A bargaining order is an extreme form of relief and should not be issued without careful consideration of whether changed circumstances render such an order inappropriate, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, has explained, remanding an unfair labor practice case to the Board. Novelis Corp. v. NLRB, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 6462; 201 L.R.R.M. 3523 (2d Cir. Mar. 15, 2018).

In Novelis, after a majority of employees had signed union recognition cards, and before the election, the company changed benefits to discourage employees from voting for the union, threatened employees with plant closure, and unlawfully demoted a union supporter. The company won the election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. The union filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against the company, and the Administrative Law Judge found the company had committed an unfair labor practice. Two years after the election, the NLRB adopted the ALJ’s findings and issued a “bargaining order” requiring the company to bargain with the union despite the companies having won the election. The Board refused to consider the passage of time and changed circumstances since the election.

The Second Circuit upheld the Board’s finding on the unfair labor practice charges, but disagreed with the issuance of the bargaining order. The Court noted that “a bargaining order is a rare remedy warranted only when it is clearly established that traditional remedies cannot eliminate the effects of the employer’s past unfair labor practices.” Such a remedy is “appropriate only when traditional remedies, such as a secret ballot rerun of an election, do not suffice.” The Court further noted “the superiority of, and [its] preference for, secret ballot elections over bargaining orders.” Consequently, the Court said, the Board “carries a heavy burden to justify a bargaining order in lieu of a second election.”

The Second Circuit concluded the Board:

  • Ignored the fact that Novelis had taken meaningful steps to remedy the unfair labor practices.
  • Did not account for the passage of time, which casts doubt on the employees’ union support expressed years ago by authorization cards.
  • Failed to take into account significant employee turnover since the election.
  • Bargaining orders are not often issued by the NLRB, but when they are, their issuance must be justified. Although the employer here was able to avoid the issuance of a bargaining order, all of the factors on which the Court based its decision may not be present in other cases. Employers are permitted to aggressively communicate with their employees in the face of a union organizing campaign, but they should consult with experienced counsel to reduce the likelihood a bargaining order will be issued.

Ultimately, the Court concluded that there was no reason to believe a fair rerun election could not be held.

Bargaining orders are not often issued by the NLRB, but when they are, their issuance must be justified. Although the employer here was able to avoid the issuance of a bargaining order, all of the factors on which the Court based its decision may not be present in other cases. Employers are permitted to aggressively communicate with their employees in the face of a union organizing campaign, but they should consult with experienced counsel to reduce the likelihood a bargaining order will be issued.