An employer’s duty to bargain may change during emergency situations, and the General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board released a series of case summaries Friday to help employers navigate the exceptions. General Counsel Peter Robb summarized nine Board cases addressing both general public emergencies and emergencies particular to individual employers.  Robb did not make any declarations about how the COVID-19 outbreak and associated response might affect bargaining obligations, but the summarized cases provide good examples of bargaining exceptions that may or may not apply.
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Employers with collective bargaining agreements and union relationships know they generally cannot make unilateral changes to terms and conditions of employment.  But in an unprecedented emergency like the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak we are all facing, union bargaining obligations may be relaxed, either based on the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, or under National Labor Relations Board law.  As employers are forced to make ever more difficult operational decisions in the face of this emerging threat, here are some issues unionized businesses should consider when contemplating major workplace changes.
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The last few weeks of a National Labor Relations Board Member’s term can be a busy time.  This is especially true when a Member’s imminent departure will leave the Board without any Members from the minority political party.  The Board historically has avoided major shifts in precedent without the participation of both parties.  Last month was no different.  As the clock wound down on Democrat Lauren McFerran’s term this December, the Board issued a flurry of significant rules and opinions that pare back many of the most anti-employer precedents set during the Obama-era.
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Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board published a final rule modifying its representation case procedures. The final rule takes effect April 17, 2020, and scales back—but does not completely undo—the changes to election regulations instituted by the Obama-era’s Board that have caused employers heartburn since 2015.
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A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board is another in a string of decisions where the Trump-appointed Board has attempted to rebalance a property owner’s rights with the rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act of those individuals who work on the property. In Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation d/b/a Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 368 NLRB No. 46 (2019), the Board overruled its previous precedent and held that a property owner may prohibit Section 7 activity by off-duty employees of a licensee or contractor performing work on the property owner’s premises.

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In Johnson Controls, Inc., 368 NLRB No. 20 (July 3, 2019),  the NLRB adopted a new framework for determining a union’s representative status once an employer has made a lawful anticipatory withdrawal of recognition based on disaffection evidence that the union has lost its majority status. Specifically, under Johnson Controls, a union seeking to demonstrate that it has reacquired majority status must do so in a secret ballot election conducted by the Board, rather than in an unfair labor practice proceeding. 
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