Earlier this week, Missouri’s Governor Eric Greitens signed legislation making Missouri the 28th state to pass Right to Work legislation. New Hampshire is considering legislation that, if passed, will be signed by its Republican governor, Chris Sununu, making it the 29th state. Right to Work is, of course, legislation permitted under the Labor Management Relations Act that prohibits unions from requiring bargaining unit employees to pay union dues or dues equivalents. Under current law, employees in states without right to work laws may be required either to join and remain members of the union representing them (paying the normal dues), or to pay the union what are called “Fair Share Fees”. These Fair Share Fees are calculated to be the union’s cost of representing employees in the bargaining unit, without inclusion of extraneous amounts included in the dues amount, such as political donations to candidates. Unions obviously prefer to have all employees contributing to their operations and political endeavors, and the number of employees opting out in non-RTW states is generally far less than the percentage opting out in RTW areas. Unions must represent all bargaining unit members fairly, even without receiving any payments from those in RTW states who chose not to pay. Employers generally support RTW efforts, since unions receive less funding and are weaker than otherwise. Employees prefer RTW since they have the choice of joining the union if they want, or staying out of it, even if there is a union present in the workplace. They can be “free-riders”—benefitting from any results of union bargaining but without paying anything to the union.

States have been the focus of RTW legislation in recent years, with Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin all passing laws in the heartland. Wisconsin’s law has encountered still-pending challenges from unions on the basis that it forces unions into a position of involuntary servitude by having to represent dissenters. It survived a federal district court decision, now appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (which upheld Indiana’s RTW law), and was found unconstitutional under Wisconsin’s Constitution by a local county judge, whose decision is now on appeal at the district level.

An additional front is being opened in the RTW war. U.S. Representatives Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Steve King (R-IA) have introduced the National Right to Work Act, HR 785, which would make Right to Work the uniform law in the U.S. The law faces opposition from the labor movement, and would almost certainly encounter a filibuster in the Senate. Given the number of Democratic senators in states that have adopted RTW laws, it is likely that the House will pass the bill and send it to the Senate. This would force RTW state Democrats up for re-election in 2018 to take a position on the bill. Then, depending upon how the midterm elections turn out, the opportunity for Senate passage might increase, or passage could be foreclosed for at least another two years.

Employers in union settings know that they generally cannot make changes to their employees’ wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment without first negotiating to impasse with the union. The exception to this rule has historically been that the employers could make changes, as long as they could show that their labor contract had a management rights clause that allowed certain changes to be made without bargaining. A recent decision from the National Labor Relations Board, however, will make it more difficult for employers to show that a management rights clause actually allows these types of changes to be made without bargaining.

The NLRB’s recent decision (Graymont, PA, Inc. and Local Lodge D92, 364 NLRB No. 37) involved a situation that is common in unionized workplaces. The employer and the union had a collective bargaining agreement in place with a management rights clause which provided that the employer:

[R]etains the sole and exclusive rights to manage; to direct its employees; . . . to evaluate performance, . . . to discipline and discharge for just cause, to adopt and enforce rules and regulations and policies and procedures; [and] to set and establish standards of performance for employees…

The employer relied on this clause to announce changes to the work rules and the attendance and progressive discipline policies. The union objected to this move and requested a meeting with the employer. The union also requested that the employer provide information about the changes. The employer met with the union, but took the position that it was not required to bargain over the changes (due to the management rights clause). The employer also took the position that it was not required to respond in any way to the request for information. After a single meeting with the union, the employer implemented the revised policies.

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In a win for organized labor, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) reinstated a union-friendly standard under which both temporary and permanent employees may collectively bargain as a single unit without employer consent. On July 11, 2016, the NLRB’s 3-1 decision in Miller & Anderson, Inc., 364 NLRB No. 39 (2016), made it easier to combine workers who are temporarily employed by a staffing agency’s client company with workers permanently employed by that client company to form a union.

Under the new standard, if a staffing agency and its client company are deemed to be joint employers of the temporary workers, the temporary workers may join forces with the client company’s permanent workers, provided that they satisfy the “community of interest” factors demonstrating that it is appropriate to treat them as a single unit. Some of the factors used to determine whether a proposed unit of workers share a community of interest are whether the employees are subject to the same working conditions, are subject to common supervision, and have similar wages and benefit packages.

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The Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued its Persuader Activity Advice Exemption Rule (“persuader rule”), which requires attorneys and consultants who communicate with employers regarding certain labor relation activities to file a report disclosing the terms of their arrangement, including payments. Since the persuader rule was issued in final form, multiple lawsuits have been filed by employers, attorney organizations, and states. On June 27, 2016, Judge Sam Cummings of the Northern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction enjoining, on a national basis, the enforcement of the persuader rule. National Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Perez, Case No. 5:16-cv-00066-C (N.D. Tex. June 27, 2016).

The court made this decision based on five specific grounds: (1) the DOL lacks the statutory authority to enforce this version of the persuader rule; (2) the persuader rule is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion; (3) the persuader rule violates the due process clause of the fifth amendment; (4) the persuader rule violates the Regulatory Flexibility Act (“RFA”); and (5) the persuader rule creates a substantial threat of irreparable harm. First, the DOL does not have the authority to enforce the terms of this persuader rule and, in fact, the rule conflicts with the plain language of the relevant statute, the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959. Second, the persuader rule does not explain the need to change the previous interpretation, it conflicts with state rules governing the practice of law, and it violates the first amendment by infringing on free speech, expression, and association rights. Third, the persuader rule is unconstitutionally vague and does not clearly define its prohibitions; instead it replaces a long-standing and bright-line rule with a rule that is ambiguous and impossible to apply. Fourth, the persuader rule violates the RFA. Although the DOL certified that the persuader rule would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities so as to exempt it from the RFA, the DOL failed to provide a factual basis for the cost estimates. Finally, the persuader rule will conflict with attorney duties, reduce access to legal advice, reduce access to training sessions, and burden and chill the first amendment, all of which creates serious harm.

This decision came just in time to avoid the persuader rule from becoming effective, as it was issued just days before the persuader rule was set to go in force on July 1, 2016. In light of this ruling, attorneys and advisors who provide unionization related advice to employers will not be required to report to the DOL, at least for now. This injunction prevents the DOL from enforcing the persuader rule unless the injunction is vacated in some way. If the injunction is vacated, employers and their advisors may eventually have to file reports, but the effective date of that requirement may be altered.