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NLRB Paves the Way for Parking Lot Over People
Written by Erin Johansson   
September 27, 2005

All workers—whether they are in a union or not—are supposed to be protected under the National Labor Relations Act when they engage in reasonable on-site work stoppages or job actions.1 Try telling that to the 83 employees who the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled were allowed to be fired after peacefully protesting on their employer’s parking lot.  This recent NLRB decision sends the message that employers and their parking lots are more worthy of protection than the already limited rights of workers.

On the morning of January 10, 2000, 83 non-union employees of Quietflex Manufacturing Co. gathered in the company’s parking lot to air their grievances.  The employees of this Houston air conditioning manufacturer were Latino immigrants, and felt their managers were treating them poorly compared to other workers.  They also sought a raise and improved vacation and holiday pay.  The workers asked to meet with management as a group to discuss their concerns, but the president of the company refused the request. 

Labor Law’s
Indecent Penalties

$550,000
Amount FCC fined CBS for Janet Jackson’s indecent exposure at the Super Bowl.

$0
Amount NLRB can fine an employer for willfully bribing, threatening, assaulting, or firing pro-union employees.3

After 12 hours, the company president said the workers would be fired if they remained in the parking lot.  The workers stayed until the police escorted them off the property.  When the employees returned to work, they were informed that they had been fired. 

Although the Quietflex employees were not union members, the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA) stepped in on their behalf and filed charges with the NLRB.  On June 30, 2005, 4½ years after the work stoppage, the majority of the Board ruled that Quietflex did not violate the law by firing the workers.2  While the majority of the Board acknowledged the fact that the workers’ peaceful protest did not disrupt operations, they ruled that after 12 hours, the workers had exhausted their rights and Quietflex had the right to reclaim its parking lot. 

The dissenting member of the Board wrote that the majority failed to reach a proper balance between property rights and workers’ rights, given that the workers were not harming the employer’s property and had grievances serious enough to warrant a bold protest.  While recognizing the employer’s eventual right to exclusive use of its property, she argued the majority was “destroying concrete labor law rights to preserve an entirely abstract property right.” 

Luckily for the employees of Quietflex, the SMWIA was able to help them get their jobs back soon after the stoppage.  But the precedent set by the Board’s decision could hurt future efforts of non-union workers who choose to take a stand about workplace conditions. 

It’s no secret that the rights of employers far outweigh the rights of employees in this country.  Workers should be able to take solace in the little protections they do have from the NLRB—yet with increasing frequency, the Board keeps tipping the balance of power even further in favor of employers.

Endnotes
1. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act grants workers, regardless of whether or not they are in a union or trying to form a union, the right to "to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection..."
2. Quietflex Manufacturing Co., 344 NLRB No. 130 (2005).
3. The NLRB does not have the authority to impose fines, revoke licenses, or impose prison time on those who violate the National Labor Relations Act.