During an organizing campaign at a clay processing plant, pro-union senior staffers routinely threatened production and maintenance employees, telling them to support the union or else they'd be "squeezed like a lemon," "squeezed out of a job" and "left hanging in the wind."
After a close vote, the union won. But the company refused to recognize the election, calling it invalid because pro-union staff coerced employees.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sought to enforce the union order. A federal appeals court disagreed and rejected the NLRB's ruling.
The court said a free election in this case was made impossible by the pro-unioners' job threats, which probably tainted the election. Therefore, the company had no obligation to bargain. (NLRB v. Kentucky Tennessee Clay Co., No. 01-2202, 4th Cir., 2002)
Advice: You have the power to challenge bogus elections. Unions aren't free to dump all election campaign responsibilities on untrained employee-organizers, then bury their heads in the sand while those organizers bully co-workers into voting for the union.
This decision is a definite win for employers in the 4th Circuit, but employment attorneys say the ruling will have a larger reach. While courts have never looked favorably on union organizers' overt acts or threats of violence, they'll also be tightening up on union elections that use nonviolent, behind-the-scenes intimidation tactics.
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