A federal appeals court has upheld a union vote and ordered a Maryland ambulance company to begin bargaining with the Teamsters local that was elected to represent workers at the company in 1997.
LifeStar Response Corp., formerly Maryland Ambulance Services in Columbia, had claimed that the election was flawed and it refused to bargain with Drivers, Chauffeurs and Helpers Union Teamsters Local 639, according to court documents.
But the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that certified the union as the exclusive representative of the company’s employees.
The decision was “well overdue,” said Local 639 President Phil Feaster.
The local represents more than 7,000 employees in the District, Maryland and Virginia. That includes up to 60 paramedics, drivers, attendants and others at LifeStar Response, said Feaster.
An executive at LifeStar said Friday that company officials were being briefed on the appeals court ruling by their attorneys and that they did not have a comment on it.
The NLRB certified the union after determining that it won the 1997 vote by a count of 44 to 42. But the company refused to bargain with the union.
It maintained that three employees’ votes that were challenged by the union and excluded by the NLRB should have been counted. The company also argued that the union coerced some staff members into voting for representation, through threats and destruction and misuse of company property.
But the NLRB rejected those arguments and the appeals court agreed.
In his opinion, Circuit Judge Francis D. Murnaghan wrote that any NLRB- supervised election is “presumptively valid” and that the board correctly excluded the three votes under the “actual work” rule. That rule says that in order to vote for the union, an employee must be performing the actual work that members of the union would do. It excludes employees who are in training or orientation at the time of the vote.
The three employees whose ballots were successfully challenged by the union were on the company payroll at the time, had been issued company ID, bought uniforms, took medical examinations and had been paid for the time spent taking those exams.
The court said the company presented “compelling arguments” for counting those three employees as actually working at the time of the vote. But it said those arguments were outweighed by the benefits of uniform application of the actual work rule when determining who is eligible to vote in union elections.
Murnaghan also wrote that the company did not present enough evidence that acts of violence and threats prevented employees from voting.
Feaster denied that there was any violence during the election.
“The company just always seemed to look for anything” to overturn the election, Feaster said. “They used every trick, legally and illegally, to do that.”
He said the union plans to start bargaining with LifeStar Response as soon as possible.