intention on the part of the employer and union that retiree medical benefits vest for life because the contract did not expressly hold that the retiree benefits were not ongoing beyond the contract term.   The Supreme Court disagreed with the Sixth Circuit, holding that the collective bargaining agreement’s silence on the question could not be construed as  evidencing  a presumptive intent.   Rather, it opined that ordinary construction rules supported a finding that the obligation to provide retiree medical benefits would not continue beyond the term of the agreement unless the contract expressly states otherwise.    

In Reese, the Sixth Circuit in essence repackaged and repurposed the Yard-Man inferences to again hold that the obligation continued beyond the term of the contract notwithstanding the absence of express language.  Here, the Sixth Circuit pointed to the collective bargaining agreement’s silence to find “ambiguity” rather than “intent.”   After concluding that there was such an ambiguity, the Sixth Circuit concluded that it was appropriate to consider extrinsic evidence to resolve the ambiguity.  The extrinsic evidence, according to the Sixth Circuit, supported lifetime vesting of retiree medical benefits.

In Reese, in a Per Curiam opinion, the Supreme Court resoundingly rejected this approach and remanded the case to the Sixth Circuit.  It admonished the Yard-Men inferences “are not a valid way to read a contract” and “cannot be used to create a reasonable interpretation any more than they can be used to create a presumptive one.”  Rather, pursuant to ordinary interpretation rules, the contract’s silence on vesting meant that retiree benefits, like other benefits, do not survive the contract.      

On a micro level, this decision ensures that, at least in the case of contracts that do not expressly establish a lifetime retiree medical benefit for covered employees, employers will not be saddled with  substantial financial burdens they neither bargained for nor anticipated, and preserves the flexibility needed to bargain over such benefits going forward. On a macro level, though, this decision has far more reaching implications – it ensures uniformity across the judicial landscape and stands a bulwark against interpretist judges attempting to rewrite non-ambiguous collective bargaining agreements, substituting their own judgment for those of the contracting parties, because they may think it is “fair” to employees to do so.

Featured on Employment Law This Week:  General Counsel Peter Robb could be signaling a shift at the NLRB.

Robb has reportedly suggested structural changes that could establish a new layer of management between the General Counsel and the field. These reports come as the NLRB seeks to adjust to cuts to its budget and a decline in case filings. If implemented, the changes could remove authority from the Regional Directors and shift more decision-making to the GC. Sources report that some changes are likely before the new budget year next October.

Watch the segment below and read our recent post.

 

In the months following Donald Trump’s inauguration, those interested in the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) waited anxiously for the new President to fill key positions that would allow the Board to reconsider many of the actions of the past eight years. Over the last six months, the Board has begun to revisit, and overrule, several union-friendly and pro-employee Obama-era Board decisions. The Board’s new General Counsel has also given clear guidance as to where else employers can expect to see his office pursue further changes in how the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or “Act”) will be interpreted and enforced.

In this Take 5, we offer an overview of key aspects of what the new Board has done to date, and what can be expected going forward:

  1. What to Look Out for This Year at the NLRB
  2. Hy-Brand Industrial Overrules Browning-Ferris and Sets New NLRB Standard for Determining Joint-Employer Status
  3. NLRB Ruling in The Boeing Co. Establishes New Standards Governing Employee Handbook Rules and Policies
  4. The Trump Board Signals a Return to Traditional Standards in Representation Cases
  5. As the NLRB Steps Back, Cities Step Forward

Read the full Take 5 online or download the PDF.