The headlines this week have already written the obituaries for unions, at least in Michigan, where the state passed a new “right to work” law.

But here in Connecticut, unions may be weakened, but, when bolstered by the NLRB, they can still put a fight. A new federal court case in Connecticut this week handed one of the most powerful unions in the state — SEIU District 1199 — a sizable victory in the union’s battle with six local nursing homes.  You can download the Court’s decision here.  

The NLRB was quick to tout the victory in a press release:

A federal judge has ordered a Connecticut nursing home chain to offer reinstatement to approximately 600-700 workers, to rescind changes made to employee wages and benefits, and to bargain in good faith with the union that has long represented its employees.

U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny granted the injunction against Healthbridge Management, LLC, at the request of the NLRB Regional Director Jonathan Kreisberg, who has authorized four complaints against the employer alleging a series of unlawful actions at six nursing homes over more than two years. The employees are represented by District 1199 of the New England Health Care Employees Union, SEIU.

The petition seeking the injunction alleged that after 19 months of bargaining, in June 2012, the company unilaterally implemented contract proposals affecting wages, hours, benefit eligibility, and retirement and health benefits without first bargaining to a good faith impasse. Employees went on an unfair labor practice strike in protest. In mid-July, the employees through their union offered to return to work under the terms of the contract that existed prior to the unilateral implementation, but the employer refused to bring them back.

The Hartford Courant has a good recap of the entire debate here as well.

For employers in the state, unions remain a force to address.  As this case shows, losing a battle could be more than just a couple of bucks.

As I discussed on the blog earlier this year (and noted on my Twitter feed last week), the NLRB has gone ahead with its plan to consolidate Connecticut’s Region 34 Office with its Boston Region 1 office, effective today

Jonathan Kreisberg, who has served as Regional Director for Region 34 will now take over as head of Region 1. 

As of this morning, the Hartford Region still has its own website, but you can already see some changes in the map of coverage.  Officially, the Hartford office is now a subregion of the Boston office.

Kreisberg will speak about this and more at the CBA’s Labor & Employment Committee meeting this Thursday , December 13, at 5:30 p.m. at the Quinnipiack Club in New Haven.  You can sign up at the CBA’s website here.

At yesterday’s labor & employment law seminar, we had both Heidi Lane, a Prinicipal Attorney with the Connecticut Department of Labor, and Jonathan Kreisberg, Regional Director of the NLRB’s Hartford Office, speak to attendees about the latest developments under both Connecticut and federal law.

But for those who couldn’t make it, here are five notable things they discussed:

1) Paid Sick Leave adoption appears to be going smoothly.  According to Lane, there have only been two complaints filed since the start of the year.  Neither case went very far, either because of merit, or settlement.  But for those expecting a big influx in complaints, we haven’t seen it.  Yet.

2) The Connecticut Department of Labor has, quietly to some, been conducting many more investigations of individuals who may be abusing the unemployment compensation system.   As a result of cutting down on fraud, it is hoped that more money can be kept in the system for those who need it the most and to keep employer expenses down.  I provided a link to a report of this last week

3) Social media has, and will continue to, dominate the NLRB’s agenda.  Kriesberg highlighted two new Board cases on the subject that I discussed on this blog earlier this week.  He said another is in the pipeline that could be the first Board case to find an employer’s firing of an employee because of his or her Facebook post was illegal. 

4) What’s still on the NLRB’s horizons? More cases challenging at-will disclaimers and confidentiality policies.    Again, if you’ve been following these issues, this won’t come as a surprise, but for those who think the NLRB is somehow going to back down, Kreisberg’s words indicate the opposite.  He also indicated that the issue of mandatory class action waivers continued to be a focus of the NLRB and that he wouldn’t be surprised to see the issue at the U.S. Supreme Court as well.  

5) Kreisberg had no news to share on whether the proposed consolidation of the Hartford and Boston regional offices was still going forward (though he hinted he would be in charge of such a combined office) but indicated that he believed people in Connecticut wouldn’t notice any issue. 

