September 19, 2021

Volume XI, Number 262

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September 16, 2021

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Third Time the Charm? NLRB to Revisit Rights of Contractor Employee Access to Employer Property

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) must reconsider its newest ruling on the rights of certain employees to access private property to engage in activity on behalf of a union, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has directed in an August 31, 2021, decision remanding NLRB v. Local 23, American Federation of Musicians. If the Board changes its holding on remand it will be the third time the rule on access to private property has changed in the last 10 years. This case comes to the NLRB at a time opportune for change.

The Court recognized that rights of access to private property to engage in union-related activities have traditionally depended on the connection of the person to the property. Traditional employees who work on the employer’s property have the greatest access rights and generally cannot be prohibited from engaging in union activity on the employer’s property during non-work time and in non-work areas of the property.  On the other hand, a property owner can generally deny non-employees, such as union organizers, access to its premises.

Local 23 dealt with a third category: employees of a contractor who work on premises owned by a third party. Musicians represented by Local 23 were employed by the San Antonio Symphony, which had a contract to provide 22 weeks of performances at a facility owned by the Bexar Performing Arts Center Foundation, known as the Tobin Center. The musicians also performed for the Ballet San Antonio at the Tobin Center. To cut costs, the Ballet switched from live to recorded music, which reduced the number of paid performances for the musicians.

To protest the use of recorded music, the musicians distributed leaflets at the Tobin Center criticizing the Ballet and urging patrons to insist upon live music. The Tobin Center informed the leafleteers that they were not permitted on Center property and should move to the public sidewalk. They complied, but Local 23 filed an unfair labor practice charge.

The rule that existed at the time of the charge was filed was that a third party property owner could not deny access to contractor employees who are “regularly employed on the property” unless the property owner could establish that the activity substantially interfered with its use of the property. Applying that rule, and administrative law judge found the musicians had a right to engage in leafleting on Tobin Center property.

The NLRB reversed the judge. The Board held  a property owner could exclude contractor employees from its property unless they work “regularly and exclusively on the property” and the property owner could not show they had “one or more reasonable alternative means to communicate their message.” Applying its new rule, the Board found the contractor musicians had no right of access.

Local 23 sought review at the Court of Appeals. The Court found the NLRB had acted arbitrarily in drafting its new rule. The terms “regularly” and “exclusively” were poorly defined – indeed, the NLRB’s examples were in conflict with the very words themselves. The Court remanded the case to the Board “to proceed with a version of the test it announced … or develop a new test altogether.”

The Board’s newly constituted Democrat majority and current General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo have articulated a desire to expand access rights for unions and employees. Because the case has been remanded to a Board with a Democratic majority, we think the likelihood is that the Board will develop a new test which will expand the rights of employees to access private property for the purpose engage in union activity.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2021National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 254
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About this Author

Timothy J. Ryan, Labor and Employment Attorney, Jackson Lewis Law Firm
Principal

Timothy J. Ryan is a Principal in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced exclusively in the labor and employment area since 1987, when he was admitted to the Bar.

Mr. Ryan is a frequent speaker and writer on topics including union avoidance, hiring and firing, family and medical leave, wage and hour laws, and other issues related to labor and employment law for employers. Mr. Ryan represents employers facing legal challenges in the following areas:

  • Union-Management...
616-940-0240
Thomas V. Walsh, Jackson Lewis, employment arbitration Lawyer, White plains, Union Organizing Attorney
Shareholder

Thomas V. Walsh is a Shareholder in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Since joining the firm in 1986, Mr. Walsh has represented employers in all aspects of labor and employment law and litigation.

Mr. Walsh has represented employers before numerous state and federal courts, regulatory agencies, as well as in numerous arbitrations. Mr. Walsh has extensive experience in representing employers faced with union organizing drives and in proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board. He has an...

914-872-6912
Richard F. Vitarelli Harford  Connecticut Labor Relations Lawyer at Jackson Lewis Law Firm
Principal

Richard F. Vitarelli is a Principal in the Hartford, Connecticut, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Part of the firm’s national labor practice, he has over two decades of experience representing employers nationally in strategic labor relations, collective bargaining, and union organizing, including in the context of mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring and contract administration. He serves as general labor and employment counsel for employers and multi-employer associations in various industries, including construction, manufacturing, health care and senior living,...

860-522-0404
Jonathan J. Spitz, Jackson Lewis Law Firm, Labor Employment Attorney, Atlanta
Shareholder

Jonathan J. Spitz is a Principal in the Atlanta, Georgia, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the firm’s Labor and Preventive Practices Group.

Mr. Spitz lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media issues and the changing regulatory landscape. He understands the practical and operational needs of corporate America, helping design pragmatic strategies to minimize risk and maximize performance. He has represented...

404-586-1835
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