In a significant development for the pipeline industry, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on December 15 issued a ruling in PCC Structurals Inc. (365 NLRB No. 160) abandoning the Obama board’s Specialty Healthcare decision, which allowed employees to organize in “micro units.” The decision reinstated the previous standard that employees have to share an “overwhelming community of interests” to be an appropriate bargaining unit.

The NLRB said it would no longer apply the Specialty Healthcare decision when evaluating petitions for union representation, but it will evaluate individual cases “taking into consideration the interests of employees both within and outside the petitioned-for unit, in light of the policies and purposes of the [National Labor Relations] Act.”

The board also said that the Specialty Healthcare decision gave too much power to union organizers to decide which employees should be included in the bargaining unit and inappropriately allowed unions to gerrymander the workforce, choosing only the workers who wanted to organize and effectively disenfranchising other workers.

Employer groups, such as the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW), argue that the Specialty Healthcare decision made it easier for unions to divide the workplace into multiple siloed bargaining units. These “micro-unions,” or fractured units, greatly limited an employer’s ability to cross train and meet customer and client demands via lean, flexible staffing as employees could not perform work assigned to another unit. Employees also suffer from reduced job opportunities, such as promotions and transfers.

The CDW expects that unions will look for opportunities to challenge this decision in federal courts. The NLRB's Specialty Healthcare decision is just one of the important developments that will be discussed during the Recent Developments in Labor & Employment Law session at the 2018 APCA Convention, March 13-18 at the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, Manalapan, Fla. The session, which will be led by Greg Guidry, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, is on March 27 at 9 am.