BRONX, N.Y. – In a classic case, showing how employers manipulate voter lists to defeat union organizing drives, the National Labor Relations Board has given the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union a second chance at winning a representation vote at a Bronx, N.Y., moving company.

That’s because the Nov. 18 NLRB ruling shows the first vote, two years ago, was so messed up that it was impossible to tell even who the eligible voters were.

The original election occurred on Aug. 14, 2009, after Flat Rate Movers had already broken labor law by illegally spying on its workers, threatening to fire union supporters – firing 40 workers overall – illegally photographing workers and illegally intimidating workers by posting armed guards at the polling place, among other things.

As if that weren’t enough, there were supposed to be 274 eligible voters in the election, and Flat Rate tried to “stuff” the bargaining unit with 63 temporary workers, including at least 15 foreign students who were in the U.S. on J-1 temporary work visas.

The result was chaos.

RWDSU, Local 116 lost 85-67, with 95 challenged ballots, including 26 that the board’s own agent challenged. That doesn’t include the 40 permanent movers fired after the organizing drive began. Another six ballots were challenged because those workers seemed to be employed by an “alter ego” company to Flat Rate.

The board’s administrative law judge, Raymond Green, ruled the union had a valid case and the NLRB, by a 3-0 vote, agreed. It sent the whole mess back down to its regional director with an order to count all challenged ballots, including the 40 from workers who had been fired, except for the “alter ego” six. If Local 116 won, it would be certified to represent all workers. If it didn’t, there would be a separate hearing on the validity of the last six votes. If RWDSU still didn’t win, the local gets a rerun election.

The board itself did not comment on the case; Green did. He noted that until it learned of the organizing drive, around Independence Day in 2009, Flat Rate strived to keep its permanent and veteran movers on the job. Flat Rate economized on materials, cut managers’ pay by 10 percent, and cut rates for its customers, hoping to keep volume up.

But after the organizing drive became known, the firm switched gears.

 “This program was canceled shortly after the company became aware of the organizing campaign. At that point, it apparently was no longer so important to retain an experienced group of permanent employees. So the company decided to discharge 40 of its permanent employees while at the same time continuing to keep a greater number of foreign college students who had been hired as temporary employees,” Green said.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.