A unit of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has won an election to represent California recycling plant workers, opening the door to a legal challenge of a U.S. labor board's decision redefining the relationship between companies and workers hired by franchises and staffing agencies.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced Tuesday that Teamsters Local 350 won the 2014 election handily, by a vote of 73-17. The ballots were not counted until last week, after the board issued a decision saying the plant's owner, Browning-Ferris Industries, was a “joint employer" of workers hired by a staffing company.
The NLRB’s new joint employer standard could upend workplace practices among franchisors and subcontractors because it expands the legal liability that many businesses could face for alleged labor violations. For example, McDonald’s USA could now be considered jointly responsible for the working conditions at its franchised locations if it is found to exercise sufficient control over how franchisees treat employees.
The Teamsters claimed victory in the election days before the Tuesday NLRB announcement.
“This is a big victory for these workers who patiently stood together to change their own lives for the better, and helped millions of other workers in the process,” said Teamsters Solid Waste and Recycling Division director Ron Herrera in a Friday statement.
The union's lawyer, Susan Garea, said Browning-Ferris is expected to refuse to bargain with the Teamsters. If that happens, the union would file a complaint with the board, she said, and the case would likely end up before a U.S. appeals court, though that could take years.
But in the meantime, the NLRB’s general counsel is continuing to move forward with parallel litigation that lists McDonald’s as a joint employer with selected franchisees.
Industry groups have castigated the NLRB’s expanded joint employer standard, saying that it would constrain economic growth and expose business owners to unreasonable levels of liability. International Franchise Association (IFA) president and CEO Steve Caldeira described the new joint employer standard as a “politically motivated” giveaway to organized labor in a statement issued shortly after the release of the Browning-Ferris ruling.
"The ruling jeopardizes small employers in numerous sectors and the future viability of the franchise model of doing business, which has been a hallmark of economic growth and small business ownership opportunities for thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs,” said Caldeira. "The ruling also threatens millions of jobs that franchises create across the country."
Caldeira predicted the NLRB’s decision would not hold up in court. The IFA is also currently lobbying Congress to inscribe a different joint employer standard into law.
Al Jazeera and Reuters