Federal Law Restricts Employers’ Ability to Enact Mass Layoffs in New Jersey and Nationwide

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) enables workers to organize themselves for the purpose of collective bargaining with their employers. A current dispute between a major telecommunications company and its employees’ union alleges that the company is planning mass layoffs, in violation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the parties, and with the alleged intent of “diminish[ing] the Union’s bargaining strength.” Commc’ns Workers of Am. (CWA) v. AT&T Southwest, No. 1:17-cv-01221, complaint at 6 (W.D. Tex., Dec. 30, 2017). The union also filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). AT&T Southwest, No. 16-CA-212398, charge (NLRB, Dec. 29, 2017). The case grew out of assertions made by prominent telecommunications companies regarding recent political issues, including recent tax cuts and changes to federal “net neutrality” rules. While the defendant employer claims the layoffs are due to a lack of work, the plaintiff asserts that the telecommunications business is booming. The issues raised by the lawsuit are likely to affect New Jersey labor rights as well.

Under the NLRA, employers may not interfere with workers’ efforts to organize, nor may they discriminate or retaliate against employees who engage in protected activity. The law also requires employers to collectively bargain with representatives chosen by the employees in accordance with its provisions. Once an employer and the employees’ representatives have entered into a CBA, it is binding on both parties. The NLRA allows claims to enforce CBA provisions and to collect damages for breaches. It also allows recovery of damages for various unfair labor practices described in § 8 of the statute, 29 U.S.C. § 158.

The plaintiff in CWA describes itself in its complaint as a labor union authorized to bring suit on behalf of the defendant’s employees under § 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947. 29 U.S.C. § 185. The parties entered into the current CBA in April 2017. According to the complaint, a representative of the defendant’s labor relations department informed the plaintiff in December 2017 of the defendant’s intention to lay off 152 individuals employed as “Premises Technicians” (PTs) in at least four states. CWA, complaint at 4. The defendant’s representative cited “a reduction in workload” as the reason. Id.

The plaintiff describes the defendant’s act as “an extraordinary act of corporate cruelty” and claims that the reason provided by the defendant was “palpably false.” Id. at 5. Rather than experiencing a lack of work, the plaintiff claims, the defendant has “approximately 1,000 or more subcontracted employees” performing the same work as the PTs. Id. The plaintiff further alleges that the defendant has merely shifted the majority of the work that the PTs could do to subcontractors. In addition to the PTs, the defendant announced layoffs of another 561 employees whose work is allegedly also being shifted to subcontractors.

The CWA lawsuit seeks specific enforcement of the CBA, citing a clause that “requires the parties to deal with each other in good faith and respect.” Id. at 6-7. The NLRB charge alleges unfair labor practices in violation of § 8 of the NLRA. It claims that laying off employees while giving the same work to contractors constitutes discrimination and retaliation in violation of § 8(a)(3) and refusal to collectively bargain in violation of § 8(a)(5).

If you need to speak to a labor lawyer about a dispute in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

NLRB Reverses 2016 Decision, Gives ALJs Greater Authority to Force Settlements in New Jersey Labor Disputes, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, February 2, 2018

Third Circuit Rules on Legality of Mass Layoffs After Failed Sale of Company, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 20, 2017

New Jersey Law Requires Employers to Give Specific Notification to Employees During Layoffs and Other Major Upheavals, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, April 14, 2017

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