Bargaining in a Time of Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the unprecedented response thereto by various layers of government has caused many, if not most businesses to rearrange their hours or operations, lay off employees or even to cease doing business altogether. Given this seemingly unprecedented situation, many unionized employers may wonder what duty they have to bargain over specific changes to their ways of doing business.NLRB Memo

General Counsel Peter Robb recently provided some helpful guidance summarizing prior NLRB case law on this timely topic. The first portion of Robb’s memo (GC Memo 20-04) summarizes various Board decisions touching on an employer’s duty to bargain during public emergency situations, such as hurricanes, 9/11 and other emergencies.

By way of background, because an employer’s decision to lay off bargaining unit employees is a mandatory subject of bargaining, an employer is generally obligated to bargain with an incumbent union with respect to both the decision to lay off and the effects of that decision. However, an exception to that rule exists if an employer can demonstrate that economic exigencies compel prompt action. Although the Board has consistently maintained a narrow view of this exception, unforeseen extraordinary events which have a major economic effect may fit within it.

For example, in Port Printing & Specialties, 351 NLRB 1269 (2007), the Board ruled Continue reading

NLRB Finalizes Joint Employer Rule

Joint EmployerOn February 26, 2020, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) published its final joint employer rule in the Federal Register, which tightens the test used to analyze whether workers are jointly employed by affiliated businesses. The final rule is intended to roll-back the stricter Obama-era standard that business interests have longed to overturn.

History of Joint Employer Rule

Under longstanding NLRB precedent, two employers could be joint employers if they shared or codetermined matters governing the employees’ essential terms and conditions of employment. Until 2015, to be a joint employer, a business had to exercise “direct and immediate” control over these employment matters

Then, the Obama-era NLRB overruled the old standard in its decision in Browning-Ferris, and substantially relaxed the standards for proving joint Continue reading

DOL Releases Final Rule for Determining Joint Employer Status

Department of LaborEarlier this week, on January 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced the release of its final rule revising and updating its regulations interpreting joint employer status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  According to DOL, “The final rule provides updated guidance for determining joint employer status when an employee performs work for his or her employer that simultaneously benefits another individual or entity, including guidance on the identification of certain factors that are not relevant when determining joint employer status.”  The DOL published its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on April 9, 2019, and received over 12,000 comments within the 30-day comment period.  The final rule becomes effective on March 16, 2020, 60 days after publication in the Federal Register today, January 16, 2020.

As a threshold matter, under the FLSA, an employee working for one company may be found to be the joint employee of a second, independent company, depending on the nature and extent of control over the employee’s work.  Joint employer status is important for numerous reasons, including the fact that a joint employer can be held joint and severally liable for FLSA wage and hour obligations.  In 1958, DOL published an interpretive regulation, 29 C.F.R. § 791, explaining that joint employer status depends on whether multiple persons are “not completely disassociated” or “acting entirely independently of each other” with respect to the employee’s employment. 

Specifically, the regulation provided three situations where two or more employers are generally considered joint employers: (1) where there is an arrangement between the employers to share the employee’s services (e.g., to interchange employees); (2) where one employer is acting directly or indirectly in the interest of the other employer (or employers) in relation to the employee; or (3) where the employers are not completely disassociated with respect to the employment of a particular employee and may be deemed to share control of the employee, directly or indirectly, by reason of the fact that one employer controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with the other employer.  The DOL issued its NPRM out of concern that Continue reading

NLRB General Counsel’s Comment Indicates Expected Restoration of Pro-Employer Precedent

During a recent conference at New York University, NLRB General Counsel, Peter Robb, hinted at the forthcoming restoration of more than fifty years of precedent allowing employers to cease withholding union dues after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement containing the so-called “dues check-off” provision.

shutterstock_gavel.jpgAs reported by Law360, Robb referred to the 2015 Obama-era decision overturning that precedent as “misguided,” and stated further: “I think unless there’s clear language that the dues check-off should continue, it shouldn’t.” Prior to that 2015 decision, the Board had, since 1962, consistently held that dues check-off provisions, which implement union security provisions by providing for the automatic deduction of union dues, could be cancelled by employers upon contract expiration. See Bethlehem Steel Co., 136 NLRB 1500 (1962).

Continue reading

NLRB Returns to Common-Law Test for Independent Contractors

Last Friday, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) returned to its long-standing independent-contractor standard, reaffirming its adherence to the traditional common-law test.  In deciding SuperShuttle DFW, Inc. on January 25, 2019, shutterstock_424794466the Board voted 3-1 along party lines to overturn the 2014 Obama-era ruling in FedEx Home Delivery.  In that case, the Board modified the applicable test for determining independent-contractor status by “significantly limit[ing] the importance of [a worker’s] entrepreneurial opportunity.”  Specifically, the Board in FedEx created a new factor – “rendering services as part of an independent business” – and made entrepreneurial opportunity merely one aspect of that factor.  However, in its Friday decision, the Board found that FedEx impermissibly altered the common-law test, and clarified the essential role entrepreneurial opportunity plays in its determination of independent-contractor status.

