On April 24, 2023, just ten days after Rutgers University faculty ended their week-long strike, Governor Murphy signed bill A4772/S3215 providing workers with increased access to unemployment insurance benefits during labor disputes. The provisions of the bill include:
On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board” or “NLRB”), with a majority of appointees by President Biden, i.e., “the Biden-Board,” reversed the short-lived General Motors LLC, 369 NLRB No. 127 (2020) decision and reinstated the Atlantic Steel test for analyzing whether an employee’s grossly unprofessional conduct when engaging in union or other protected concerted activity loses the protection of the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”). The Board issued Lion Elastomers, LLC, 372 NLRB No. 83 (2023) and reinstated Atlantic Steel 245 NLRB 814 (1979) and its progeny, making it more difficult for employers to discipline employees who engage in outrageous, otherwise inappropriate, speech and/or actions in the course of engaging in union or other protected concerted activity.
On Thursday, April 20, 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) released a decision in Noah’s Ark Processors, LLC d/b/a WR Reserve, 372 NLRB No. 80, in which it laid out sweeping remedies the Board will consider imposing in cases involving so-called “repeat offenders” of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or the “Act”).
In Noah’s Ark, the Board affirmed findings made by an NLRB Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) that the employer bargained in bad faith with the union representing its employees, implemented its final offer without achieving overall impasse, engaged in regressive bargaining and other impermissible bargaining tactics, and threatened and interrogated employees because of their protected activity, all of which came on the heels of the employer defying a previous federal court injunction related to earlier bad faith bargaining and other unfair labor practice allegations. The Board not only upheld the make-whole remedies ordered by the ALJ, but also announced “the potential remedies the Board will consider in cases involving [employers] who have shown a proclivity to violate the Act or who have engaged in egregious or widespread misconduct.” In doing so, the Board ordered remedies beyond those imposed by the ALJ, noting that the Board “[has] broad discretion to exercise [its] remedial authority under Section 10(c) of the Act even when no party has taken issue with the judge’s recommended remedies or requested additional forms of relief.”
As featured in #WorkforceWednesday: This week, we examine how several recent pronouncements and actions by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and its General Counsel’s office are creating new challenges for employers, both union and non-union.
The General Counsel (“GC”) of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”), Jennifer Abruzzo, has opened the vault and released previously unseen Advice Memoranda from her Obama-era predecessor General Counsel Richard Griffin, in her bid to continue to upend long-standing Board law. Abruzzo, who was Deputy General Counsel under Griffin, and who now heads the Office of the General Counsel, has released a slew of historic Advice Memoranda that shed light on her legal theory to limit employer’s free speech rights and their ability to communicate with employees about the real-world consequences of unionization on the workplace and the employer-employee relationship.
Approximately a month after the Board issued McLaren Macomb, 372 NLRB No. 58, which left employers scrambling to decipher its unclear impact on both unionized and non-unionized workplaces, Jennifer Abruzzo, the General Counsel (“GC”) of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) released guidance outlining her views on the decision’s implications and meaning in Memorandum GC 23-05 on March 22, 2023. The GC’s Memo contains an FAQ in response to inquiries the NLRB has received about the McLaren Macomb decision and outlines Abruzzo’s plans for enforcement of the decision.
On February 21, 2023, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) continued its aggressive application of the National Labor Relations Act (“Act” or “NLRA”) to workplaces without union representation and lessened the value of severance agreements for all employers by finding it unlawful for an employer to merely proffer a severance agreement that includes broad non-disparagement and confidentiality provisions to an employee. In McLaren Macomb, the Board held that a severance agreement that contains a confidentiality clause and a non-disparagement clause was unlawful because, in the Board’s view, these provisions impermissibly infringe on employees’ rights under the Act. Specifically, the Board found that these two provisions limit employees’ ability to discuss their wages, hours, and working conditions (which could include disparaging remarks) with other employees, prevent employees from assisting other employees seeking assistance, and hinder employees themselves from seeking assistance from the NLRB, unions, and other outside organizations.
On January 17, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit partially reversed and partially upheld a District Court decision that enjoined five rules promulgated by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) in 2019 by the Trump-era Board (“2019 Rule”) to modify the Board’s representation election procedures. The 2019 Rule attempted to ease some of the “quickie election” rules established in 2014 by the Obama-era Board (“2014 Rule”). For a further discussion of the 2019 Rule, see “NLRB Issues Proposed Rule to Scale Back 2014 Expedited Election Rules.”
The D.C. Circuit held that because the Trump-era Board did not seek public notice and comment as required under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) when issuing the 2019 Rule, “substantive” rule changes could not take effect, but “procedural” rule changes were valid under the procedural exception to the APA’s requirement for notice and comment.
