Labor Relations Board Rules Against DuPont Worker-Manager Panels
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that labor-management committees set up by DuPont Co. to resolve workplace problems bypass the union that represents employees and are therefore illegal.
The May 28 decision came in the first major case to deal with labor- management committees in a unionized plant and as such was closely watched by the business community.
The board ruled in December that similar committees at Electromation Inc. of Elkhart, Ind., were ″sham unions″ because they were set up while the Teamsters union was attempting to become the bargaining agent for workers.
The board said DuPont violated the National Labor Relations Act by implementing recommendations of seven committees - six dealing with workplace safety and one with recreational issues - at its Deepwater, N.J., plant. The committees were disbanded last year.
The board said the company must deal with the Chemical Workers Association, which has represented clerical, production and maintenance workers at the 3,500-employee Deepwater plant for more than 50 years.
The NLRB said employers may hold ″brainstorming sessions″ with workers as long as the meetings are not designed to develop proposals affecting matters under the jurisdiction of company-union negotiations.
Attorney Theodore Lieverman, representing the Chemical Workers, said the decision means employers ″can’t make an end run around the union.″ He said DuPont had attempted to sabotage the Chemical Workers ″in the guise of cooperating with the employees.″
DuPont said it was ″disappointed″ but ″somewhat encouraged by the board’s efforts to offer much needed guidance on employee involvement...″
The company said the committees were not intended to be labor organizations or to undermine the bargaining authority of the union.
Labor Secretary Robert Reich has promoted labor-management teams as a way to solve workplace problems and said he would seek legislation protecting the committees if the NLRB refused to permit such groups.
But unions could be expected to oppose such legislation.
The NLRB said DuPont ″dominated the administration of the committees″ and retained veto power by making implementation of any proposals contingent on the agreement of management members.
In addition, DuPont determined the size of each committee and decided which employees would serve when more than enough volunteered.
The board said the company did not separate the activities of its committees from those under the union’s authority.
″On the contrary, some committees dealt with issues which were identical to those dealt with by the union and they brought about resolutions that the union had attempted and failed to achieve,″ NLRB said.
For instance, one committee got a new shop for a welder who complained of poor ventilation. The fitness committee developed a recreational area that included picnic tables and a jogging track. The union had failed in both efforts.