In Woodcrest Health Care Center and 119 SEIU, United Healthcare Workers Eastt, the NLRB ruled that an employer violated federal labor laws by improving health care benefits for some employees while declining to extend such improvements to those employees eligible to vote in a union election.
The decision shows how cautious employers must be when changing benefits during a union election period. It also provides a roadmap for how employers can avoid the appearance of impropriety.Woodcrest is a rehabilitation and nursing facility headquartered in New Jersey. On January 1st, 2012, the company reduced its health care benefits and increased related costs for all employees. In response to employee complaints, the company reinstated the former benefits to all employees except those eligible to vote in an upcoming union election.
The union alleged that this was an unfair labor practice and filed a charge with the NLRB. The company argued that it was merely attempting to avoid the appearance of trying to sway the outcome of the election by increasing benefits just before the vote. The company further argued that it intended to extend the benefit increase to the union members after the election.
The NLRB sided with the union, ruling that the company’s actions violated the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”). The NLRB made clear that whenever a company changes benefits during a union election period, it must extend the new benefit levels to all employees without regard to the election.
Furthermore, the NLRB clarified,
an employer may postpone…benefit adjustment so long as it makes clear to employees that the adjustment would occur whether or not they select a union, and that the sole purpose of the adjustment’s postponement is to avoid the appearance of influencing the elections outcome.”
As this case illustrates, making changes to benefits during union elections can be a legal mine field for employers.
-Ali Reza Mokhtari Fox