Union Stability Cited in Denial of NLRA Injunction

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

July 29 — A National Labor Relations Board official couldn't obtain an injunction against a corn products processor because the company's alleged labor law violations haven't caused a union to lose any of its members, a federal district court in Iowa held ( Osthus v. Ingredion, Inc., 2016 BL 244459, N.D. Iowa, No. 16-CV-38-LRR, 7/28/16 ).

The case suggests that some courts remain skeptical about the agency's need for injunctive relief in cases that don't involve obvious and egregious unfair labor practices.

The NLRB regional director alleged that Ingredion Inc. violated its duty to bargain in good faith with an Iowa local of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, and committed other unfair labor practices.

But Judge Linda R. Reade of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa decided July 28 the agency wasn't entitled to an injunction under Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB regional director didn't show that there would be any irreparable injury if a preliminary injunction isn't in place while the board resolves the merits of the unfair labor practice case against Ingredion, Reade said.

NLRB Proceeding Followed Bargaining Dispute

Ingredion purchased Penford, a corn milling plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2015, the court said. BCTGM Local 100-G has represented employees at Penford plant since the 1940s. There are presently 150 to 165 bargaining unit employees.

Ingredion, which does business in Iowa as Penford Products Co., recognized the union, but the parties have been locked in contentious negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The negotiations began with the union proposing modifications to its existing agreement (referred to as the “Red Book”), which was set to expire in 2015, while Ingredion proposed new contract terms, which the company eventually incorporated into a “last, best, and final” offer to the union.

Union members rejected the employer's offer, and Ingredion unilaterally implemented changes that affected overtime, insurance, and other terms and conditions of employment.

Acting on unfair labor practice allegations by the union, the NLRB's general counsel issued a complaint against Ingredion. An administrative law judge held a hearing in April, but he hasn't yet issued a decision.

Pressed for Section 10(j) Injunction

The NLRB regional director also filed a petition for injunctive relief under Section 10(j), 29 U.S.C. § 160(j), which authorizes federal district courts to enjoin the commission of unfair labor practices during the pendency of NLRB proceedings.

The NLRB official alleged that the company bargained in bad faith with Local 100-G and unlawfully made unilateral changes in employment conditions by implementing its offer.

The regional director also alleged the company undermined and denigrated the union by making coercive statements and comments to employees away from the bargaining table.

The NLRB official argued a Section 10(j) injunction was needed to prevent Ingredion from illegally accomplishing what it couldn't do lawfully—impose its contract terms on the union.

Not Persuaded Injunction Appropriate

Reade found that in “cases where preliminary injunctions have been granted, there have generally been allegations of more egregious behavior than in the instant action.”

She said “there is no evidence that the Union is losing members as a result of the alleged unfair labor practices or that such loss is likely to occur in the future.”

Union members testified in the Section 10(j) proceeding that they are worse off under the terms Ingredion implemented than those they had under the Red Book, Reade said. But she said it wasn't the court's role “to judge whether the union employees' grievances are the product of unfair labor practices.”

Finding the NLRB's evidence didn't show that irreparable harm would likely occur without a federal court injunction, she denied the board's petition for injunctive relief.

NLRB attorneys in Minneapolis represented the regional director. Faegre, Baker, Daniels LLP attorneys in Des Moines, Iowa, and Indianapolis represented Ingredion.

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

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