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Petitioner argues NLRB oversteps bounds with contract bar

Katie Tabeling

organic chickensWASHINGTON —   Attorneys for the National Right to Work Foundation (NRWF) are seeking to overturn the longstanding “contract bar” doctrine in a case focused on decertifying the union at Mountaire Farms in Selbyville.

In a case brief filed on Aug. 21, the legal counsel for the nonprofit organization that seeks to advance right-to-work laws claims that the contract bar — or a legal precedent that limits when workers can petition to hold elections to vote out unions every three years — contradicts the National Labor Relations Act that guarantees workers the right to organize and collectively bargain with employers. 

Furthermore, the NRWF legal team argues in its brief that the prohibition is not included in the written federal act, but was created from case law and has “little regard for employee rights and was later expanded over decades to further infringe upon employee rights.”

Contract bar limits when workers can file petitions to hold an election to vote out unions. It specifies a 30- day window of between 90 and 60 days from a contract’s expiration in its first three years. After three years, workers are free to challenge the support of the union.

“This is about giving workers the power to remove a union that is not supported,” National Right to Work Foundation Vice President Patrick Semmens said. “The entire premise of the Act is to empower a union as the monopoly of collective bargaining. But when that union is not acting in their best interest, this can let the workers hold the union accountable.”

This legal filing is the latest development in efforts underway to decertify the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 27  at Mountaire. While Local 27 represents poultry plant workers at Allen Harim in Harbeson and other industries across the state, it also represents the unionized workforce in Mountaire. The union was well-established at the Selbyville plant by the time the poultry processing company bought the facility in 1977.

The union is only in the second year of a five-year agreement with Mountaire, but plant worker Oscar Cruz Sosa challenged the union for its compulsory dues requirement at hiring. A regional  National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) director agreed to allow a decertification vote because the agreement lacked a mandatory 30-day grace period for dues to the union, and argued that scrapped the contract bar period.

Sosa successfully obtained signatures from 30% of the total union members to hold a decertification vote in July, but UFCW Local 27 argued that since there was a contract in place, the petition was null.

The NLRB ordered the ballots sealed and announced it would review the contract bar, inviting interested parties to file briefs on whether it should be rescinded, modified, or remain as written.

This case could have long-reaching implications on unions, as labor boards in state and federal sectors could be looking at this decision to shape further decisions. Potential limitations could include shortening the three-year bar, more determinations of what an illegal term for a contract bar, or providing an umbrella clause about when it may or may not apply in the future.

“This is simply about furthering employee choice,” Semmens said. “There are several barriers to remove a union that may be unpopular such as waiting a period of time before petitioning. By that point, it could be difficult for workers to get 30% signatures. Effective unions that serve its members will not have anything to fear.”

UFCW Local 27 also filed a brief on Aug. 21 requesting that the NLRB reverse its decision to allow the petition and argue that the board is reaching beyond its grasp to use proceedings to weigh evidence on the Mountaire decertification vote in order to make a rulemaking proceeding.

Representatives for the UFCW Local 27 were not immediately available for comment Monday.

By Katie Tabeling


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