Pennsylvania school bus drivers are suing the federal government for preventing them from holding a vote to cut ties with their union.
A pair of drivers at Krise Transportation in northwestern Pennsylvania led a campaign to cut ties with Teamsters Local 397 after souring with their representation. Their efforts gained nearly universal support form their fellow workers; 24 of the bargaining unit's 28 employees signed a petition to hold an election on maintaining the relationship with the union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal government's top labor arbiter in charge of monitoring union elections, killed any hope of that vote, according to a new lawsuit.
An agency policy prevents decertification elections from taking place within a "reasonable period of time" following a settlement agreement between an employer and a labor organization, a doctrine known as the "settlement bar" rule. Krise settled a case with Local 397 in March, two months before workers petitioned to vote the union out. Those workers were not parties to the unfair labor practice case settled by Krise and say the agency is coercing them to remain in a union they do not want. The suit argues that workers should not pay the price for violations committed by their employer and that the board's actions are contrary to the intent of the National Labor Relations Act.
"The NLRB is forcing them to be exclusively represented by a minority union that they oppose," the suit says. "In refusing to investigate Plaintiffs' decertification petition and denying them the ability to raise a question concerning representation, the NLRB has acted outside of its delegated statutory authority … The NLRA's text and plain meaning do not grant the NLRB statutory authority to issue an order that categorically bars a group of employees from raising a question concerning representation."
The agency did not respond to requests for comment.
The NLRB has received scrutiny in recent years for its handling of the union election process. Under the Obama administration the board adopted new rules to speed up unionization votes. It created new rules that forced companies to hand over personal information of workers and limited an employer's ability to counter union arguments. The new rules, however, did not extend similar privileges to decertification campaigns in which workers vote to separate from their unions.
The workers' suit says the freedom to cut ties with a labor organization is just as vital as the right to join one. The agency's blockade of a decertification vote will violate their rights to associate freely.
"Employees have a statutory right to refrain from joining or assisting a labor organization and to refrain from collective bargaining," the suit says.
The workers are represented by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The group's president, Mark Mix, said the privileges awarded to union representatives should be earned rather than assumed. He said in a statement that the suit is meant "to challenge the Board's union boss-friendly practices."
"The National Labor Relations Act is premised on union officials only being granted monopoly bargaining status when they have the support of a majority of the workers they claim to represent. Yet inexplicably the NLRB has concocted several rules that undermine the Act by blocking workers from voting out unwanted representation," Mix said in a statement. "Such doctrines have been restricting workers' voices for far too long."
A Local 397 official declined to comment on the case or the decertification movement.