The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has explained the “past practice” analysis it applies in determining whether a unionized employer’s unilateral actions constitute an unlawful change under the NLRB’s decision in Raytheon Network Centric Systems, 365 NLRB No. 161 (2017). ABF Freight System, Inc., 369 NLRB No. 107 (June 19, 2020).

An employer violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the NLRB explains, “if it makes a material, substantial, and significant change regarding a mandatory subject of bargaining without first providing the union notice and a meaningful opportunity to bargain about the change to agreement or impasse, absent a valid defense.” An employer can defend itself by showing the change was not material, substantial, and significant; that its “actions did not materially vary in kind or degree from the parties’ past practice.”

In ABF, the collective-bargaining agreement between the employer and the union that represented the employees contained the following Article 26:

Section 2. Use of Video Cameras for Discipline and Dis­charge

The Employer shall not install or use video cam­eras in areas of the Employer’s premises that vio­late the employee’s right to privacy such as in bathrooms or places where employees change clothing or provide drug or alcohol testing speci­mens.

The employer previously had installed cameras throughout the facility without objection. However, in 2013, the union objected to the employer installing cameras in the break/locker rooms, and the employer removed them.

In 2017, the employer installed cameras in its break/locker rooms without giving the union an opportunity to bargain. In response, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge alleging the failure to bargain on this violated the NLRA. The NLRB’s General Counsel issued an unfair labor practice complaint. After a trial, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), focusing on Article 26, Section 2, decided the employer did not violate the NLRA because it had acted in accordance with an established past practice of installing cameras anywhere on its premises, except personal privacy spaces. (The ALJ decided the break/locker rooms were not personal privacy spaces, despite record evidence showing employees changed clothes there.)

The General Counsel appealed to the NLRB and the NLRB reversed the ALJ’s decision. The ALJ relied primarily on Raytheon, and, to a lesser degree, a subsequent decision, Mike-Sell’s Potato Chip Co., 368 NLRB No. 145 (2019). Those decisions provide:

  • To determine whether there was an established past practice, the Board will compare the challenged action to the employer’s past actions.
  • The party asserting the past practice has the burden of proving employees would reasonably consider the action at issue to be consistent with what it has done in the past.
  • A past practice finding does not depend on the language of a collective-bargaining agreement.
  • Instead, a past practice analysis simply evaluates whether the employer’s action varied in kind and degree from what had been customary in the past.

Applying those principles, the NLRB rejected the ALJ’s reliance on the contract language to make a past practice determination. It found the installation of the cameras in the break/locker rooms was materially different from the employer’s installations in other parts of its facility. The earlier installations focused on the employees’ work on the employer’s dock, whereas the break/locker rooms installations focused on “the recreational and changing areas.” The NLRB concluded that employees would reasonably consider the change departed from the employer’s past practice. (The NLRB also noted the employer’s aborted 2013 attempt to install cameras in the break/locker rooms.)

Raytheon created leeway for unionized employers to make certain changes without offering to bargain with the union. ABF provides a guide for employers to determine what changes are sanctioned by Raytheon.

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Photo of Howard M. Bloom Howard M. Bloom

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues.

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification campaigns. He also represents clients at the National Labor Relations Board in connection with bargaining unit issues, objections and challenges, as well as unfair labor practice investigations and trials. Mr. Bloom also has been the spokesperson at countless first and successor contract collective bargaining negotiations, and regularly advises on collective bargaining agreement administration issues, including grievance/arbitration issues.

Mr. Bloom has appeared before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, several U.S. District Courts, the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Mr. Bloom speaks frequently to employer groups on a wide range of labor and employment law topics. He also has written extensively on labor and employment law for a variety of publications, including New England Business magazine, The Boston Globe and the Boston Business Journal. He also is editor of and a frequent contributor to the Jackson Lewis Labor & Collective Bargaining Blog.

While attending law school, he was the Executive Editor of The Advocate: the Suffolk University Law School Journal and President of the Student Bar Association.

Mr. Bloom is a diehard baseball fan. His first book, The Baseball Uncyclopedia: A Highly Opinionated Myth-Busting Guide to the Great American Game, was published in February 2006.

Photo of Jonathan J. Spitz Jonathan J. Spitz

Jonathan J. Spitz is a Principal in the Atlanta, Georgia office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and he is the national co-Coordinator of the Firm’s Collegiate and Professional Sports industry group.

Mr. Spitz coordinates Jackson Lewis’ labor practice for the Southeast region of the…

Jonathan J. Spitz is a Principal in the Atlanta, Georgia office of Jackson Lewis P.C. and he is the national co-Coordinator of the Firm’s Collegiate and Professional Sports industry group.

Mr. Spitz coordinates Jackson Lewis’ labor practice for the Southeast region of the United States. He understands the practical and operational needs of clients, helping design pragmatic strategies to minimize risk and maximize performance. He was selected as a “Leader in the Field” by Chambers USA in 2009 and 2010.

He has represented management in numerous counter-organizing drives and participated in dozens of unfair labor practice proceedings, discrimination charges and other matters before the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and various federal and state administrative agencies, as well as in collective bargaining, arbitration and in employment litigation before state and federal courts. Mr. Spitz regularly counsels employers in employee relations and discipline and discharge matters, and also assists employers in drafting employment policies and in complying with the Family and Medical Leave Act, drug testing laws and regulations, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state employment laws.

Mr. Spitz has extensive experience in assisting employers to create union and litigation avoidance strategies suitable to the individual organization, values and industry. He has led teams conducting multi-facility labor vulnerability assessments and has advised employers in responding to corporate campaigns and demands for card check and neutrality.

Mr. Spitz is a contributing author of Employer’s Guide to Union Organizing Campaigns, Aspen Publishers, 2007. In addition, he has authored many articles regarding labor and employment law issues which have appeared in national trade publications.

Mr. Spitz is admitted to practice in the Second, Fourth, Sixth, Eleventh and District of Columbia Circuit Courts of Appeals; the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia; and the Georgia Supreme Court.

He received his Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Tufts University in 1990. He earned his J.D. from Emory University in 1993