On April 16, newly confirmed member John Ring was sworn in as the fifth member and Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, establishing a Republican-controlled Board. While all has been relatively quiet with regard to rulings from the Board, we will likely see a rise in activity now that the NLRB (with a newly-minted majority) is poised to roll back some of the Obama-era rulings.
The National Labor Relations Board (the “NLRB”) and McDonald’s Corp. have reached a settlement agreement in the long-running employment retaliation case brought against McDonald’s that hinges on whether McDonald’s Corp., as a franchisor, has enough control over its franchisees to be considered a “joint employer” of the franchisees’ employees. The case stems from allegations that McDonald’s unlawfully retaliated against franchisee workers who joined the “Fight for $15” movement. In bringing this case against McDonald’s, the NLRB has argued that even having only “indirect control” over a worker is enough for a franchisor like McDonald’s to be held liable for the employment practices of its franchisees. The NLRB’s case against McDonald’s was bolstered by the Board’s 2015 Browning-Ferris decision, which departed from decades of legal precedent in holding that entities who merely possessed—as opposed to directly and immediately exercised—control over workers could be deemed joint employers for purposes of assessing liability under the National Labor Relations Act.
Recently the National Labor Relations Board invited interested parties and amici to submit briefs in Velox Express, Inc. (15-CA-184006) to address under what circumstances, if any, the Board should deem an employer’s misclassifying statutory employees as independent contractors constitutes a violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”). Briefs from parties and interested amici must be submitted on or before April 16, 2018.
The National Labor Relations Board continues to undo its actions overruling the joint employer test of Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015). Earlier this week the Board vacated its decision in Hy-Brand Industries, the case which had overruled Browning-Ferris.
Shortly after the original Hy-Brand decision, the Board had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to remand the Browning-Ferris case to the Board. At the time, the Browning-Ferris case was pending before the court of appeals on the Board’s petition for enforcement and Browning-Ferris’s petition for review, and had been fully briefed and argued.
We previously informed you of the National Labor Relations Board’s decision in Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. and Brandt Construction Co., 365 NLRB No. 156 (2017), in which the Board overruled the controversial joint employer test which it had announced in Browning-Ferris Industries, 362 NLRB No. 186 (2015).
On February 26, 2018, the Board entered an order vacating the Hy-Brand decision, 366 NLRB No. 26 (2018). It did so in light of a determination by the Board’s Designated Agency Ethics Official, that Board Member William Emanuel “is, and should have been, disqualified from participating in the [Hy-Brand] proceeding.” Accordingly, Browning-Ferris is again the controlling Board law on joint employer status.
It remains to be seen when the Board might re-visit Browning-Ferris through another decision. In the meantime, employers who face joint employer concerns should evaluate their current practices in light of this development.
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.