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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Virginia’s 2020 legislative session is not scheduled to wrap-up until March. But Virginia employers need to pay attention now to several game-changing bills moving through the legislative process and expected to be signed into law this spring.  The Hunton government relations team, working with several lobbying clients, has already helped defeat several of these measures including a proposed repeal of Virginia’s right to work statute.  But others are expected to become law, and could dramatically increase the volume of employment litigation in Virginia.  Employers are therefore well advised to begin planning for these changes now.
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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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As we have previously reported, courts and the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) have released a number of recent decisions favoring the enforceability of arbitration agreements in the employment context. It is now settled law that class-action waivers in arbitration agreements do not violate the National Labor Relations Act or infringe on employees’ Section 7 rights under the Act.  In a recent decision, the NLRB extended this holding to allow employers to implement arbitration programs—including those with class-action waivers—in direct response to litigation by its employees.


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On September 20, 2019, the NLRB issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to exclude undergraduate and graduate students who perform paid work for private colleges and universities in connection with their studies from the definition of employee under the National Labor Relations Act.  The proposed rule would prevent undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants from unionizing or collectively organizing.
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The Seventh Circuit recently upheld a local ordinance in Grande Chute, Wisconsin that banned all private signs on public rights-of-way despite challenges from a local labor union. In 2014, the town of Grande Chute passed a zoning ordinance that banned all private signs on public rights-of-way.  Under the authority of the zoning ordinance, two town officials ordered a local chapter of the Construction and General Laborers’ Union to remove the labor union’s large, 12-foot inflatable rat, which, like other unions across the country, had become a longstanding feature of the Union’s strike tactics.  Specifically, the Union had placed the inflatable rat in a median across from a car dealership that it was targeting.
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As anticipated and previously reported, the Republican-controlled Board is overturning Obama-era rulings. For example, in a recent decision, SuperShuttle Inc. DFW, Inc. (16-RC-010963), the National Labor Relations Board affirmed the Board’s adherence to the traditional common-law agency test.  This decision overrules the NLRB’s 2014 Decision, FedEx Home Delivery, 361 NLRB No. 65, which had modified the NLRB’s long-standing test for independent contractor status.
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The National Labor Relations Board (“Board”) has taken the first step to potentially reshape labor law since the May 21, 2018 Epic Systems case, in which the Supreme Court held that class waivers in arbitration agreements do not violate the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”).
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