In SuperShuttle, the Board analyzed the issue of whether franchisees who operate shared-ride vans for SuperShuttle Dallas-Fort Worth are employees covered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) or independent contractors.  Shuttle van drivers for SuperShuttle sought to unionize at Dallas-Forth Worth airport, but the protections of the NLRA do not extend to independent contractors.  The Acting Regional Director, in making her decision before the 2014 FedEx case, applied the traditional common-law test and found that SuperShuttle met its burden in establishing that the franchisees are independent contractors and not employees.  After overturning FedEx and applying the common-law test, the Board affirmed the Acting Regional Director’s decision.

To start, the Board explained that the inquiry into whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor has traditionally depended on the common-law agency test, which involves the application of Continue reading

Fall 2018 Unified Agenda Forecasts Several Significant Employment-Related Regulatory & Deregulatory Actions

By: Mark M. Trapp and Aaron R. Gelb

On October 17, 2018, the Trump Administration released its Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (“Agenda”). Reports such as these, usually issued twice a year, set forth each federal agency’s forecast of its anticipated actions and rulemaking priorities for the next six-month period. It also provides estimated timelines for completion. This regulatory to-do list provides insight into the administration’s upcoming priorities. The current Agenda emphasizes the Trump Administration’s efforts to deregulate industry, but also includes several regulatory items of importance to employers.

Here is a summary, broken down by department, of the most significant employment-related items addressed in the Agenda.

Department of LaborFall 2018 Agenda_DOL_3

Wage and Hour Division

Joint Employment. The Obama administration took a much broader view of “joint employment” – situations in which a worker may be considered an employee of two or more separate employers. Following the lead of the NLRB, which last month issued its own proposed rule re-tightening the standard for joint employment, the DOL announced its intention to “clarify the contours of the joint employment relationship to assist the regulated community in complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act.” A notice of proposed rulemaking is scheduled to issue as early as December 2018 and will hopefully modernize the method for determining joint employment in today’s workplace.

White Collar Overtime Exemption. The DOL has listed as a priority its long-awaited rule to update the salary level for the exemption of executive, administrative and professional employees under the FLSA (the so-called white-collar exemption). It is expected to raise the threshold exemption for such employees from the historical level under the FLSA ($23,660 annually), but not as high as the former rule adopted by the Obama administration, which would have more than doubled the minimum salary level but was enjoined by a court. The timeframe is somewhat unclear and has been pushed back twice already. The Agenda states it is now expected in March 2019.

Regular Rate. Under the FLSA, employers must pay covered employees time and a half their regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours in a workweek. The DOL has stated its intent to amend its regulations “to clarify, update and define the regular rate requirements under the FLSA.” The new proposal is expected in December 2018.

Tip Regulations. In March of 2018, the omnibus budget bill amended the FLSA and addressed rules affecting tipped employees and so-called “tip pooling.” The DOL is expected to issue a proposed rule this month to clarify and address the impact of the 2018 FLSA amendments.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses. OSHA proposed to amend its recordkeeping regulation to remove the requirement to electronically submit to OSHA information from OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) and OSHA Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) for establishments with 250 or more employees which are required to routinely keep injury and illness records. Under the proposed rule, these establishments would be required to electronically submit only information from the OSHA Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses). OSHA also proposed to add the Employer Identification Number (EIN) to the data collection to increase the likelihood that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) would be able to match OSHA-collected data to BLS Survey of Occupational Injury and Illness (SOII) data and potentially reduce the burden on employers who are required to report injury and illness data both to OSHA (for the electronic recordkeeping requirement) and to BLS. OSHA is reviewing comments and is expected to publish a final rule in June 2019. Many entities submitted comments regarding the anti-retaliation provisions of the rule, but it is not known whether OSHA will make further changes to that aspect of the rule. Meanwhile, OSHA issued a memorandum on October 11, 2018 with the stated intent of clarifying that the rule does not prohibit workplace safety incentive programs or post-incident drug testing. Action taken under a safety incentive program or post-incident drug testing policy would only violate 29 C.F.R. § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv) if the employer took the action to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness rather than for the legitimate purpose of promoting workplace safety and health. This rulemaking has been moved from the Proposed Rule Stage to the Final Rule Stage. Continue reading

Going Through Withdrawal – Strategies for Minimizing Your Multiemployer Pension Withdrawal Liability, Protecting Your Assets and Saving Your Business

Join Conn Maciel Carey Labor & Employment Practice Group partner, Mark Trapp, on November 14, 2018 when he presents an interactive workshop to help unionized employers understand and analyze what is often the most critical challenge facing their business – multiemployer pension withdrawal liability.  Attendees will learn innovative and aggressive techniques and strategies to address this issue and proactively secure the future of their company. Increasing Money Graph

This workshop will also discuss the current legislative environment for multiemployer pension plans and issues, particularly the work of the Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans, charged with preparing a report and recommended legislative language by November 30 to “significantly improve the solvency” of multiemployer pension plans and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Workshop attendees will:

  • Gain a broad understanding of the challenges facing employers who participate in a multiemployer pension plan

  • Discover strategies for assessing and minimizing their withdrawal liability risks through collective bargaining and business planning

  • Examine the status and possibility of legislative relief from the Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans

Click here to register.