My sincere thanks to both of them for taking the time to speak to the attendees. 

If you’re interested in commentary like this, we will be conducting a replay of our presentation for the southern Connecticut audience on October 18th in Norwalk.  Be sure to sign up (it’s free) and remember that breakfast AND lunch are included.

Last year, I published a series of posts about the Connecticut Bar Association’s breakfast with NLRB Region 34 Director Jonathan Kreisberg.

Kreisberg repeated that breakfast earlier this week. Although I was unable to personally attend, breakfast organizer Nicole Bernabo was kind enough to recap the event and agreed to share her recollections for the blog.

Breakfast with NLRB

Kreisberg indicated that with the possibility of federal budget cuts and reorganization, it was certainly possible that the Hartford regional office will be considered for elimination.

Kreisberg was quick to emphasize that this is not likely in the near future. But one possible outcome would be that the state would be split between two regions — Boston and New York — as was the case before NLRB Region 34 was established.

As for the proposed election rule that is now under consideration, Kreisberg indicated that he was not sure whether they would be published before year end. Given the political climate and the fact that there are only three board members presently, it is unclear, however, whether these changes would take place. While Kreisberg indicated that the proposed changes were significant, he thought that the impact on Region 34’s ability to administer these shortened election periods was unlikely to be significant.

Kreisberg also spoke at length regarding the recent General Counsel memorandum on social media cases. As he has noted before, companies should tailor their policies to narrowly meet its needs.

As he noted last year as well, he emphasized his belief that– given the right circumstances — the NLRB’s case in Register Guard will be overturned. These types of cases have to be sent to Washington, DC for additional guidance and advice.

Overall, the breakfast was a successful and well-attended event.  Kudos to the CBA for putting programs like this on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I indicated in my post yesterday, the bar-related breakfast with NLRB Region 34 office was a big success. 

In the presentation and discussion, Regional Director Jonathan Kreisberg made a few predictions and observations about what 2010 would bring.

  1. Kreisberg noted that the NLRB was going to be using press releases to a far greater extent than ever before. (He could not recall more than 10 instances in the last 30 years when press releases were issued by the Connecticut office).  He said that the NLRB’s hiring of two new media personnel in late 2009 would make it much easier to do so. As a result, he expected more publicity for notable complaints, settlements and findings. 
  2. Related to that, he indicated that the NLRB already had up an active Twitter feed @NLRB)  which would only be used even more frequently in 2010.
  3. Kreisberg noted that he hoped that the 3 vacancies at the Board level would be filled soon.  While two of the nominees were uncontroversial, the re-appointment of Craig Becker has stalled things. Because there is a desire to approve all 3 nominees at the same time, the Board is still only operating with 2 out of 5 possible members.  
  4. In discussing the Employee Free Choice Act, there remains a great deal of uncertainty whether it will be brought to the floor of Congress for a vote in 2010.  If it does come up, among the provisions to keep an eye out for are a provision that would expand the injunctive authority of the NLRB and would speed up elections to seven days.  As a result, of the latter provision, Kreisberg indicated that post-election challenges to ballots would become much more prevalent.  (Although he didn’t comment on it directly, it appears likely that card-check provision of EFCA is going nowhere.)
  5. Kreisberg also indicated that there would likely be a new Field Attorney hired in 2010. This might allow for even more enforcement actions and speedier proceedings.

What does this mean for employers?

It means that if you’re employer with a labor issue, you’re likely to get more press and publicity than you may be used to.  In addition, even if only a few provisions of EFCA get passed, it’s likely to impact how cases are processed at the NLRB-level.  

Whether or not you have a union at your workplace, now’s the time to refresh yourself and your workers about your legal obligations.  And if you do become entangled in an issue, have a labor counsel ready to go; you may not have a lot of time to respond when you get a notice.