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Eye on the NLRB
Remedy a Drop in the Cup of Starbucks' Fortune
Written by Erin Johansson   
June 10, 2008

A Starbucks employee in Grand Rapids, Mich., is claiming he was fired last week for trying to form a union.  This allegation follows on the heels of a recent National Labor Relations Board settlement that ordered the company to reinstate two New York City workers it illegally fired for organizing, and to stop spying on employees, withholding raises, prohibiting workers from wearing union buttons, and other illegal tactics used to thwart their union effort.

Why, after this settlement, would Starbucks potentially break the law again?  Could it be that the company only had to pay paltry sum of $1,925 to the two fired New York City workers—with no penalties and no impact on the company’s bottom line?

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Time Is Not on Our Side
Written by Erin Johansson   
May 28, 2008

If you need a reason for Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and grant employees the right to form unions through majority sign-up, let me refer you to the case of Green Valley Manor.  In the span of three weeks last summer, employees of this nursing home in St. Louis, Mo., attempted to form a union and were forced to stop in the face of retaliation by their employer. 

Here is a brief timeline of events:

July 16, 2007

Employees begin meeting to discuss forming a union to improve compensation and address the safety concerns from working with serious psychiatric patients.

August 2-3

Supervisors interrogate employees to determine who is behind the union effort.

August 2 

Company fires two union supporters.

August 3

With a majority of employees signing union authorization cards, the Service Employees International Union petitions the NLRB to hold an election, which the agency scheduled for September.

August 6

Company fires third union supporter.

August 7

Company fires fourth union supporter.

August 7

Company calls the police to stop a union representative who was legally handing out information to employees on a public road.

August 10 

A supervisor swerves his car within feet of an employee legally handing out union information and threatens to call the police if they don’t stop.

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Nurses, Wear Your Union Buttons Proudly
Written by Erin Johansson   
May 22, 2008

Some good news for hard-working nurses:  the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals just struck down a National Labor Relations Board ruling that allowed a hospital to ban nurses from wearing their “RNs Demand Safe Staffing” buttons during collective bargaining.  The Republican majority of the NLRB had condoned yet another employer policy aimed at muzzling their employees’ freedom of association, and once again, a circuit court found they were out of line.

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Breaking: Battista Now Busting Unions For Profit
Written by Erin Johansson   
May 05, 2008

For years I've been writing that Robert Battista, former chair of the National Labor Relations Board, has been doing the bidding of anti-union employers by dismantling protections for workers under the law.  Apparently, he's now going to be doing the bidding of anti-union employers and making a lot more money at notorious unionbusting firm Littler Mendelson (see a sample of their unionbusting strategies: Littler Mendelson’s Dos & Don’ts).

Battista asked Bush to withdraw his nomination as Labor Board chair, which was going nowhere, and joined the firm that John Logan of the London School of Economics called one of the "nation’s first law firms to conduct aggressive union avoidance campaigns."

Now Battista can make money telling employers how to exploit the law he helped to weaken in order to prevent their workers from organizing.

Unionbusting 2.0
Written by Erin Johansson   
May 05, 2008

eyelogo75.jpg As more jobs stray from the traditional 9 to 5 office scenario, employee discussions over lunch in the break room are becoming a thing of the past.  Email has in many ways filled that gap, enabling employees to communicate about issues of common interest. 

But at Uloop, a social networking site aimed at college students, workers were fired 20 minutes after they first discussed forming a union on the company’s online message boards. 

The employees filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming that their termination was illegal because their communication was protected by labor law.  This charge will likely be a test of the precedent-setting Register-Guard case, where the Labor Board denied protections for employees who email each other about union-related issues, failing to recognize technological advancements in workplace communication.  

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When Voting for a Union Is Only the Start of the Struggle
Written by Erin Johansson   
April 30, 2008

Here’s a tale told far too often: workers have come together to vote for a union, but don’t have a contract in their workplace.  Why?  Their employer unlawfully refuses to bargain with them and the National Labor Relations Board fails to enforce our weak labor law. 

