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A Union That Tried To Impose Contract On Workers Behind Their Backs Is Decertified
The union’s ousting followed the union’s failed attempt to impose a contract over employees’ rejection.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has certified the ousting of the United Steelworkers at an employer in Pennsylvania after employees voted to decertify the union in December.
The union’s ousting followed the union’s failed attempt to impose a contract over employees’ rejection, as well as its argument that it could not be decertified due the so-called “contract bar doctrine.”
Under NLRB’s “contract bar doctrine,” the Board “ordinarily will not process any representation or decertification petition that is filed during the first 3 years of a valid collective-bargaining agreement, save for petitions filed during a specified ‘window period’ before the expiration date of the agreement.”
In December, employees of Latrobe Specialty Metals Company, LLC voted 29 to 26 to oust the union after a NLRB Regional Director rejected the union’s argument that it could not be decertified because it had a valid contract.
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According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision and direction of election issued in November, the United Steelworkers was certified as the exclusive collective bargaining representative of the bargaining unit in July of 2020 and negotiations for an initial collective bargaining agreement began on February 23, 2021.
Contract ratification not required. In late July 2022, the employer and union reached a tentative agreement and, although the Steelworkers’ constitution does not require ratification by members before contract acceptance, employees were offered the opportunity to accept or reject the tentative agreement.
After employees voted to reject the contract offer on July 28th, however, an employee began circulating a petition to decertify the union.
Union attempts to put contract into effect over employees’ rejection
Following employees’ first rejection of the tentative agreement, the union scheduled a second ratification meeting for August 1 at three different times. However, between the second and third ratification vote meetings, the petitioner employee filed a decertification petition at the NLRB.
“As with the previous vote, the workers again lopsidedly rejected the contract. But later that night, a union official suddenly announced to the employer that the contract was already in effect and the ratification vote was not required or necessary because of the covert signing on July 28,” explains the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), who represented the petitioner employee.
“According to documents and transcripts filed with the NLRB, when Steelworkers union officials discovered a decertification petition was circulating,” the NRTW states, “their representative secretly and unilaterally signed the disfavored contract on July 28, without telling the employees or the employer, in an attempt to trigger the ‘contract bar’ rule and avoid the union being voted out.”
Although the union attempted to put the contract into effect over employees’ rejection, as the NLRB notes:
The Union contends it could “ratify” the agreement by the signature of its representative, Petitioner (the employees) argues it could not and this is entirely inconsistent with its communications regarding ratification. In this context attempting to define, or more accurately re-define, “ratification” is merely an alternative method of introducing extrinsic evidence, contradicting the Board’s well-established directive that the contract document itself is controlling.
However, as the NRTW explains, in the union’s “haste to enact the employee-rejected contract to trigger the ‘contract bar,’ union officials didn’t finalize critical details of the contract, like the start and end dates.”
In other words, the union forgot to write the contract’s effective dates onto the agreement it was trying to impose on the employees.
If it had written the start and end dates on the contract, the union could have potentially won its “contract bar” argument and employees might have been required to work under a contract they had rejected (twice).
The NLRB’s hearing officer, in rejecting the Steelworkers’ arguments stated, “…it is not possible to determine the date of ratification from the contract, and as such I find the agreement that existed on August 1 at the time the Petition was filed lacked effective and expiration dates.”
“Accordingly, when ratification does not occur the effective and expiration dates have not been established,” the NLRB Regional Director states. “Absent these dates being established the agreement is insufficient to constitute a contract bar.”
Following the employees vote to decertify the union, the United Steelworkers filed objections to the election. However, they were later withdrawn.