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Labor – Union Recognition Withdrawal – Employer Action – Injunction

Although there was a substantial, employee-led effort to decertify the union at defendant’s Boykins, Virginia, plant that manufactured seat belt webbing, a Norfolk U.S. District Court nevertheless concludes employer did impermissibly interject itself into that employee-led effort, by such measures as the HR director’s use of a quality control intern to solicit employee signatures on a decertification petition; however, the court declines the union’s request for injunctive relief.

There has been a movement in the courts of appeals away from the reasonable cause/just and proper standard toward the traditional equitable standard for granting a preliminary injunction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 65. The reasonable cause/just and proper standard has been entirely abandoned by the 7th, 8th and 9th Circuits. The 1st and 2nd Circuits have retained the “reasonable cause” prong, but apply the traditional equitable criteria when addressing the “just and proper” prong.

The 4th Circuit has yet to revisit the reasonable cause/just and proper standard. However, two district courts in the circuit have addressed the reasonable cause/just and proper standard in the wake of the shift by other circuit courts away from it in favor of the traditional equitable approach to requests for injunctive relief.

In the absence of a 4th Circuit mandate directing otherwise, this court will apply the reasonable cause/just and proper standard, which remains in effect in this circuit. However, to the extent that a consideration of the traditional equitable criteria is necessary in order to determine whether injunctive relief is “just and proper,” it is appropriate for the court consider them.

Based on the evidence in the record before this court, there is reasonable cause to believe that employer violated the National Labor Relations Act. The strongest evidence to support this finding is the conduct of employer’s human resources director, who provided more than a ministerial role in the decertification petition, at least with respect to the activity of a quality control intern, who engaged in a rather extensive effort to solicit signatures, sometimes during working hours, by telling employees they would receive raises if they got rid of the union. The HR director also provided the intern with health insurance information which she used to demonstrate to employees that they would receive better health insurance without the union. The intern would submit the signature she collected to the HR director, who would then tell her how many more signatures were needed. The administrative law judge found the HR director violated the Act through his conduct and that the intern acted as an agent of employer when she solicited employees to sign the petition.

The court will defer to the ALJ’s conclusion that the HR director gave more than “ministerial assistance” to the intern with regard to her decertification effort.

The ALJ also found additional violations. Specifically, in response to requests from several employees as to how they could resign their membership in the union, employer prepared letters for the employees to sign which revoked authorization of union dues and fees. These letters were presented to employees by a supervisor. The court agrees with the ALJ that employer’s responses went beyond ministerial aid when presented with employee inquiries as to how to withdraw from the union. Also, the ALJ found that by permitting another employee to place a copy of the petition in a supervisor’s office, for the convenience of those employees who wished to sign it, a supervisor violated the Act by tacitly facilitating the decertification effort. The court finds the supervisor’s behavior provides additional reasonable cause to believe the Act has been violated, as it is another improper response by employer to the employee-led effort to remove the union.

The court does not find that injunctive relief is just and proper. This is not a situation in which an employer undermined support for a newly certified, fragile union. An injunction would unduly infringe on the section 7 rights of those employees, including the employee intervenors, who have expressed a clear desire not to be represented by the union.

Request for injunctive relief denied.

Timmins, Acting Regional Director, 11th Region of the NLRB v. Narricot Industries LP (Smith, J.) No. 2:08cv189, July 24, 2008; USDC at Norfolk, Va. VLW 008-3-278, 23 pp.

VLW 008-3-278

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