A federal judge in Pittsburgh has reprimanded the National Labor Relations Board for its heavy-handed and questionable treatment of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) in a labor dispute between the healthcare giant and the SEIU.
A UPMC hospital is undergoing a two-part trial over SEIU’s allegations that the company committed unfair labor practices. The first case involves the charge that UPMC management conducted interrogations and surveillance of organizing activity and made implied threats of discipline and arrest. NLRB judges have not yet issued a ruling for that case. The second case involves SEIU’s claim that UPMC is one entity, and therefore vulnerable to unionization, which the UPMC denies because it claims that each hospital is its own entity.
U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab weighed in and said,
The Court does not see how these requests have any legitimate relationship or relevance to the underlying alleged unfair labor practices; instead, the requests seek highly confidential and proprietary information (except for a few public documents); the requests have no proportionality to the underlying charges; and, the requests seek information that a union would not be entitled to receive as part of a normal organization effort.
Judge Schwab also said,
Indeed, the scope and nature of the requests, coupled with the NLRB’s efforts to obtain said documents for, and on behalf of the SEIU, arguably moves the NLRB from its investigatory function and enforcer of federal labor law, to serving as the litigation arm of the union, and a co-participant in the ongoing organization effort of the union…
In the end Judge Schwab unfortunately decided to let the NLRB get away with the excessive barrage of subpoenas.
If the NLRB is indeed stepping out of its investigatory function and acting as air support for the SEIU’s organizing effort of UPMC, it would not be the first time the federal bureaucracy has played favorites under President Obama’s watch.
In the past, the NLRB has dealt with employers harshly by forcing them to reinstate employees who were fired for profane outbursts in the workplace because, according to their odd interpretation of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, cursing out a boss is part of “protected concerted activity for the purpose of unionization.” The NLRB has also tried to classify McDonald’s franchisees as joint employers of the corporation, ignoring the fact that franchisees are independently owned and operated. The move would make it harder for less-skilled local men and women to gain managerial experience as managers of McDonald’s stores across the country, diminishing opportunity for countless workers. It’s safe to assume that the only reason the NLRB is effectively destroying the long-standing franchise system is because it would make it easier for unions to organize McDonald’s if every store was categorized as a joint employer.
Most outrageous of all, the NLRB tried to interfere with Boeing’s operations by claiming that it could not build a factory in South Carolina because such a move would have been an “illegal retaliation” against striking union members employed in Washington.
This NLRB trend of playing favorites is contrary to the primary goals of the NLRA, which are to “protect the rights of employees and employers,” and promote “industrial peace.” Congress must either disband the NLRB or more clearly define the board’s rule-making and judicial powers.