Labor relations professionals come with a variety of skillsets and offerings, from labor & employment attorneys to persuaders to resource providers. The right labor relations professional can provide insight and advice in the most difficult of situations. Consulting a labor expert is important during any kind of transition or change, but vital during union organizing.
In August 2011, the paratransit services company, Allied Medical Transport, decided to audit the daily fares of drivers. An employer has a right to take such reasonable action, and conducting internal audits is a business best practice. The audit was limited, but the review of daily manifests and receipts of several drivers revealed there were discrepancies. So the CEO informed the drivers and required them to pay the money owed to the company. There were no disciplinary actions taken during the investigation.
Two drivers initially refused to pay, but one relented and paid the money. The other employee refused, saying he didn’t owe it. A second audit was started that included all employees
Enter the Union (And No Labor Relations Pro)
Two months later, in October 2011, the Transport Workers Union of America, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial organizations, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), asking to represent Allied’s employees. The CEO, who until that point had acted reasonably, proceeded to tell the employees it was futile to vote for unionization, and the union couldn’t help them. He also told them they should come directly to him with their grievances.
Two employees – Fertil and Nicolas – actively supported the union. They solicited union cards, distributed union flyers and spoke at union meetings. When a union meeting was held at a hotel near Allied, the CEO was seen in his car parked close to the entrance. The employees voted for the union on December 2, 2011.
Employer Changes Course From Best Practice To Anti-Union
Several days later, the second fare audit was concluded, and the results indicated that 77 out of 120 drivers had fare discrepancies. The CEO called Nicolas, the union supporter, and told him he had a fare discrepancy of $226.50.
Nicolas explained that sometimes the fare collection machine wouldn’t work, so he would place the money in an envelope and deposit the envelope through a slot. He also explained how his deposits could be verified to prove he was telling the truth. Nicolas said he didn’t owe it but would pay it to avoid suspension. He was suspended anyway during the investigation.
A similar process was followed for Fertil, who was told he owed $7. Fertil agreed to pay it, but Allied would not accept the payment and suspended Fertil pending the investigation’s outcome. Allied never investigated whether the two employees were telling the truth, fired both Fertil and Nicolas, and reported the missing money to the police.
The NLRB filed a complaint against Allied that claimed the company violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) sections 8(a)(1), (3) and (5) by illegally interfering with protected union activities, illegally retaliating against Fertil and Nicolas for their union activities and changing its disciplinary policies regarding fare shortages without telling the union.
The NLRB decided that Allied had violated the NLRA by telling employees they shouldn’t vote for the unions, implying there would be job consequences, and by retaliating against the two employees for union activities. The Board did decide there wasn’t enough evidence to say Allied had unilaterally changed its disciplinary policies concerning fare shortages.
A Labor Relations Professional Could Have Helped
Obviously, the CEO didn’t consult a labor relations professional. Instead, the company forged ahead in trying to stop union organizing by committing a series of actions that violated labor law. This is a case with a laundry list of reasons as to why you should always consult a labor law expert.
Allied’s CEO knew, without a doubt, that employees were discussing possible unionization. He parked outside a union organizing meeting! That means his managers and supervisors knew, too. Apparently no one warned the CEO that he was making serious and costly mistakes, or if they did, he didn’t heed the advice.
Before the union vote, the CEO was patient and generous, not implementing any disciplinary actions. After the union vote, things got ugly for the two people who were the known union organizers via suspensions, firings, a police report and no internal investigation to verify money was actually missing. Allied’s CEO even refused to take the money he asked to be repaid.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read this case and quickly realize a labor relations professional would have advised the CEO on two critical points. First, the employer would have learned the right response to union organizing and perhaps kept the union out. Second, the employer wouldn’t have become the poster child for what not to say and do when employees do participate in union organizing.