NLRB general counsel walks back union negligence memo

  • March 27, 2019

NLRB general counsel walks back union negligence memo

National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Peter Robb today softened his policy on pursuing negligence charges against unions.

In a memo to regional directors, Robb wrote that staff need not file negligence charges so long as a union is “acting reasonably.” Robb suggested more leniency than he did in an earlier memo in October that instructed field staff to pursue fair representation violations against unions if they failed to respond to members’ grievance inquiries or lost track of cases. The National Labor Relations Act requires unions to represent members equally, but the general counsel has some discretion over what that means in practice.

In the past, the NLRB rarely punished unions that lost track of a case or failed to keep in touch with a member about a grievance. But in the earlier memo, Robb wrote that staff should require unions to produce “established, reasonable procedures” for tracking cases if they claimed negligence.

In today’s follow-up memo, Robb said field offices need only seek evidence if they suspect a pattern of misconduct.

“Labor policy is not served by requiring a union to present a detailed defense of its decision to not pursue a grievance, or its decision to abandon a grievance, as long as the union is acting reasonably,” Robb wrote. Field offices, he said, “need not look behind a union’s assertion of a reasonable decision not to pursue grievances unless there is evidence that those decisions were made in bad faith or involved gross negligence, or where there could be no reasonable basis for the union’s decision.”