Rhetoric back and forth between union and employer representatives is nothing new, but employers may have to start watching their words more carefully in light of the Board's surprising Jan. 31 decision in Regency House of Wallingford (PDF). After an ALJ ordered rescission of a unilateral wage increase for certain junior employees, the employer tried to convince the union to engage in general bargaining that would allow the increase to remain in place without having to give the same increase to all unit members. In support of that suggestion, the employer sent several letters to the union's Vice President (alone), opining that the union's demand for the rescission was not in the interests of its members, and that the Vice President was only looking out for the senior members.

The Board held (2-1, Member Hayes did not join in this aspect of the decision) that the employer had violated Section 8(a)(1) by "denigrating" the union in the letters. The Board brushed off the employer's argument that its letters were protected by Section 8(c), saying that the letters "contained an implicit threat that employees' representation by the Union would be futile."

One might expect at least that such a violation would depend on communication of this "threat" to the bargaining unit, but it appears that the employer had done nothing to publicize the letters. To the contrary, it was the union vice president who shared the letters with seven stewards and bargaining committee members, and who testified that she elected to discuss the letters with "an unspecified number of employees."

The case also involved a number of more mundane unfair labor practices, and it remains to be seen whether sharp comments to a union vice president would be sufficient, standing alone, to warrant the finding of a violation. But both the content of the employer's letters, and the limitation of their communication to a single union official, make this an unusual, and potentially quite troubling, decision.