The right of workers to organize and bargain collectively with employers has led to many important reforms in workplace safety and working conditions. Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in the 1930s to protect these rights. The law created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to adjudicate complaints about interference with organizing activities and other unlawful acts. In 2020, the NLRB ruled in favor of three former employees of a New Jersey bakery production plant who alleged that their employer wrongfully terminated them because of their union activities, along with other alleged NLRA violations. After an appellate court affirmed the ruling, the NLRB pursued an enforcement action against the employer. This resulted in an award of $2.3 million in damages for the three employees. If you have questions or concerns about organizing or collective bargaining in the workplace, reach out to a New Jersey employment lawyer as soon as possible.
The NLRA protects workers’ rights to organize themselves, either by joining an existing labor union or forming a new one, and to engage in collective bargaining and other “concerted activities” related to organizing or protection. Section 8 of the statute prohibits a variety of actions by both employers and unions. Employers may not interfere with employees’ protected activities, nor may they discriminate or retaliate on the basis of union activities. Once employees have chosen representatives to bargain collectively on their behalf, the employer may not refuse to engage with them.
The three complainants in the NLRB action worked at a plant in Fair Lawn, New Jersey as floor helpers and icing mixers. The plant produces cookies and crackers for a major brand. The complainants had been involved with the union for multiple years. The union, according to the decision from the administrative law judge (ALJ), has been the exclusive representative for plant workers since 1958.
A collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the employer and the union expired in February 2016. While the union negotiated with the employer for a new CBA, the employer reportedly began to make changes to work schedules and employee policies without notifying or consulting with the union. The complainants alleged that the employer’s actions violated § 8(a)(5) of the NLRA, which requires the employer to negotiate with the employees’ authorized union. In June and July 2016, the employer suspended and then fired the three complainants.
In January 2019, the ALJ found that the employer violated the NLRA by, among other acts, terminating the complainants. The NLRB affirmed most of the ALJ’s ruling in March 2020. The employer, which is based in Illinois, filed a petition for review with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The NLRB filed a cross-application for enforcement. The appellate court found in July 2021 that “substantial evidence supports” the NLRB’s ruling. It denied the employer’s petition and granted the NLRB’s enforcement application. This cleared the way for NLRB’s Region 22 office to initiate a compliance investigation of the employer.
The employer entered into an agreement with the NLRB in March 2022 to resolve the matter. As part of the agreement, it paid a sum of $2,313,126 to the three complainants and expunged the unlawful suspensions and terminations from their employee files. While the NLRB had earlier ordered the employer to offer reinstatement to the complainants, all three waived the offer.
The employment lawyers at the Resnick Law Group represent employees in New Jersey and New York who have experienced wrongful termination and other violations of federal or state law. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how our team can help you.