We have reported on several Board decisions issued by a new Republican majority in the final days of 2017, but questions remain as to what issues the Board will address next to scale back on Obama-era precedent. In recent weeks, Republican Board Members have provided some hints in a pair of footnotes in two unpublished decisions.
Raytheon Network Centric Systems, 365 NLRB No. 161 (Dec. 15, 2017) (“Raytheon”), is one of several decisions issued this month by the National Labor Relations Board’s (the “Board”) new Republican majority which reverse Obama-era precedent. Raytheon overrules the Board’s decision E.I. du Pont de Nemours, 364 NLRB No. 113 (2016) (“DuPont”), which limited the changes employers can make unilaterally in a union environment. Raytheon clarifies the degree to which employers may rely on past practice to make unilateral changes to terms of employment once a collective bargaining agreement has expired, and, more specifically, offers welcome guidance to employers with regard to continuation of health benefits under those circumstances.
During a week that brought several notable decisions, the National Labor Relations Board issued a ruling on Friday, December 15, 2017, overturning its controversial 2011 Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, 357 NLRB 934 (2011) (“Specialty Healthcare”) decision, which held that in order for employees to be included in a collective bargaining unit, employers had to prove the employees shared an “overwhelming community of interest” with one another. The unions argued that the “overwhelming community of interest” burden was all but impossible to meet and effectively allowed unions to create “micro-units” of any number, group, or sub-group of employees the unions saw fit. This in turn meant that an employer could be faced with negotiating collective bargaining agreements with multiple groups of employees who often shared the same schedule, workplace, and general terms and conditions of employment, but nonetheless were represented by different locals or divisions of the same or multiple unions. In one particularly glaring example, the Board approved a union’s request for separate bargaining units in each of nine different graduate student departments at Yale University despite the fact that the union already represented existing, university-wide bargaining units.
On December 14, 2017, in a 3-2 decision along party lines, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) issued a decision in The Boeing Company, 365 NLRB No. 154 (2017) case. This is a significant and long-awaited victory for employers grappling with unfair labor practice charges stemming from facially neutral workplace rules and signals the Board’s intent to retreat from regulating non-union activity. Specifically, Boeing rescinds the onerous workplace rule standard in Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia, 343 NLRB 646 (2004) in favor of a new, more rational test.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a much-anticipated decision on Thursday, overruling its controversial 2015 Browning-Ferris decision that unions and employees argued drastically expanded the definition and scope of the Board’s joint-employer doctrine. In Browning-Ferris, the Board departed from decades of precedent and held that entities who merely possessed—as opposed to directly and immediately exercised—control over workers would be deemed joint employers for purposes of assessing liability under the National Labor Relations Act. The Board used the Browning-Ferris decision to expand its reach under the joint-employer doctrine to include, for example, companies that relied on staffing agencies and in some cases, parent companies that did not exercise immediate or direct control over a subsidiary’s workers, but had the potential authority to affect certain terms and conditions of employment. The Browning-Ferris decision faced heavy criticism from employers as well as an appeal of the decision itself to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
On September 15, the White House announced that President Trump will nominate Peter B. Robb, a longtime labor and employment attorney, to become the National Labor Relation Board’s next general counsel. Assuming Robb is confirmed by the Senate, he would likely take over his position hopefully in early November following the end of the incumbent’s General Counsel’s term and Robb’s swearing in.
On August 3, 2017, the U.S. Senate confirmed Marvin Kaplan, a former Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission attorney, to fill one of the two vacant seats on the National Labor Relations Board. Kaplan’s confirmation moves the Board one step closer to a Republican majority. Kaplan was confirmed on a 50-48 party-line vote by the Republican-controlled Senate. Kaplan joins NLRB Board Chairman Philip Miscimarra on the Republican side of the NLRB. Mark Gaston Pearce and Lauren McFerran are the Democrat Board members.
On June 27, President Trump nominated labor attorney William J. Emanuel to fill the last vacancy of the five seats on the National Labor Relations Board. Emanuel is a management-side labor attorney who has practiced many years before the Board. Emanuel has extensive experience arguing in support of employee class and collective action waivers, including involvement in multiple cases that have either been before the Supreme Court or directly led to precedent that the Supreme Court is now set to consider.
As we have said in previous posts, President Trump’s election and now nomination of two NLRB members could signal a tide turn in favor of employers before the Board. Emanuel’s nomination comes a little over a week after Trump nominated attorney Marvin E. Kaplan to the Board on June 19. If confirmed by the Senate, Emanuel and Kaplan would give the NLRB its first Republican majority since 2008. With a likely more employer-friendly majority, the NLRB could be poised to roll back some of the previous administration’s labor initiatives.
On June 12, 2017, the Office of Labor Management Standards of the Department of Labor (DOL) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to rescind the controversial “persuader rule” implemented by the DOL under the Obama administration. This rule sought to require disclosure of advice to employers from consultants and attorneys who engage in activities designed to persuade employees not to unionize. This announcement is on the heels of the DOL’s June 7, 2017, press release withdrawing two administrative interpretations issued by the DOL under the Obama administration concerning misclassification of independent contractors and joint employment, as discussed in a previous post. The recent flurry of activity by the DOL indicates that the Trump administration is following through with its promise to loosen many of the onerous restrictions placed on employers by the DOL in the Obama-era.
President Trump nominated attorney Marvin Kaplan to fill one of two vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board on June 19, 2017. Kaplan currently works on the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and previously served as Republican counsel to the House Education and Workforce Committee which, among other things, provides oversight of the NLRB. The five-seat NLRB currently consists of only three members: Chairman Philip Miscimarra (R) and Members Mark Gaston Pearce (D) and Lauren McFerran (D). With members appointed (subject to Senate approval) to 5-year terms, the NLRB is typically composed of three members of the sitting President’s party and two from the other party. If Kaplan’s appointment is approved, it could clear the way for President Trump to appoint a third Republican, giving the NLRB its first Republican majority since 2008.