SHRM Asks Supreme Court to Consider Bargaining Corruption Case

By Steve Bates May 28, 2009
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​The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve a conflict among lower courts in interpreting a key provision of labor law designed to prevent corruption of the collective bargaining process.

SHRM has joined the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Legal Center in submitting a friend-of-the-court brief asking the high court to take up the case Adcock v. Freightliner LLC, which was decided by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The SHRM/NFIB brief says that the appeals court’s ruling in Adcock is contrary to the plain language and congressional intent of Section 302 of the Labor-Management Relations Act (LMRA). If allowed to stand, the ruling will “improperly encourage unions to extort valuable organizational assistance from employers” during bargaining campaigns, according to the brief.

In Adcock, Freightliner, a manufacturer of large commercial vehicles, and the United Auto Workers (UAW) signed agreements establishing ground rules for organizing workers at five Freightliner plants in North Carolina. The company agreed to require employees to attend union meetings during work time at the workplace. The UAW agreed that if it was recognized as the exclusive bargaining representative it would not seek severance payments for laid-off workers. And it accepted an arrangement that would split increases in benefits costs between the company and the workers, among other financial guarantees.

The appeals court ruled that the arrangements did not violate Section 302 of the LMRA, which prohibits the payment by an employer of “money or other thing of value” to a labor organization. The section is designed to prevent corruption of the bargaining process by preventing employers from bribing a union and preventing union extortion of employers.

That decision held that the agreements between Freightliner and the UAW did not provide “things of value” to the union.

The 4th Circuit’s “failure to enforce the plain language of Section 302 leaves employers at the mercy of union corporate campaigns whose primary purpose is to extort organizational assistance,” says the SHRM/NFIB brief. “Such assistance is inherently valuable to unions, and that is why they are willing to spend significant resources on corporate campaign pressure tactics in order to obtain it.”

Union pressure tactics against employers “are becoming widespread because of the courts’ failure to enforce Section 302 according to its plain meaning and original intent,” the brief continues. “The result of such union campaigns is often a perversion of the union organizing process, having little to do with the wishes of employees to organize or refrain from organizing and having much more to do with the great expense to which targeted employers are subjected and what they will do to end the extortion.”

Steve Bates is SHRM’s manager of online editorial content.

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