In a decision that could have widespread implications for subcontracting, franchising, and temporary staffing agencies, the National Labor Relations Board ruled on August 27 that the owner of a California recycling plant was a “joint employer” with the contractor that hired workers at the plant, essentially forcing both to bargain with the union together or risk violating U.S. labor law. The case was brought by Local 350 against Browning-Ferris (BFI), now owned by Republic Services, and their subcontractor, staffing agency Leadpoint.
The union contended that the definition of what it means to be an “employer” must be expanded beyond the staffing agency, to take into account the larger company that determines the conditions of the working environment.
In its 3-2 ruling, the NLRB agreed with the union. “With more than 2.87 million of the nation’s workers employed through temporary agencies in August 2014, the Board held that its previous joint employer standard has failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances,” the Board said in a release accompanying its decision.
The story begins in 2014, when the workers at BFI’s recycling facility in Milpitas decided they wanted union representation. Local 350 filed an election petition naming both the staffing agency, Leadpoint Services, and BFI as joint employers of the sorters. The election was held in April, 2014. However, the ballots were impounded for 16 months until the Labor Board could reach a decision on their legal case concerning joint employer status of Leadpoint and BFI. Following the Labor Board’s ruling, those ballots were opened on September 4, 2015, and the workers had voted by more than a 4-1 margin in favor of Teamsters representation.
“This is a great day. We look forward to negotiating a contract with both Republic and Leadpoint that will ensure the best working conditions for our members,” said Larry Daugherty, Secretary- Treasurer of Local 350.
“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 Ron Herrera, Director of the Teamsters Solid Waste and Recycling Division.
Implications for other campaigns
This ruling paves the way for gains across a range of industries, given the widespread use of subcontracting by the manufacturing and service sectors to lower costs.
“It’s certainly a game changer,” said Teague Paterson, a partner at Beeson Tayer & Bodine, the law firm representing the union in the NLRB case. “Unions and workers have been frustrated by these triangulated relations that the board condoned in the past. It certainly opens the door to more organizing.”
Local 853 recently won an election to represent warehouse and shipping workers at Google Express, the technology giant’s shopping delivery service. The workers are employed through staffing firm Adecco. Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise said the Browning-Ferris ruling means Google will now have to be part of the discussions about working conditions with the union and the contractor. “This is a classic case. We won and are going into negotiations and now Google will have to come to the table.”
“Employers will no longer be able to shift responsibility for their workers and hide behind loopholes to prevent workers from organizing or engaging in collective bargaining,” Aloise adds.