A narrow procedural decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) may be one more sign of a coming change in the definition of “joint employer” and its effect on employers and their business partners.
It’s important because another eagerly awaited NLRB joint-employer decision is expected by the end of the month. Labor-relations experts believe the NLRB’s decision in Browning-Ferris Industries will radically reshape the employment landscape in an environment where it’s not always clear who works for whom.
On Aug. 14, the NLRB ruled against a motion by the McDonald’s fast-food chain to dismiss an unfair labor practices charge filed by the Service Employees International Union. The union alleges that McDonald’s is a joint employer, along with local restaurant owners, since the parent corporation has “control over the labor relations policies of its franchisees.”
McDonald’s claimed that it was unable to tell for certain that the pending charge concerned joint-employer status, and thus could not defend itself.
On a 3-2 vote, the NLRB said “the allegations in the complaint are sufficient to put McDonald’s on notice” that the issue was joint-employer status.
The Browning-Ferris case involves a recycling plant primarily staffed by temporary employees. The NLRB is expected to rule this month that the temp agency and Browning-Ferris Industries are equally liable for alleged poor working conditions. Critics claim that will unfairly strengthen unions and lead to more lawsuits.
A decision in Browning-Ferris will likely set a precedent that the NLRB will then apply in the McDonald’s case, with far-reaching implications.