Union-management: Just talking

How much talking can a company and union do before the employees have voted to approve the union? In a case involving Michigan automotive parts manufacturing workers, the NLRB ruled that as long as it's not specific or binding, it's fine. The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals didn't agree or disagree in a decision released Thursday. Instead, it said, that the NLRB acted reasonably, and therefore, the court had no standing to intervene.

It started with two employees at a Dana Company's St. Johns, Michigan facility. They didn't like that Dana and the United Auto Workers, which represents other employees at other Dana plants, had devised a framework for negotiations even before workers agreed to be unionized. Both the company and UAW had promised to remain neutral while the UAW asked workers to sign cards if they wanted to be represented by the union. That happened in 2003 and the framework was fairly neutral, basically saying that they'd try to avoid having an acrimonious relationship.

The two workers complained to the National Labor Relations Board saying the framework effectively limited worker choice. The NLRB disagreed, saying in part, that the union and Dana could have agreed to unionize the St. Johns plant as part of its other collective bargaining agreements. They appealed the NLRB's decision. Ultimately, it landed in the federal appeals court.  

Ironically, for all the hoopla and legal fees, the union's drive at St. Johns didn't succeed. Workers turned down the union.