It didn’t take long for the new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel to give notice that his appointment by President Trump meant that the board would be taking a new direction.
Peter Robb took office in mid-November, and by December 1 he issued an advice memo to staff outlining his priorities.
According to the National Law Review, the advice memo was a “wish list” for employers seeking to overturn decisions during the Obama administrationthat benefited workers.
Robb got down to business on January 4 when he ordered NLRB attorneys to drop a complaint against Honeywell for engaging in an illegal lockout.
Honeywell Aerospace division in 2016 locked out 350 United Autoworkers (UAW) members at its airplane components factories in South Bend, Indiana and Green Island, New York.
In July 2017, six months after the lockout ended, the NLRB determined that the lockout was illegal and issued a complaint against Honeywell.
The complaint was scheduled for trial in May 2018. Had Honeywell been found guilty, it could have been fined as much as $20 million.
Robb’s order cancels the trial and lifts the threat of a multi-million dollar fine.
John Suher, Sr., president of UAW Local 9, the South Bend workers’ union, told WNDU News that Robb’s decision was “a critical blow” to workers and their families who suffered through the ten-month lockout.
“It’s sad that one person has to take down over 300 people in this plant,” Suher said. (the lockout) has affected a lot of families . . . and this was the reason why we filed NLRB charges.”
The lockout began in May 2016 when workers rejected a company proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement.
Honeywell’s contract proposal was so onerous that it seemed like the company wanted workers to reject it, so that the company could lock them out.
The company’s original proposal would have resulted “in dramatic cuts in health care, the elimination of the pension plan, and a weakening of the overtime rules,” said Julie Kushner, UAW Region 9A. “In essence, members would be taking pay cuts after the high cost medical plan (was) forced on the workers.”
Additionally, Honeywell wanted to remove health care as a bargaining issue in future collective bargaining agreement negotiations leaving changes to the health care plan entirely up to the company.
After the lockout began, Honeywell imported temporary strike breakers to keep the two factories operating.
The takeaways proposed by Honeywell, the replacement workers hired by Honeywell, and the company’s intransigence at the bargaining table made workers think that the lockout was aimed at breaking their union, which would have been illegal.
With their livelihoods at stake, the workers fought back. They maintained picket lines throughout the strike. They rallied community support for the locked out workers. They conducted an outreach campaign that explained the issues to the public.
Finally in February 2017, the company made an offer that workers could accept, and the lockout came to an end.
This wasn’t the first time in recent history that Honeywell has used a lockout against workers.
The company in 2010 locked out United Steelworkers members at its Metropolis, Illinois uranium processing plant. That lockout lasted 13 months.
Four years later, Honeywell locked out the same workers for seven months.
Honeywell is not alone. Moshe Marvit of the The Century Foundation in a 2016 report finds that “the labor lockout was once a rare phenomenon compared to the strike. . ., but in recent years, the federal courts and (NLRB) have expanded its permissible use.”
The result according to Marvit is that lockouts “now represent a significant portion of work stoppages.”
Furthermore, says Marvit, “This enhancement of management power is designed to weaken the bargaining power of labor.”
Had Honeywell’s trial taken place in May and had the company been found guilty of an illegal lockout, such a ruling would have made lockouts more risky for employers and improved the bargaining position of workers.
But thanks to General Counsel Robb that was not to be.
Robb’s action shouldn’t come as a surprise. Before he was appointed to his present position by President Trump, Robb was a director at Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, a Vermont law firm.
The National Law Review describes Robb as “a long-time management side labor lawyer.”
UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said that the fact that Robb is a political appointee should make workers take notice at election time.
“This case shows why we must support candidates who will advance the interests of hard-working Americans and their families over big business,” Settles said.