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Trump’s NLRB ‘Upends Special Status’ Of Union Stewards - Decision ‘Ends Special Legal Protections Enjoyed By Union Grievance Handlers For The Past 70 Years’

Employers ‘Will No Longer Be Restrained From Disciplining Or Discharging’ Stewards Or Officers Who Use Profanity Or Engage In Other ‘Abusive’ Actions In Violation Of An Employer’s Enforced Code Of Conduct

Published Friday, September 11, 2020
by Robert M. Schwartz/
Trump’s NLRB ‘Upends Special Status’ Of Union Stewards - Decision ‘Ends Special Legal Protections Enjoyed By Union Grievance Handlers For The Past 70 Years’

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - And you thought it couldn’t get any worse!

The Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has eliminated the special legal protections enjoyed by Union Grievance Handlers for the past 70 years.

In the interest of promoting workplace “civility,” the NLRB announced employers will no longer be restrained from disciplining or discharging stewards or officers who use profanity or engage in other “abusive” actions in violation of an employer’s enforced code of conduct, even when these actions happen in the course of heated meetings with management.

The new decision, known as General Motors, overrules scores of NLRB rulings permitting grievance representatives to engage in “zealous” advocacy.

As far back as 1948, the Labor Board announced that: The relationship at a grievance meeting is not a “master-servant” relationship, but a relationship between company advocates on one side and Union Advocates on the other side, engaged as equal opposing parties in litigation.

In 1995, the Board said: Some profanity and even defiance must be tolerated during confrontations over contractual rights.

In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court added that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA): Gives a Union license to use intemperate, abusive, or insulting language without fear of restraint or penalty if it believes such rhetoric to be an effective means to make its points.

In 1981, the influential Fifth Federal Circuit joined in, stating that: The (National Labor Relations) Act has ordinarily been interpreted to protect the Employee against discipline for impulsive and perhaps insubordinate behavior that occurs during grievance meetings, for such meetings require a free and frank exchange of view and often arise from highly emotional and personal conflicts.

These rulings, and others, allowed Union Representatives to use “salty language” and gestures when making cases to management.

Discipline was forbidden unless an outburst included extreme profanity, repeated racial epithets, or physical threats.

This became known as “Stewards’ Immunity” or the “Equality Principle.”

General Motors complains that the earlier NLRB rulings failed to acknowledge the employer's right “to maintain order and respect.”

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