It is well-established that an employer has an obligation to maintain the status quo after the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement. A recent case before an NLRB administrative law judge confirmed that an employer must continue wage increases after a contract has expired, unless language in the contract clearly provides otherwise.

The case in question involved a CBA between a Pennsylvania hospital and a nurses union. The Hospital and union had entered a two-year contract, which expired on April 30, 2013. The parties began negotiating a successor agreement in February 2013, but were unable to reach an agreement that year.

Under the terms of the CBA, nurses were paid a base hourly rate commensurate with their years of experience. Nurses were eligible for two types of wage increases: an across-the board annual raise and periodic longevity-based wage increases as the nurse progressed from one experience level to the next. Both raises were paid on January 27 of each year.

In January 2014, nine months after the contract expired but while negotiations over the successor contract were ongoing, the hospital failed to pay the longevity-based raises to the nurses.

Earlier this month, an administrative law judge ruled that the hospital violated federal labor law by failing to pay the raise. The judge held that the hospital had no contractual obligation to pay the longevity-based wage increase in January 2014. However, because nothing in the contract addressed the wage increases after the contract expired, the National Labor Relations Act required it operate as if the provision were still in effect. The judge noted that the outcome would be different if there was language in the CBA “specifically limiting the applicability of the provision for wage increases … to the term of the contract.”

Employers should consult legal counsel if they have questions about their obligations upon the expiration of a union contract.