A federal appeals court has reaffirmed its 1998 ruling that a Sam’s Club in Landover could not be found guilty of unfair labor practices during a union drive at the warehouse store.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last fall overturned a National Labor Relations Board finding, citing a lack of evidence that store managers attempted to thwart unionization efforts. The same three-judge panel last week reaffirmed its earlier decision — with minor adjustments — after reviewing legal briefs from both sides in the case.
The latest ruling disappointed union representatives.
“Unfortunately the way (the National Labor Relations Act) was written, it weighs in on the side of management,” said Greg Denier, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which was trying to organize the Sam’s Club workers.
“The frustration of workers rights dragging through administrative and legal procedures discourages and demoralizes the workers,” said Denier of the case, which began in 1994.
An attorney representing Sam’s Club said he was pleased with the results, even though he found the rehearing without oral arguments “procedurally unusual.”
“The bottom line hasn’t changed one iota,” said Paul Thompson, the Sam’s Club attorney. “The same decision has been reached.”
That decision, as articulated in the 1998 ruling, was that the NLRB and an administrative judge for the board were wrong to find that management at the Sam’s Club illegally discouraged store employees from voting for unionization in 1994, in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
In July 1994, workers at the Landover Crossing store voted 88-52 against representation by the UFCW. No workers at Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart, the parent company of Sam’s Club, are unionized in the United States.
The UFCW complained to the NLRB, charging that a Landover Crossing manager had told a worker the store would be closed if it was unionized; that a member of the union’s organizing committee was unfairly disciplined as a result of his union activity; and that workers talking to union representatives were frequently told by a store manager that “Wal-Mart was a powerful company that would not tolerate a union.”
Two judges of the circuit court said there was not sufficient evidence to find Sam’s Club management guilty of unfair labor practices, while a third judge wrote a sharp dissent that called the ruling an “evisceration” of the NLRB’s authority.
The three judges repeated their positions in last week’s ruling, revising footnotes to satisfy the labor groups’ concerns but not altering the final outcome.
Lawyers for the unions and the NLRB could not say Tuesday if they planned to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. The circuit court has already rejected their request for a hearing by the full 4th Circuit bench.
Carey Butsavage, an attorney for UFCW Local 400, said that while last week’s ruling was a loss, it will not affect efforts to help workers unionize.
“This decision isn’t going to impact one iota in our campaign against Wal- Mart,” Butsavage said. “We’ll continue to help if the people need help.”