NLRB finds employer’s solicitation of grievances from employee during organizing campaign an unfair labor practice

The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) recently decided Albertson’s interfered with employee rights during a Union organizing campaign by soliciting grievances from a store cashier even though the cashier did not express any complaints or demands in response to management’s solicitation.  (Albertson’s LLC, 359 NLRB No. 147.)

According to the NLRB decision, Albertson’s management conducted one-on-one meetings with employees during an organizing campaign at the employer’s Albuquerque, New Mexico store.  One cashier employee, Talia Perea, in particular was brought by her supervisor to attend such a meeting in an upstairs breakroom.  The supervisor told Perea, “H&R’s up there; they’re your friends, not ours. If you have any problems with your schedule or if you guys want to complain, now is the time.”

The labor relations director and the Albuquerque store director were in the breakroom.  The labor relations director told Perea it was open season for health insurance enrollments, and asked if she had any questions about the insurance.  He also asked whether she “had any concerns.”  Perea did not respond to the questions, but testified she felt uncomfortable in the meeting and would not have told the labor relations director she had any complaints with her store director “standing right there.”

Ruling on unfair labor practice charges filed by the Union bringing the organizing effort, an NLRB administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found the one-on-one meeting with Perea was an unlawful solicitation of grievances that violated Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA.

Albertsons appealed the ALJ's ruling to the NLRB arguing that under William T. Burnett & Co., 273 N.L.R.B. 1084 (1984), the NLRB should find that there was no unlawful interference with employee rights because the employee did not respond to the question about grievances by voicing any complaint.

NLRB members Pearce, Griffin, and Block agreed instead with the ALJ, rejecting Albertson’s argument and overruling Burnett. The NLRB said the employer’s one-on-one meeting with Perea was a “significant change” from its usual practice of using a telephone hotline to receive employee grievances.  The NLRB decided that “the Respondent's [Albertson’s] solicitation of grievances during the organizing campaign violated Section 8(a)(1).” 

Under this ruling, it is clear that the NLRB views the solicitation of grievances as coercive because such solicitation “raises an inference that the employer is promising to remedy the grievances.”  The NLRB reasoned that an employee’s silence in response “does not negate the objectively coercive tendency of the solicitation itself.” 

This ruling is a step in the right direction for Unions involved in organizing campaigns, as well as for workers who wish to make a choice regarding a collective bargaining representative free from employer coercion. 

By Lisl Duncan | August 26, 2013

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