On December 27, 2018, the National Labor Relations Board enforced a decades old policy that a union’s unqualified threat to picket a neutral employer at a “common situs” a/k/a a construction site is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
The case involved area standards picketing by the IBEW of a project owned by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA). The IBEW sent a letter to various affiliated unions who were working on the project advising them of its intent to engage in area standards picketing at the project directed to the merit shop electrical subcontractor performing work there. The IBEW also sent a copy of the letter to the LVCVA.
The Board held that it has been the Board’s policy for over 50 years that if a union notifies a neutral employer at a common situs project that it intends to picket the primary employer then “the union had an affirmative obligation to qualify its threat by clearly indicating that the picketing would conform to the Moore Dry Dock standards, or otherwise be in uniformity with Board law.” Importantly, the Board held that “a union’s broadly worded and unqualified notice, sent to a neutral employer, that the union intends to picket a worksite the neutral shares with the primary employer is inherently coercive.” The Board continued stating that “an unqualified threat communicated to a neutral at a common situs is an ambiguous threat, and such an ambiguous threat enables a union to achieve the proscribed objective of coercing the neutral employer to cease doing business with the primary employer – the very object a union seeks to achieve when it makes a blatant unlawful threat to picket or unlawfully pickets a neutral.”
The holding established a de facto strict liability regime when a union threatens area standard picketing against a neutral employer. On a larger scale, the holding marks the first big step by the Trump Board in walking back the pro-union rulings of the Obama Board as they relate to construction sites. Indeed, the Board’s holding breathes life back into the “coercive” part of Section 8(b)(4). It is hard to jibe the Board’s holding in this case with the Board’s holdings the bannering cases and those cases are now throw into doubt. Certainly, the Board is indicating that neutral’s should aggressively pursue unfair labor practice charges against a union that threatens an area standards campaign.