The U.S. Supreme Court held that courts interpreting collective bargaining agreements should use ordinary contract principles when working to determine whether retirees have a “vested” right to lifetime health care benefits, and not apply special inferences or presumptions in favor of vesting. In a unanimous decision, the Court invalidated the Sixth Circuit’s so­called “Yard­Man inference” that retiree health care benefits are vested (i.e., unchangeable) absent specific language to the contrary in the applicable plan document or collective bargaining agreement. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the Court, explained that union contracts are to be interpreted according to “ordinary principles of contract law, at least when those principles are not inconsistent with federal labor policy.” Accordingly, citing “the traditional principle that ‘contractual obligations will cease, in the ordinary course, upon termination of the bargaining agreement,’” the Court held that, “when a contract is silent as to the duration of retiree benefits, a court may not infer that the parties intended those benefits to vest for life.” M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett. For further analysis see our client briefing, Supreme Court Invalidates “Inference” of Vesting of Retiree Medical Benefits.


 

A federal court in Michigan refused to remand a case to state court because it determined that state law claims of defamation, interference with a contract, and intentional infliction of emotional distress were preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act. The complaint alleged that an employee’s union steward falsely accused the employee of threatening to kill his supervisor. The court agreed with the union steward that the claims should be in federal court because a collective bargaining agreement required her to report the threat, and the court would therefore have to interpret the agreement to assess the steward’s defense. Baker v. Royce.


The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) ruling that a company’s policy barring employees from wearing certain hats violated the rights of its workers. World Color (USA) has a policy prohibiting employees from wearing hats other than those bearing the parent company’s logo. The NLRB faulted the policy asserting that it was unlawfully overbroad because it prohibited employees from wearing caps with union logos. The D.C. Circuit held that because the company permitted employees to display union insignia on the approved caps, the Board’s reasoning was unsustainable. World Color (USA) Corp. v. NLRB.


The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida denied the NLRB’s effort to recover attorneys’ fees incurred in the enforcement of an investigative subpoena. The court ordered that the defendant turn over the documents sought by the subpoena, but held that Rules 37 and 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, both of which authorize awards for attorneys’ fees in certain circumstances, did not apply to administrative subpoena enforcement actions. NLRB v. Durham School Services, LP.


A federal district court in Nevada allowed a secondary boycott claim to go forward against the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) in Las Vegas. The suit stems from IBEW Local 357’s threat to picket Desert Sun Enterprises. In determining whether Desert Sun had alleged enough facts to proceed, the court held that a vague message Local 357 sent to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority about the possible strike could be an unfair labor practice insofar as it had a secondary purpose of forcing the Authority to stop doing business with Desert Sun. Desert Sun Enterprises v. Electrical Workers IBEW Local 357.


The U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska entered a temporary restraining order enjoining the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) from striking against the Union Pacific Railroad. Since September 2014, BLET and Union Pacific have been negotiating an agreement related to job bidding after BLET notified the railroad that it was cancelling a 2005 contract that established a system for employees to bid on jobs. Union Pacific argued that a strike would result in major disruptions on its nationwide rail system. Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Locomotive Engineers.


An NLRB administrative law judge ruled that DTE Energy Company did not unlawfully interrogate a union steward about protected organizing activity when management questioned the steward in connection with investigation of a workplace harassment complaint. DTE interviewed the steward after it received a complaint that she harassed an employee about signing a witness statement in connection with a grievance. The ALJ held that the company’s questions were tailored to investigating the harassment claim and only “peripherally touched” concerted activities protected under the NLRA. DTE Energy Co.