What goes around, comes around, they say, right? Not so fast said one NLRB Administrative Law Judge on November 22, 2017, when she held that the Communication Workers of America, Local 1101, violated Sections 8(b)(1)(A) and 8(b)(2) by attempting to cause Verizon Communications, Inc. to discriminate against former union member Sidra Epps for crossing the picket line. The Union and Company had a collective bargaining agreement that expired in August 2015 and, after not coming to terms on a successor agreement, the Union began a strike in April 2016 that involved nearly 40,000 employees stretching from Maine to Virginia. Expectedly, Ms. Epps, who had been a Union member since 1996, was assigned picket duty but she found this task to be too arduous due to her various health conditions. Unexpectedly, however, the Union decided that this 20-year member’s strike activity was not sufficient to warrant her receipt of strike benefits, effectively leaving Ms. Epps without any resources during the unknown duration of the strike (it lasted approximately seven-weeks and was considered a success by both the local and international). As a result, Ms. Epps resigned from the Union and crossed the picket line.
In the weeks following the conclusion of the strike, several Union officials attempted, either in person or by phone, to get Verizon to transfer Ms. Epps from the Company’s Manhattan location where she worked throughout her time with the Company. Ultimately, while the ALJ recognized that the record was devoid of direct evidence showing the Union attempted to cause Ms. Epps’s transfer, the ALJ credited the testimony of the Verizon official repeatedly solicited to move Ms. Epps over the inconsistent testimony proffered by Union officials. Notably, the ALJ also relied on inconsistencies between the Union’s position statement provided to the Region in response to the unfair labor practice charge and the Union’s testimony offered on the day of trial.
Simply put, the Union was caught red handed in attempting to persuade Verizon to transfer Ms. Epps for crossing the picket line after she was denied the most important benefit afforded to her during a strike as a bargaining unit member: a benefit to subsidize her loss of wages. Making matters worse, the Union apparently failed to have a full grasp of the facts before submitting their position statement and these inconsistencies were highlighted at the hearing. It should also be noted that Verizon would have been in violation of Section 8(a)(3) of the Act if it acquiesced to the Union’s transfer requests of Ms. Epps.
In sum, this ALJ decision may not deter this type of union misconduct that occurs more often than labor bosses are willing to admit, but hopefully this case does shed some light on how resentful and spiteful some unions can be (even towards their own).
Carlos A. Torrejon is a former NLRB Attorney and an associate in the firm’s Labor and Employment Department, resident in its Morristown office.