Chicago University Loses Fight Over Employee Unionization

After a group of students who were part-time library employees of the University of Chicago attempted to unionize, the University fought the organization attempt. The students won before the National Labor Relations Board, but the University refused to bargain with the students’ chosen representatives. The students and their union sued, and the 7th Circuit affirmed the issuance of an enforcement order by the NLRB.

In May 2017, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union Local No. 743 filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board. Local 743 sought to represent for collective bargaining purposes a unit of part-time student employees of the University of Chicago Libraries. The University responded with a “statement of position.” In it, the University contended that the proposed unit of student employees was not appropriate for collective bargaining. The University gave three reasons, one of which was that the students were temporary employees who did not manifest an interest in their employment terms and conditions that were sufficient to warrant collective-bargaining representation.

The University followed a procedure set out in 29 C.F.R. § 102.66(c) to submit an “offer of proof” – a description of the evidence the University would present to the Board to show that student employees were not entitled to collectively bargain. At a pre-election hearing on May 17, 2017, the Board’s hearing officer explained that after reviewing the proposed evidence and testimony that the University would put on to support its arguments, the Board would not take evidence because the evidence proposed and the testimony all dealt with established Board law.

The Board’s regional director echoed the hearing officer’s assessment, concluding that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the University’s contentions. The regional director ordered an election for the representation of the unit proposed by Local 743. The University asked the NLRB to stay the election and review the regional director’s decision. The Board denied that request, concluding that the facts asserted in the University’s offer of proof were insufficient to warrant the conclusion that the library clerks should be deemed ineligible as temporary or casual employees.

Following the decision, the unit of student library employees elected Local 743 as their collective-bargaining representative. The University objected to the election and the Board rejected the University’s objection and certified the election results. Local 743 tried to bargain with the University, but the University refused. The Board’s general counsel then issued an unfair-labor-practice complaint alleging that the University violated the National Labor Relations Act. The Board’s counsel also moved for summary judgment on that claim. The Board granted the motion and found that the University violated the Act by refusing to bargain with Local 743. The Board also found that all representation issues the University raised had been resolved in the underlying proceeding and no special circumstances warranted reconsideration of the issue. The University then petitioned the 7th Circuit for review, and the Board filed a cross-application for enforcement of its order.

The appellate panel began by noting that the University challenged only one aspect of the proceedings before the Board: the Board’s decision to exclude the University’s proposed evidence from the pre-election hearing. The panel stated that the standard of review was one of abuse of discretion. The panel stated that the Board was not obliged to receive evidence to support a position that was unsustainable under prevailing Board law. The panel stated that the Board acted well within its discretion in rejecting the University’s evidence as insufficient to sustain its position that part-time student employees do not manifest a sufficient interest in the terms and conditions of their employment. Finally, the panel concluded that the Board’s decision did not violate the University’s due process rights. The panel stated that the issues of representation raised by the University were immaterial under prevailing Board law and the University’s position depended on the reasoning of overruled Board decisions. Therefore, the panel concluded, by rejecting the University’s evidence and declining a more exhaustive hearing, the Board did not violate the University’s due process rights. The panel, therefore, granted the application for enforcement.

You can read the opinion of the Court here.

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