Bemis Company mistreated employees at its Centerville factory and did not intend to reach a deal with a newly ratified union, an administrative law judge ruled Monday.
A proposed order includes offering several employees their former jobs back, back payments for lost wages, and more.
The decision came in a 104-page filing on July 1 with the National Labor Relations Board by Administrative Law Judge Charles J. Muhl. It comes after a months-long process that included a two-week hearing last August.
The decision found Bemis at its Centerville facility engaged in numerous unfair labor practices against its employees. Among other violations, Muhl found the company failed to negotiate in good faith with a union that local employees voted for by a 112-95 margin.
“The record establishes that [Bemis] was used to doing things its own way at the Centerville facility and wanted to continue doing things its own way, even after the union became the employees’ bargaining representative,” Muhl wrote in his decision.
In May 2016 employees at the factory voted to unionize, with workers citing poor treatment at the factory. Complaints began rolling in to NLRB by July 2017 and continued to be filed through March 2018.
After an 18-month period, with 42 days of negotiating, only eight minor items had been agreed to between the parties, Muhl found.
While at its face Muhl said “by any objective measure” the number of meetings is substantial, given the lack of progress it fails to meet the statutory requirements.
Later in his opinion, Muhl wrote that Bemis would not include “policies involving mandatory subjects of bargaining” in the agreement, even if the language was agreed to by both sides.
Muhl wrote that the conduct by Bemis “displays an employer who wanted to convince its employees they were worse off for having chosen to be represented by the union.”
“[Bemis] attended numerous bargaining sessions and exchanged many proposals,” Muhl continued, “but I conclude it simply was going through the motions in doing so and did not intend to reach an initial contract with the union.”
Amcor — which completed its purchase of Bemis Company in June — or the employees’ union, Teamsters, did not respond to a request for comment on the decision.
The proposed order by the judge will automatically become the decision and order of the National Labor Relations Board, unless timely exemptions are filed.
Evidence gathered during the process led Muhl to conclude many violations by Bemis had occurred against its employees from May 2016 and onward, including:
— Bemis unlawfully surveilled a pro-union employee by having their supervisor ensure she “did not visit other employees outside of her work area and discuss the union with them,” Muhl wrote. He continued to write, “no question exists” those instructions were unlawful.
— Permanent layoffs of four employees on July 7, 2017, were unlawful, Muhl said. The company was at the time required to discuss changes in hours, wages, and other terms with the union prior to taking the action, but the company didn’t do so.
— Voluntary layoffs from June 27 to July 7, as well as involuntary layoffs of three other employees, violated labor practices because the company didn’t allow the union a chance to bargain, Muhl decided.
— In January 2018, the company made changes to work schedules, which reduced work hours by up to 30 percent, unilaterally without allowing the union to bargain, Muhl said.
— Muhl ruled that Bemis did not meet with the union during negotiations in good faith.
— Bemis engaged in surface bargaining, according to Muhl’s ruling. Surface bargaining is when a party, in this case Bemis, is determined to be merely “going through the motions” and never intending to reach an agreement.
Barring an exception filed, Bemis will be ordered to re-hire at least five employees and make them “whole for any loss of earnings or other benefits suffered as a result of their unlawful permanent layoffs” as well as paying for any adverse tax consequences for a lump sum payment.
Two other employees which were given unlawful temporary layoffs must also be made whole under the same conditions.
Any other ink controller and maintenance laborer positions not mentioned by name in the order must also be reinstated and made whole for their lost wages and benefits.
Bemis must also begin negotiation with the union in good faith and give status updates to the National Labor Relations Board every 30 days, until an agreement is reached.