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NLRB Gets Covid-Related Unfair Labor Practice Charges

May 21, 2020, 11:23 PM

Workers at two U.S. companies have filed cases with the National Labor Relations Board challenging changes to their working conditions spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A tea shop in Colorado, Ku Cha House of Tea, is facing an “unfair labor practice” charge, filed Thursday, after it replaced six employees, allegedly because they organized to negotiate safety precautions related to the coronavirus, according to the charge. Valerie Collins, an attorney with Towards Justice who’s involved in the case, provided a copy of the charge to Bloomberg Law. The company said it had to let the workers go because they refused to return to work and it needed to open for business.

And workers at a poultry processing plant in Delaware allege in a charge filed with the NLRB on May 13 that management forced them to attend tightly packed anti-union meetings and garnished wages for workers’ personal protective equipment.

The NLRB administers elections when a group of workers seek to unionize, and adjudicates unfair labor practice charges alleging interference with workers’ collective action.

Agency spokesman Edwin Egee said the NLRB’s total intake of unfair labor practice charges this March, compared to March 2019, shows a 24.4% decline in filings, suggesting there hasn’t been an uptick in cases related to the pandemic.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 filed a charge with the NLRB last week alleging that Mountaire Farms required workers in Selbyville, Del., to sit through persuasion meetings ahead of a vote next month to disband the union, but that there were no social distancing requirements in place during the sessions.

In a letter to Mountaire Farms this week, the union accused the company of docking employees’ wages for masks, gloves, aprons, and other protective equipment. The union also alleged that poultry-line employees are working too close together. The persuasion meetings at the poultry plant were related to a de-certification election set for next month.

Representatives for Mountaire Farms didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Federal law grants private-sector workers a broad right to unionize, and to collective action for mutual aid—to band together in efforts to improve their working terms and conditions, in other words—and generally prohibits employers from interfering in those efforts.

Towards Justice is a public interest legal organization. The Colorado AFL-CIO is also involved in the tea house workers’ case.
—With assistance from Tripp Baltz in Denver

To contact the reporters on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bloomberglaw.com; Ian Kullgren in Washington at ikullgren@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com

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