How is it possible that the majority of a company’s employees can vote against union representation but the company still has to accept the union? The answer lies in a few statements made by an angry manager.
A recent case before the National Labor Relations Board illustrates that managers have to be especially careful about what they say when a union steps in to negotiate for workers.
In the NLRB decision — Mesker Door, Inc., 357 NLRB, No. 59 — a union was certified as the collective bargaining representative at an Alabama company. Employer and union representatives met over the course of a year without coming to an agreement on a contract.
A frustrated manager then gave a speech in which he:
- threatened to fire two employees for filing unfair-labor-practice complaints
- stated that the company had been required to pay lawyers over $200,000 to defend against the charges, when the money “otherwise could have gone into improving life in the plant,” and
- suggested that if the union had been more cooperative, the employees would have received larger monthly bonus checks.
After that speech, a majority of the company’s employees voted to kick out the union. So far, so good for the employer until …
The NLRB ruled the plant manager’s speech contained unlawful statements, including
- an implied threat of discharge against the two employees who had filed the complaints, and
- the suggestion that attorneys’ fees – and union stubbornness – resulted in lower employee bonus payments.
The result: The board found that the employer could not lawfully withdraw recognition of the union based on the employees’ vote, because the manager’s statement “tainted” the vote.