John Ramirez's union asked him to apply for a welder's job to help organize the workers. He got the job and quickly started rallying support for a union bid.
But some workers at Frazier Industrial Co. complained that Ramirez's aggressive efforts constituted harassment. Company supervisors warned Ramirez to stop pestering workers on company time. When he kept it up, he was fired.
Ramirez rifled off unfair labor-practice charges to the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB agreed that his activities were protected organizing efforts. Specifically, it said, the company went wrong by:
- Threatening to discharge those engaged in union efforts.
- Coercively interrogating employees about union activities.
- Threatening to close the plant if the employees unionized.
- Barring union talk while permitting nonwork talk.
The NLRB ordered the company to offer Ramirez reinstatement and back pay, and a federal appeals court upheld the order. (Frazier Industrial Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, No. 99-1297, D.C. Cir., 2000)
Advice: Before firing a union organizer, check the rules on how far they are allowed to go. The court said Ramirez's work time solicitations were brief and did not disrupt production. Furthermore, he was persistent only with those employees who gave "tepid or inconclusive responses."
When you get complaints about organizers, treat them as you would other complaints of harassment, but give consideration to the employee's right to solicit others. Take action (transfer, firing, etc.) only when the solicitation persists despite requests by solicited employees that it stop or if the activity becomes unduly disruptive in the workplace.
- What's this I've heard about employers doing away with performance evaluations?
- Back up even minor disciplinary action with solid records
- Beware retaliation against whistle-blowers
- Act fast to stop any potential retaliation against worker who complains about bias, harassment
- Speech isn't protected if it's just part of the job