A parts supply company in Minnesota violated federal labor law when it fired 20 workers after they refused to sign away their rights, the National Labor Relations Board said. An NLRB administrative law judge found that Supply Technologies LLC unlawfully required employees to sign up for a comprehensive grievance and arbitration system that would eliminate their rights under the National Labor Relations Act and then discharged 20 employees when they refused to do so.
Eighteen of the discharged employees were Hmong refugees and two were Spanish-speaking immigrants, all employed at the Ohio-based company’s Minneapolis warehouse.
Four testified, some through translators, at the administrative law hearing that they did not fully understand the documents explaining the new system and were concerned that they were signing away rights. All four said they were escorted out of the building or told to leave immediately after refusing to sign the documents.
In his May 31 decision, Administrative Law Judge George Alemán wrote that three documents describing the program, given to employees at the Minnesota warehouse and three other facilities, were confusing and inconsistent, at one point making “patently clear that the only claims expressly exempted from the TSM procedure are those involving workers compensation claims, unemployment claims, and criminal claims,” and at another point assuring employees they could file other claims with government agencies, but would waive any rights to remedies that might result.
The company’s new system, called Total Solution Management, created an internal process that began with an investigation, went to mediation, and then on to a final arbitration if necessary. It was introduced three days after an NLRB-conducted election in which employees split 22-to-22 on the question of joining the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
In the event of a tie, the union does not prevail, and so the employees were not represented at the time of the discharges. Nevertheless, the union filed charges with the NLRB alleging that the new grievance policy and the firings constituted unfair labor practices.
Judge Alemán ordered Supply Technologies to discontinue its new grievance system at all four locations – in Minneapolis, Memphis, Des Plaines and Lenexa, Kansas, and to offer reinstatement to the 20 discharged employees, with full back pay. The company may appeal the decision to the NLRB in Washington.