Restaurants’ ‘micro unions’ quashed by NLRB

Restaurants had another fear killed by the National Labor Relations Board on Friday when the panel reversed a 6-year-old ruling that allowed unions to organize a handful of employees into collective bargaining units.

The so-called micro unions, sometimes including fewer than 10 employees, were easier to organize because of their size. Restaurants and other employers feared the small collective bargaining groups would give union organizers a foothold to organize the rest of a chain or restaurant’s employees.

The approach has been tried several times in the restaurant business. In 2013, for instance, labor advocates tried to organize just the bakers who worked at a single Panera Bread Co. franchise in Michigan.

Other efforts have focused on organizing just the delivery workers of a few restaurants.

The NLRB effectively closed that option in a decision involving an aeronautical manufacturing company called PCC Structurals. About 100 welders at the company, out of a total payroll of 2,565 employees, had been organized into a collective bargaining unit by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. PCC had challenged the AFL-CIO unit’s right to represent such a small splinter of the workforce.

In a 2011 case, the NLRB had ruled that unions could split off groups of employees with common interests and represent just that portion of a company’s workforce. Employers who objected to the formation of a micro union had to prove that excluded employees shared the same working conditions, a near impossibility in a company with multiple departments.

In Friday’s decision, the NLRB rejected that test of legality, indicating instead that the burden of proving the need for a micro union should rest on the union. Unless an organizer could make the case for splitting a workforce, a union could not claim to represent just a splinter.

The decision was the latest in a string of reversals by the NLRB of decidedly pro-labor policies set by the board’s incarnation during the Obama administration. The board has been reconstituted by the Trump administration, with Republicans holding a majority of the five seats for the first time in a decade.

“On the heels of the ruling to overturn the expansive joint-employer standard, this is another excellent decision by the new NLRB,” David French, SVP of government relations for the National Retail Federation, said in a statement.

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