National Labor Relations Act -- Unfair Labor Practices: “Look for Work Elsewhere” Comment Found to Be Unlawful
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently held that an employer violated federal labor law by telling union supporters to look for jobs elsewhere if they were dissatisfied with their current jobs. The NLRB agreed with the administrative law judge (ALJ) that the statement constituted an unlawful threat to discharge workers based on their protected, concerted activities.
Facts Teddi of California (TOC) operates a distribution center in Rancho Domingo, California. In February 2001, the United Industrial Workers, Local 24, began an organizing campaign at the company’s facilities. Several prounion employees obtained authorization cards to distribute to fellow workers. Gloria Gomez, vice president of production, called a meeting in April to find out why the employees were unhappy, what their needs were, and what management could do to lessen their concerns. During the meeting, she allegedly told the workers: “I could fire you all at this time, but I do not want to terminate you. If you are not content, if you are not comfortable with this job, I’ve already told you many times, that there’s the door quite open for you to go and look for another job if you don’t like it here.” Gomez later denied making those statements, claiming the only matter she raised was that if employees “need help” or were “not happy with the Company,” they should come see her. On April 17, the union filed unfair labor practice charges against the company. The complaint alleged that TOC violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act. The ALJ ruled against the company, and the case was ultimately heard by a three-member panel of the NLRB in Washington, D.C.
Legal analysis The ALJ believed the version of the events relayed by Santiago Coronel, an employee in attendance at the April meeting. The ALJ concluded that TOC, acting through its supervisor (Gomez), violated the Act by “giving its employees the impression that their union activities were under surveillance, and by threatening them with discharge or other unspecified reprisals because of their union and protected concerted activities.” Moreover, “Gomez’s statement to the employees that if they were dissatisfied with their jobs, presumably because of their interest in the Union, they should look for work elsewhere” violated the Act. The NLRB agreed with the ALJ that Gomez’s statements violated federal labor law. Thus, the ALJ’s decision was affirmed. Teddi of California, 338 NLRB No. 157 (2003).
Bottom line During an organizing effort, you must be wary of discussions with employees that even hint at potential job loss. The threat doesn’t have to be an affirmative statement (i.e., if you want a union, look for another job). The NLRB likely will find an unfair labor practice even if you merely suggest that if employees aren’t happy, they should look for another job. The enclosed materials have been prepared for general informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.