A Pennsylvania judge accused a federal labor arbiter of acting as an extension of a powerful labor union in a dispute with a local hospital.
Federal Judge Arthur J. Schwab said that the National Labor Relations Board overstepped its bounds when it demanded personnel information from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian (UPMC) during an investigation into alleged unfair labor practices filed by SEIU. The hospital objected to three requests because they would aid the union’s attempt to organize the workplace.
Schwab called the NLRB’s requests "overly broad and unfocused" and unprecedented in their "massive nature."
"The scope and nature of the requests, coupled with the NLRB’s efforts to obtain said documents for, and on behalf of, the SEIU, arguably moves the NLRB from its investigatory function and enforcer of labor law, to serving as the litigation arm of the Union, and a co-participant in the ongoing organization effort of the Union," the ruling states.
The NLRB is in charge of enforcing labor law and overseeing the unionization process. Regional officials were called in to UPMC to investigate union charges that UPMC management had interfered with pro-union employees. The company appealed to the federal courts to determine if the "investigation has a legitimate purpose [and] the inquiry is relevant to that purpose."
Schwab said the agency’s pursuit of the information was a transparent attempt at providing "highly confidential and proprietary information" to the union.
"The Court does not see how these requests have any legitimate relationship or relevance to the underlying alleged unfair labor practices," Schwab wrote in the August 22 opinion. "The unfair labor practices are being used … to attempt to legitimize a massive document request."
A NLRB spokesman said that the agency was not allowed to comment on ongoing litigation. He further declined to speak about criticism lobbed at the agency from labor watchdogs and congressional Republicans about perceived bias at the agency.
"I’m not going to comment on that," he said.
Despite Judge Schwab’s concerns with the intrusiveness of the NLRB’s requests, he approved of the three requests. Legal precedent binds District Courts to serve as a "rubber stamp" for such subpoenas, while Appeals Courts are entrusted to strike them down. Schwab placed a stay on his approval, in order to give the company time to appeal to a higher court.
UPMC did not return requests for comment.
Glenn Taubmann, an attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said that the judge’s decision reflects the attitude of many labor attorneys who appear before the NLRB. Under the Obama administration, he said, the agency has become transparently pro-union.
"It’s really great that a federal judge realized that the NLRB is now a wholly owned subsidiary of union," Taubmann said. "He realized that they’re working hand in glove to help the corporate campaign that SEIU is running."