News & Commentary

January 25, 2022

Iman Masmoudi

Iman Masmoudi is a student at Harvard Law School.

The National Labor Relations Board Region 13 office announced a settlement yesterday that marks the beginning of implementation of General Counsel Abruzzo’s recent directive to seek more expanded remedies and damages, including consequential damages. The settlement provides backpay, consequential damages, letters of apologies, and a remedial notice reading to “workers at American Backflow & Fire Prevention, Inc. in Wauconda, Illinois who were victims of unfair labor practices.” The workers’ union was certified last June and followed shortly by a strike during July and August 2021 after the unlawful termination of a worker for union organizing. Workers filed a complaint alleging that their employer had violated the National Labor Relations Act by “interrogating employees about their union activities and the union activities of their coworkers; threatening employees [..], because of their support for the union; threatening employees that it would not recognize or bargain with the union; promising employees raises and improved working conditions if they rejected the union; retaliating against and discharging employees in retaliation for their protected concerted and/or union activities; and failing to provide the union with information that is relevant to its role as bargaining representative.” The consequential damages achieved in this settlement will go towards compensating workers who suffered “financial hardship as a result of their unlawful discharge.”

The 8400+ striking Kroger workers in Colorado voted last night to approve a new 3-year contract achieved after striking for over a week. The contract includes raises over $5 an hour for some workers, better healthcare, pension plans, and enhanced safety and security in the stores. The strike earned national coverage and solidarity, including from Senator Bernie Sanders who condemned Kroger’s treatment of workers and claimed it was “corporate greed.”

A Judge lifted an order yesterday evening that temporarily prevented seven former Thedacare employees from beginning work at Ascension Northeast Wisconsin, a competitor for the Thedacare network of hospitals. Amidst the overlapping phenomena of workers’ increased bargaining power and Covid-19 shortages, the workers sought better compensation and were offered a larger package at Ascension. Before leaving, they gave Thedacare the opportunity to match the offer, which Thedacare refused. Thedacare then sued Ascension, claiming the workers’ departure would endanger patients’ lives, and requested a temporary restraining order from the judge in order to enforce a more gradual transition. The order was lifted yesterday evening and the workers are set to begin at Ascension today. The workers were at-will employees and did not have a fixed term at Thedacare that they were obligated to work through.

Bloomberg reports that high turnover at Amazon facilities in Alabama could lead to a changed result in the union vote which failed last Fall. The NLRB ordered a redo for the election after it found that Amazon disrupted the process by installing ballot boxes near the employee entrance. Nearly half of the 6,143 eligible workers are new and did not participate in the previous election, which voted down a union 1,798-798 (with 505 contested ballots). Local labor organizers are hopeful, citing a “reinvigorated labor movement” with workers wearing t-shirts to support the union, speaking with colleagues one-on-one and even going to employees’ homes. “The loss was a blessing,” said Kristina Bell. “It made us motivated to win even more.”

A report yesterday in Huffpost highlighted the findings of a judge at the National Labor Relations Board that Cemex, the ready-mix concrete company, had committed “extraordinary violations” in a recent union election in Las Vegas and California by, among other things, hiring a union-busting firm whom it paid over $1 million to suppress organizing efforts. The NLRB judge ordered reinstatement and back pay for wrongly terminated workers and access to job sites for Teamsters organizers. Cemex claims it did not violate any laws and that workers don’t want a union, pointing to the election results which the union lost by just 13 votes. Cemex hired the well-known union-suppressing firm the Labor Relations Institute and was notable for spending over $1 million, an unusually high sum, on these consultants hired to convince the local cement truck drivers a union was not in their interest. These consultants, the judge found, violated the law by telling workers Cemex might simply choose to close the factories if a union was formed. Cemex Managers also broke the law by telling workers not to speak to union organizers, inviting them to work elsewhere if they wanted a union, and asking why they weren’t wearing “vote no” paraphernalia ahead of the election. They also wrongfully terminated Diana Ornelas, a cement truck driver and union-supporter. Teamsters are expected to file for another election, and if they do so, the remedies imposed by the NLRB judge are meant to, in his words, “dissipate as much as possible the lingering atmosphere of fear” Cemex created.

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