Mar 18, 2010

NLRB Judge Finally Gets Around to Ruling on 2007 Case

Here’s a sad illustration of how dysfunctional federal labor relations regulations are in this country, and how badly we need the Employee Free Choice Act, a wholesale reform of federal labor law.

Blast from the past: back in 2007, the UFCW filed a complaint against Foster Farms with the National Labor Relations Board for illegally influencing workers at a California plant who wanted to join a union. And now, 3 years later, an NLRB administrative judge has ruled that Foster Farms did in fact violate federal labor laws at its Porterville plant. Administrative Law Judge Gerald A. Wacknov ruled that the company promised workers improved benefits in "an effort to diminish" support for unionization.

The decision is of course a victory, however symbolic, for workers who were deceived and mistreated throughout the course of the organizing drive, and it will help them take the next step in scheduling another election. But the real story here is the one that others seem to be overlooking: the NLRB took three years to issue its first ruling one that can and most likely will be appealed several times, amounting to more years of delay on this simple, relatively small-scale complaint. The Porterville case was a pretty straightforward example of employer misconduct during an organizing campaign; Foster farms tried to ramp up benefits at its non-union plant to make workers think they didn’t need a union. Management actually told workers they’d have better pay and benefits if they remained non-union. What’s more, in 2008, the NLRB ruled that the failed 2007 election had been a sham, finding the company guilty of not translating sample ballots into Spanish and Laotian, languages spoken by many of the workers at the plant.

So why the delay on this case? And, while were at it, why such a light punishment for Foster Farms? The company broke federal law, intimidated and misled workers, and took advantage of language barriers, all to keep just 400 workers from unionizing. That’s pretty deviant behavior, but the company is barely getting a slap on the wrist. Judge Wacknov instructed Foster Farms not to repeat its behavior, and is requiring that it post information about the case in public areas, so workers can learn about the violation. I wonder if Judge Wacknov thought to remind the company to post that information in languages other than English.The sad state of affairs at the NLRB is just more painful evidence of why we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. The way things are now, companies know they can break the law without consequence. Imagine if other federal laws were so selectively enforced. Interstate drug trafficking? No biggie. Free speech? Eh, overrated. Counterfeiting? *Yawn*.

America’s workforce deserves better.

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