Legal Matters
February 1st, 2012 | Karen Morris

Union representation elections: Tread knowledgeably

11 Jan, 2012 By: Karen Morris Hotel and Motel Management

Okay, so you don’t like unions. Go ahead and tell your business partner. Feel free to talk about it with your spouse or your golfing buddies. But do not share that view with your employees. And train your managers to do likewise. Donald Trump had a brush with the related law and is paying the price.

A union representation election was held at Trump Marina Associates Casino in Atlantic City involving the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, AFL-CIO. The contest was hard-fought and resulted in a narrow vote against representation. However, the victory was short-lived. The National Labor Relations Board has ordered that a second election be held. Why? During the 30-day campaign, management committed numerous unfair labor practices.1 Ouch!

Here is the most basic rule of union campaigns: Employees have a right to join forces with their fellow workers to advocate for improved working conditions. This right is guaranteed by federal law including the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Messing with employees’ organizational rights is illegal. The case involving Trump’s New Jersey facility is rich with examples of what to avoid. 

Here’s one: Employers in a union campaign are not permitted to threaten changes to company practices if employees elect union representation. In the Trump situation, a supervisor, during a conversation with an employee, speculated with no basis in fact that layoffs would result if the union won. Not surprisingly, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which enforces the NLRA, ruled this to be an illegal threat. Another occurred when a shift manager commented to workers that, if the union won, he would not be able to accommodate shift preferences or correct scheduling errors in the same way done prior to the vote.

The law also prohibits management from suggesting that voting for the union would be futile. This rule was breached by a floor supervisor who stated that the company would refuse to negotiate with a union.

The NLRA also bars management from imposing punitive action on union advocates. A Trump manager violated this rule by disciplining a union supporter. Although the resort offered a nondiscriminatory explanation, the NLRB rejected the proffered reason as “mere pretext.”

There was no art in this deal. Some supervisors at Trump are likely hearing The Donald’s signature two-word directive: You're fired!

Here’s the moral. If you become involved in a union representation campaign, seek advice from a labor attorney, develop a legal strategy and train well all managers in the dos and don’ts.

About the Author: Karen Morris

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