The National Labor Relations Board recently handed down a ruling finding fault on both sides of a contract dispute between union workers and a Louisiana mining company. NLRB investigates and adjudicates employment law complaints involving organized employee activities. In this case, NLRB investigated the conduct of striking workers as well as the employer’s contract negotiation tactics.

NRLB found that North American Salt Company violated federal labor laws by threatening striking workers with permanent replacement, refusing to immediately rehire some strikers and changing seniority rules after employees returned to their jobs. NLRB also ruled that the company had violated the law by unilaterally imposing the terms of a final contract offer in the absence of a valid impasse in bargaining.

By the same token, NLRB concluded that a two month long strike by employees of the local United Steelworkers union amounted to unfair labor practices. Ultimately, NLRB ordered the mine company to cease its unfair bargaining tactics and restore the terms of union members’ original contract until a new agreement could be fairly negotiated.

A union representative viewed the ruling as a mandate for the company to begin dealing fairly with union employees, but the mining company maintains that it has acted in good faith all along and that it plans to appeal the NLRB decision.

The federal National Labor Relations Act imposes duties on employers and employees alike when it comes to organized labor activities. The act applies to most private sector unions, but also applies to informal collective actions, known as protected concerted activities.

Federal law protects the rights of employees to act in concert to promote or protect their employment related interests. Some examples of protected concerted activities include raising issues to an employer about wages, working conditions or safety concerns, as well as gathering to plan for future organized activities. Louisiana employers should be aware that these types of employee activities are protected by federal law and consider seeking professional advice before taking any responsive action in order to avoid costly employment litigation.

Source: The Kansas City Star, “Regulators rule against Compass Minerals subsidiary in steelworkers strike,” Steve Rosen, Sept. 19, 2012