What’s the deal with the unfair labor practice charge against Sanders’s campaign?

The Board

A former Sanders campaign staffer filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against the campaign a short while ago (Bloomberg story; redacted charge). A few people have asked me my opinion of this since I used to work for the NLRB. So I figured I would write this post.

Obviously it is hard to know what has gone on without direct knowledge and without any investigation having been done. But you can read between the lines of the ULP charge to get a sense of what is going on and it mostly makes the individual filing the charge look bad.

Most of the ULP form consists of pre-filled text that charging parties can select from an online form. That text is obviously not very helpful. But there is also a text box where the charging party can write what is going on in their own words. The charging party in this case wrote:

The employer failed to notify us upon hire that we had a CBA and maintained that we were “at-will.” Employer violated the CBA by requiring additional work days, and failing to provide days off as required. Employer further violated the CBA in multiple ways, and the Union did nothing (I will be filing a DFR against them). At hiring, employer promised some employees housing, and not others; some were promised expenses, and others were not. The CBA requires relocation expenses be paid. Employer retaliated against me when I organized the bargaining unit and sent an email requesting compliance with the CBA (I understand CBA violations are not ULPs — the ULP arises from the retaliation).

The necessary context for reading this is that the Sanders campaign workers are represented by UFCW, one of the largest unions in the country. They have a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in place. Given these facts, it is weird that there is an individual filing a ULP charge about these issues. Normally when a CBA is in place, stuff like this would be handled as a breach of contract and grieved to arbitration (i.e. it would not go to the NLRB). And if a ULP charge was filed for some reason, the union would generally file it, not the individual.

The question of why the ULP charge even exists is answered in a telling way by the bolded portion in the quote above. The worker is claiming that the union has done nothing about all of the claims he is making about widespread contract breaches, worker intimidation, and unlawful termination. Indeed, he says he is also going to file a ULP charge against the UFCW alleging that it breached its duty of fair representation (DFR), a nugget the Bloomberg article somehow missed.

There are two possible explanations for all of this.

1. The Sanders campaign is engaged in widespread contract and labor law violations and the union is refusing to do anything about it to the point of allowing its own workers to be unlawfully fired.

2. The Sanders campaign has generally acted legally and within its contractual rights and the reason the union chose not to grieve the complaints of this individual or file its own ULP charges is because the complaints are without merit.

I saw a fair number of DFR appeals cases back in my day and number (2) was almost always the case. Unions are typically pretty eager to bring grievances and arbitrate terminations even when they don’t really have merit. When you have an individual claiming an employer is engaged in egregious violations and the union won’t do anything about it, that individual is typically wrong. Indeed, the more egregious the allegations are, the less plausible the story is.

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Law and welfare knower.

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Matt Bruenig

Matt Bruenig

Law and welfare knower.

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