Relocating Plant Didn't Eliminate Bargaining Duty

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

June 6 — Moving a manufacturing operation more than 200 miles didn't relieve Gaylord Chemical Co. of its obligation to recognize and bargain with the United Steelworkers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held ( NLRB v. Gaylord Chem. Co., 2016 BL 177356, 11th Cir., No. 15-10006, 6/3/16 ).

The court held that designating an international union and its local in a collective bargaining agreement doesn't strip the union of bargaining rights if the employer moves outside the local's territory.

Writing for the court June 3, Judge Kenneth F. Ripple rejected the company's argument that its duty to bargain with the USW ceased once the facility was moved outside the jurisdiction of a Steelworkers local that was designated in a collective bargaining agreement to represent employees along with the international union.

The court agreed with the National Labor Relations Board that the USW bargaining unit was “basically unchanged” by the relocation and the company continued to have a duty to recognize and bargain with the international union.

Unit Moved to a New Location

Gaylord acquired a Bogalusa, La., manufacturing plant where the Steelworkers had represented employees for decades.

Gaylord signed a collective bargaining agreement that referred to USW and its Local 13-0189 as “the Union.”

In 2009, the company closed the Louisiana plant and opened a new facility in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The company offered employment to all of the bargaining unit employees and 12 workers—constituting almost 90 percent of the production and maintenance unit—transferred to the new plant.

NLRB Found Illegal Failure to Recognize

The company refused to recognize the union as bargaining agent for the Tuscaloosa employees and the union filed unfair labor practice charges.

The NLRB found the company's refusal violated the National Labor Relations Act (358 N.L.R.B. No. 63, 193 LRRM 1150 (2012)).

That decision was vacated because the board panel lacked a required quorum, but a properly constituted panel later found Gaylord had illegally refused to bargain and committed other unfair labor practices (361 N.L.R.B. No. 67, 201 LRRM 1685 (2014)).

Court Agrees Contract Language No Defense

Ripple said the company didn't dispute that the Tuscaloosa manufacturing operation was a continuation of the unionized Bogalusa facility, but argued the “conjunctive phrasing” in the USW contract meant the union lost its bargaining agent status once the plant moved outside the geographic jurisdiction of Local 13-0189.

The court noted the findings of an NLRB administrative law judge that the collective bargaining agreement described specific roles for the USW international and never identified the union local as the only representative of employees.

Stating the court “cannot accept Gaylord's argument that the contract language requires it to bargain only with Local 189,” the appeals court enforced the NLRB's finding that the refusal to bargain violated Section 8(a)(5) of the NLRA.

Counsel for Gaylord Chemical Co. didn't respond immediately to Bloomberg BNA's request for comment June 6.

Judges Edward Earl Carnes and Jill A. Pryor joined in the opinion.

NLRB attorney Nicole Lancia in Washington argued for the board. Jeffrey A. Schwartz of Jackson Lewis PC in Atlanta argued for Gaylord Chemical Co.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at ldube@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com