Tennessee Company Ordered to Stop Anti-Union Activity, Rehire Employees Fired for Union Organizing

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Punishing employees for union activities puts companies at risk for lawsuits, fines, according to labor law experts at G. Neil

G Neil Human Resource Materials
“Threatening employees who are attempting to unionize can result in a costly, time-consuming lawsuit...” said G. Neil Managing Research Attorney Lillian Mojica. “Even a few comments from an untrained supervisor can cause major issues.

Three warehouse workers who were fired for activities related to organizing a union at Ozburn-Hessey Logistics, LLC, (OHL) have been reinstated, following an April 5th temporary injunction issued by Federal Judge Samuel H. Mays, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee (26-CA-23497 JD(ATL)-12-10)

The judge further ordered company officials to stop other actions designed to interfere with employee’s rights. Company officials and agents were allegedly “warning, and suspending or discharging employees because of their union activities,” issuing threats of benefit loss should the union be approved, and removing pro-union literature from lunch and break rooms, according to a press release issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB.)

The NLRB’s Acting General Counsel has alleged multiple violations of labor law by the company in relation to a 2009 union organizing campaign by the United Steelworkers Union. A vote was held in March of 2010, in which the union lost. But since that date, allegations of labor law violations connected with the OHL union vote have been filed. NLRB administrative judges agreed that further investigation was warranted, and overturned the 2010 vote.

The reinstatements of the three dismissed are effective until the final resolution of the case before the Board. Judge Mays issued the temporary injunction on the 5th of this month at the request of the NLRB. He stated that it was “necessary to return the parties to the status quo to protect the NLRB’s remedial powers.”

Impact of the decision goes beyond the company involved in this action

Other businesses, responding to labor union organization, or on-going negotiations with existing unions, are concerned about how to best protect their companies and their employees. Regardless of opinions of the pros and cons of unions, recent decisions by the NLRB have made it clear that businesses must remain within the bounds of existing federal and state labor laws when dealing with union representatives or employees seeking to form or join a union.

Employers may not discriminate, discharge or retaliate against any employee for engaging in "protected, concerted activities." They must recognize which union organizing activities are protected. “Threatening employees who are attempting to unionize can result in a costly, time-consuming lawsuit with substantial liability,” said G. Neil Managing Research Attorney Lillian Mojica. “Even a few comments from an untrained supervisor can cause major issues for the employer.”

Possible new union rights poster could send businesses looking for more ways to manage union activity legally

The NLRB’s decision to date in this case, coupled with the potential summer issue of a new mandatory labor law poster outlining employees’ rights with regard to unions, means more and more companies may soon be looking for ways to minimize the impact of union activity in their businesses, while remaining within the bounds of federal and state labor laws.

Research indicates that businesses with a strong commitment to open communication, employee development and meaningful employee rewards have a much lower chance of being unionized. Companies who neglect these critical aspects of employee engagement are far more likely to find a union organizer welcomed into their midst by employees.

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At G.Neil, we stand behind our commitment to provide accurate, timely and useful information about current federal and state labor law rulings, mandatory labor law postings and the tools your company needs to stay in compliance and on target.

For over 25 years, we’ve been the trusted choice of businesses across the U.S. and Canada for human resource materials, labor law posters and employee motivation tools. Visit us at http://www.gneil.com when you need the answers to your workplace management, labor law or employee engagement questions.

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Tracy Fives
G Neil
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