Ten years after Goya Foods employees in Miami voted for a union, a circuit court judge ordered the company to finally negotiate a contract.  This is yet another example of why Congress must amend labor law to grant workers the right to first contract arbitration, ensuring that their vote for a union actually leads to a union contract.

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Watch Out Unionbusters: There's a New Sheriff in Town
Written by Erin Johansson   
April 25, 2008

The American workplace is like the Wild West, where employers rampantly break the law to suppress union organizing without facing meaningful repercussions.  The National Labor Relations Board cannot assess fines against lawbreaking employers, and forcing employers to comply with its orders can involve years of petitioning federal courts—often to no avail.  But employers in Arizona may now be shaking in their boots, as it appears that Wyatt Earp has come to town.  Judge David G. Campbell of the U.S. District Court in Arizona just held a company owner in contempt of court [subscription required] for refusing to comply with an order to reinstate workers he fired for organizing, forcing him to surrender to U.S. Marshall custody.

David Bowers, the owner of an electric company in Arizona, was ordered by a circuit court in 2005 to reinstate four fired workers with backpay, after the Labor Board had ruled that the firings were illegal reprisals for the workers’ union activity.  According to an article in the BNA Daily Labor Report, the NLRB tried for years to get Bowers to comply with the order, but he refused.  After the NLRB approached the federal court with the case, Judge Campbell found Bowers in civil contempt of the court.  The NLRB Regional Director who had pursued Bowers told the BNA that federal judges rarely take such action in NLRB cases.  It’s about time someone brought some law and order to the workplace.

Supervisor Fired for Refusing to Name Names
Written by Erin Johansson   
April 21, 2008

I’ve read countless National Labor Relations Board cases involving employers who suppress employees’ rights by using supervisors to do their dirty work.  With their close contact and influence over employees, supervisors can be more effective than upper-level management in muzzling collective action.  Yet in one recent case, supervisor Barbara Lockerman refused to reveal the names of her employees who protested the working conditions at the Texas Dental Association.  She was fired for this act of solidarity.

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Why Can't 60 Million Americans Get What They Want?
Written by Erin Johansson   
April 10, 2008

60 million non-union workers say they would join a union if they could, yet only 16 million workers belong to unions in the United States.  There are many ways to explain this discrepancy—for instance, aggressive unionbusting by employers and changes in the global economy—yet it’s hard to deny the impact of our weak labor law, made much worse by the Bush-appointed members of the National Labor Relations Board. 

Workers have successfully organized through the voluntary recognition process for years, yet the Republican majority of the Board undermined this process in their recent Dana Metaldyne decision. A group of AT&T technicians encountered this roadblock in their efforts to form a union this year.

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Labor Law Is "Old and Getting Older"
Written by Erin Johansson   
April 03, 2008

Yesterday I attended a Senate subcommittee hearing on labor law where National Labor Relations Board Member Wilma Liebman gave a damning assessment of the state of labor law in this country.

Liebman testified that the law is not responsive to changes in the global economy and workplace, and that the Board is not acting vigorously to protect workers from employers “intent on killing an organizing drive.”  As evidence of a loss of confidence in the NLRB election process among workers and their unions, she cited the dramatic decline in representation petitions (a 41 percent drop between 1997 and 2006). 

Labor Board Chairman Peter Schaumber struck a far sunnier tone on the state of the NLRB, citing the fact that in fiscal year 2007, 93 percent of all elections were conducted within 56 days (only eight weeks of anti-union captive audience meetings before you get to vote!). 

His optimism further amazed me when he responded to Senator Tom Harkin’s question as to why the Board had not required employers post a notice in the workplace outlining employees’ rights to organize, the same way employers are required to do for other employment laws.

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What is the NLRB?

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a federal agency responsible for protecting workers' rights to form unions and promoting collective bargaining.


»  More about the NLRB

About the Author

Erin Johansson Erin Johansson writes our Eye on the NLRB blog.  Erin has worked as a Research Associate at American Rights at Work since 2004 and is the author of some of our reports.  


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