The General Counsel (“GC”) of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) is urging the Board to upend nearly 60 years of precedent and adopt a new legal standard that significantly limits employers’ ability to hire permanent replacements for striking employees. Under current law, employers have a general right to permanently replace workers who go on strike to obtain economic concessions from their employer, so long as an employer does not hire the replacements for an “independent unlawful purpose.” In an Advice Memorandum released on December 30, 2022, the GC confirmed her intention to push for the Board to impose a more restrictive standard that would require employers to show specific business reasons justifying the decision to replace strikers.
On December 16, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board (”Board”) issued its decision in Bexar County II, which restricts the right of property owners to deny off-duty contract workers access to the property for the purpose of engaging in activities protected under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”). In line with the current Board’s efforts to undo Trump-era decisions and reinterpret the Act to dramatically expand employees’ Section 7 rights and weaken property owners’ rights to control their property, the Board overturned its own precedent on contract workers’ off-duty access and reinstated its standard first established in the 2011 decision in New York New York Hotel & Casino . The Board’s decision in Bexar County II makes clear that it prioritizes contract workers’ access to a third-party’s property for Section 7 activities over the property owner’s own interests in their property. 
On December 14, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) issued a decision in American Steel Construction, Inc., reinstating its “overwhelming community of interest” Specialty Healthcare  test that gave rise to micro-bargaining units, which are smaller bargaining units that scored unions numerous victories during the Obama administration. In so doing, the Board overruled PCC Structurals  and The Boeing Co.,  both of which restored and refined the traditional “community of interest” standard used to evaluate challenges to a petitioned-for bargaining unit on the basis it excluded necessary employees.
On December 13, 2022, the National Labor Relations Board (“Board” or “NLRB”) issued a decision that greatly broadens the remedies available for violations of the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”). Prior to this decision, the Board’s “make whole” remedies for more than 80 years have generally included only backpay, reasonable search-for-work expenses, and interim employment expenses.
In an Advice Memorandum dated April 20, 2022 and released on November 30, 2022, the Division of Advice within the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB” or “Board”) Office of the General Counsel urged the Board to overturn existing Board law to significantly lower the standard for when an employer must furnish the union with its general financial information. This latest push to bolster unions during bargaining follows the NLRB’s General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo’s (“GC”) issuance of Memorandum GC 21-04 regarding Mandatory Submissions to Advice on August 12, 2021, wherein she signaled her intent to change this standard.
On October 31, 2022, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) released Memorandum GC 23-02 urging the Board to interpret existing Board law to adopt a new legal framework to find electronic monitoring and automated or algorithmic management practices illegal if such monitoring or management practices interfere with protected activities under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”). The Board’s General Counsel stated in the Memorandum that “[c]lose, constant surveillance and management through electronic means threaten employees’ basic ability to exercise their rights,” and urged the Board to find that an employer violates the Act where the employer’s electronic monitoring and management practices, when viewed as a whole, would tend to “interfere with or prevent a reasonable employee from engaging in activity protected by the Act.” Given that position, it appears that the General Counsel believes that nearly all electronic monitoring and automated or algorithmic management practices violate the Act.
Employees’ free choice and their right to a secret-ballot election on union membership are potentially at risk, given the latest development from the Office of the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”). On April 11, 2022, the NLRB’s General Counsel filed a brief urging a change in long-standing precedent, demanding that the Board force employers to recognize unions as the representative of their employees without first allowing employees the opportunity to cast their votes on union membership in a secret-ballot election held by the Board. The only real requirement for this dramatic result is that the union present signed authorization cards from a majority of the employees that ostensibly confirm the employees’ desire to be represented by the union and that the employer decline recognition of the union without a good faith doubt as to the union’s majority. This brief is General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo’s first major move to follow through on her previously stated goal of restoring this standard—known as the Joy Silk doctrine—which was abandoned more than 50 years ago.
The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) recently sought public comments on the continued use of videoconference technology to conduct hearings. The co-chairs of Epstein Becker Green’s Labor Management Relations Practice submitted the attached comment arguing against continuing remote hearings because they are less efficient, credible, austere and probative and deprive all parties of due process. Not surprisingly, the NLRB Division of Judges also submitted comments confirming the inadequacies of remote hearings.
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Following on his promises to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen,” President Joe Biden signed the Executive Order on Worker Organizing and Empowerment (“Executive Order”) on April 26, 2021, creating a task force whose purpose is to strengthen unions and make it easier for workers to unionize. Along with endorsing the Protecting the Rights to Organize Act in March, President Biden is affirmatively putting a heavy federal foot on the scale to empower unions and bolster declining union membership, both in the public and private sectors.
The Executive Order ...
On March 30, 2021, the Office of General Counsel of the National Labor Relation Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) released an Obama-era Advice Memorandum, originally prepared in 2016, opining that racially charged comments were protected concerted activity. Just one day later, on March 31, 2021, Acting General Counsel Peter Sung Ohr affirmed in his latest Memorandum (“March 31st Memorandum”) his plan to pursue a broadening of employees’ protections under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA” or “Act”) beyond concerted activities relating to ...
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