Top Chef Star Padma Lakshmi Bullied by Boston Teamsters

When Padma Lakshmi, host of Top Chef, left the show’s usual set in Los Angeles to film on location in Boston, she and her staff were harassed, threatened, and had their property damaged by Boston Teamsters Local 25 because the show hired non-union local production assistants to drive the cast and crew instead of using Teamsters. When Lakshmi arrived, Teamsters, who were already picketing the show, started screaming: You b*tch! You slut! We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you [expletive] whore!”

According to the police report, the Teamsters were “hostile, swearing, and refusing to let people come in and out” of the building. When police arrived to defuse the situation, the Teamsters relocated to the crew’s hospitality tent and slashed tires on 14 cars affiliated with the show. Teamsters then chased the production assistants down the road threatening to beat and kill them. These antics lasted for several weeks until the show wrapped.

From the Horse’s Mouth: NLRB Telling Companies “Why Should You (Or Your Client) Cooperate with the NLRB

The paragraph below is taken verbatim from the August 25th newsletter published by NLRB Region 13 (Chicago). From a management lawyer’s perspective, this appears to be a thinly veiled threat of intimidation by the Board for companies to forego some of their rights and blindly yield to the Board’s allegations. Nonetheless, it does a good job of highlighting the power the Board has in forcing companies to comply with its orders by involving customers of the offending company.

“On January 31, 2013, the Chicago Regional Office issued a Compliant against Lintrac (Employer) alleging the company unlawfully fired employees. During the investigation, the Employer refused to respond to the allegations or cooperate with the investigation and failed to file an answer to the complaint. The Board then directed the Employer to make the employees whole for all loss of earnings suffered from the unlawful terminations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit enforced the Board’s order. The Employer continued to be unresponsive. On March 14, 2014, the Region initiated garnishment proceedings against a client of Lintrac’s in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Subsequently, Lintrac contacted the Region and agreed to pay back pay to the employees it had unlawfully terminated. Lintrac entered into a settlement agreement and made an electronic transfer of funds to the Board.”

NLRB Strikes Deal to Protect Ecuadorian Employees in the United States

Richard Griffin, the Board’s General Counsel, and Nathalie Cely, Ecuador’s Ambassador, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) setting forth a framework for cooperative efforts to provide Ecuadorian workers information and guidance regarding their rights and responsibilities under the National Labor Relations Act. This memorandum is virtually identical to the one that former acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon struck with the ambassador of Mexico. The Board has been on an MOU binge lately – including some with OSHA, DOJ, and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.

Jimmy John’s Illegally Fired Workers for Inferring to Public that Sandwiches are Made by Sick Employees

Jimmy John’s franchisee MikLin Enterprises, Inc. does not offer its employees sick leave. Instead, if an employee is sick, he or she can take time off only after ensuring that his or her shift is covered. Some employees do not like having the burden placed on them to find replacements and would rather be allowed to just call in sick and have the company scramble to re-staff the shift. A few years ago, the Jimmy John’s Workers Union was formed, but employees voted against unionization. Undeterred, the union remained active and, similar to what is trending throughout the fast food industry, the union sought to bargain with the company despite not representing the employees.

One item that the union bargained for was sick days. When the company refused to bargain with the union – because the union did not represent the employees, duh – the union posted fliers in and around the restaurants that pictured two identical sandwiches side-by-side above the message “Can’t Tell the Difference?” The flier labeled one sandwich as being made by a healthy worker and one by a sick worker, and said employees don’t get paid sick days and (misleadingly) cannot even call in sick. The employees responsible for the fliers were terminated.

An Administrative Law Judge found the discharges violated Sections 8(a)(1) and (3) of the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibit discrimination due to union activity and forbids interference with an employee’s NLRA-protected activity, respectfully. The Board affirmed the holding because the posters did not allege any customers had been sickened by contaminated food, rather, they “only suggest the realistic potential for illness resulting from the handling of food by workers who come to work while sick.” The lone management-side Board Member who heard the case dissented and opined that it was inaccurate to claim that employees could not take any time off for illness, the posters exaggerated the potential for any food contamination, and the union failed to show any remotely reasonable correlation between the alleged health problem and the employer’s lack of sick leave.

Subway Franchise Employees Vote In Favor of Union Validating Union’s Efforts to Organize Fast Food Industry

Employees of a Subway franchise in Bloomsbury, N.J. voted 8-5 to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) Local 108. While this is great fodder for unions to hark the success of its 3-year effort to organize the fast food industry, these 13 employees are hardly the poster children for a successful campaign. These Subway employees are tucked into a Pilot Flying J travel center where gas attendants, cashiers, and maintenance workers voted in February to join Local 108. Given that the Subway franchise is part of a larger center and not an independent location, I hesitate to give this victory to the worker centers responsible for seeking to organize the industry.

The Laborers Union Guilty of Union Busting

The Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA and Laborers) did not hire a union contractor to oversee a massive renovation at its Washington D.C. headquarters. The union awarded a major renovation on its $28 million downtown office building to Davis Construction. Adding insult to injury, Davis Construction is in the midst of a labor dispute with the local Carpenters Union, and the contract between LiUNA and Davis does not require the use of any union members. The irony of this is that the Labors frequently – I know from experience – use disruptive protest tactics to force builders and their customers to use union labor. This just goes to show you that unions are businesses, and like most businesses, hire companies that are cost-effective and competent.

Steelworkers Playbook on How They Plan to Reform Labor Law

The United Steelworkers of America recently wrapped its annual convention where it called for “true labor law reform in the United States” and where it vowed to enact these changes:

  1. Workers should have a right to a representation election within 30 days of filing a petition for one
  2. Workers should have access to neutral voting locations
  3. NLRB penalties should be increased to meaningful levels and indexed to inflation
  4. Triple back pay without deductions should be the baseline for unfair labor practice terminations
  5. The union will also actively work to unseat Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) who spoke out against the UAW’s presence at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant
  6. Workers should have the right to organize in non-traditional work settings, including the development of worker centers and the continued USW support to organize college athletes

These are some very lofty goals. It will be interesting to see whether any of them are achieved in the next year. Smartly, the USW never put a timeline on when these reforms should be made.

Reminding Union Employees that a Company Handbook Requiring 401(k) Contributions for All Non-Union Employees is an Unlawful Promise of Benefits During a Decertification Campaign because the Handbook said the Company Reserved the Right to Modify or Terminate Retirement Plans

In 1999, TCI Cablevision of Washington held that an employer did not interfere with an election by accurately telling employees the company would be required under its existing benefit plans to automatically cover employees if they decertified a union. Following this precedent, UniFirst recently told its employees that they would receive 401(k) benefits and a profit-sharing plan if they decertified the United Steelworkers union as their bargaining representative. UniFirst was merely reciting its handbook when relaying that information to its employees.

However, the current NLRB – as it’s prone to do – picked apart the Company’s handbook and zeroed in on perhaps the most common clause appearing in every handbook: the company reserves the right to modify the contents of the handbook. Since UniForce reserved the right to modify (or terminate) the 401(k) provision in the handbook, the benefits were not automatic. So telling union employees that if they get rid of the union they will have certain benefits when the company is free to change those benefits is unlawful.

The Board has systematically eroded company handbooks to the point where many employers are unable to logically rely on the policies and procedures that have been in place, followed, and accepted as lawful for decades. Competent labor counsel should be consulted before companies involve their handbooks in any dealings with labor unions.