In regulatory action last week, the current board of the National Labor Relations Board not-so-subtly identified several areas where the Board wants to reverse course. Specifically, on October 16, 2018, the Board’s General Counsel released four advice memorandums issued during the Obama administration addressing several topics, including dress codes, replacement of striking employees, and video recordings of workplace strikes.
It is uncommon for advice memos to be released, especially those from prior administrations. Most times, such releases happen after a matter has been resolved or the General Counsel has directed a region to dismiss a case. When memos are released, it is because the Board wants to draw attention to a trending topic or point of emphasis. In this instance, the Board released advice memos that were quite favorable to labor unions and workers:
- In two advice memos involving Walmart dating to 2013, the Board’s General Counsel at that time recommended that the regional director bring unfair labor practices when the retailer (1) told a plainclothes security guard that he could not wear union clothing while undercover; and (2) prohibited workers from wearing union insignia shirts and then disciplined them for engaging in a work stoppage (which the General Counsel opined was not an unprotected sit-in strike);
- In a different 2013 memo, the General Counsel found that Boeing acted unlawfully when it recorded union solidarity marches that happened on its property while it also had a rule in its employee handbook that blocked employees from using cameras on its property; and
- In another advice memo issued in early 2017, the then-General Counsel concluded a California fishery committed an unfair labor practice when it unlawfully replaced striking employees by giving temporary employees permanent positions.
These memos are noteworthy since the current General Counsel, Peter Robb, and the Board at large are unlikely to support the positions espoused in the Obama era memos. For instance, in December 2017, the Board has changed course in the Boeing matter, concluding that the Board’s previous edicts on handbooks gave too much credence to employees’ rights and too little to employers’ interests.
Considering the reversal in Boeing matter, the fact that the General Counsel released the other advice memos on the same day potentially signals those advice memos do not reflect the Trump-era General Counsel or Board’s position. For that reason, employers may wish to challenge similar unfair labor practice findings in other settings.
Still, although these advice memos may be a relic of the Obama-era Board, another administration’s Board could renew the legal theories and positions contained in the advice memos. Thus, at the very least, employers should remain mindful of the views taken in the advice memos and consider potential protective steps.