Pennsy case judge: Business agent ‘clothed’ with negotiating authority

In a decision affirming a union official’s contract-negotiating authority as determined in past National Labor Relations Act cases, Administrative Law Judge John Clark has ordered Teamsters Local 771 to abide by terms of a collective-bargaining agreement and side letter finalized in April 2010 with Pennsy Supply Inc. The Harrisburg, Pa., ready mixed and asphalt producer filed an unfair labor practice charge through the National Labor Relations Board, Region 4, Philadelphia, after the union refused to sign a contract to which each side had verbally agreed.

The collective-bargaining agreement covers drivers and production staff at two of three properties, Lancaster and Quarryville, Pa., Pennsy Supply acquired from McMinn’s Asphalt in 2007. The agreement continues Local 771’s representation of the employees—pre-dating the plants’ change of ownership—while the side letter enables Quarryville drivers to load at a third property, Landisville, where staff remains nonunion.

In meetings leading up to and following a March 31, 2010, contract expiration, Pennsy Supply staff had repeatedly questioned Local 771’s business agent of his authority to negotiate and commit to a new collective-bargaining agreement. The business agent indicated such authority while appearing to act on behalf of Local 771’s secretary-treasurer and principal officer.

Pennsy Supply’s vice president of human resources informed the business agent the company would not put its last proposal on the table without assurance that he had the authority to accept it. The employer, along with business agent and union steward, reached an agreement in early April 2010 on a new contract and side letter. In a meeting the following week, the union refused to sign contract documents, the business agent indicating “issues” the Local 771 secretary-treasurer had with side agreements.

Citing multiple precedents, Judge Clark writes, “The law is well settled that an agent assigned to negotiate a collective-bargaining agreement is clothed with ‘apparent authority to bind the principle in the absence of clear notice to the contrary.’ If the limitation placed on the negotiating authority is a condition precedent to a final and binding agreement, the notice must be clear, unambiguous, and disclosed to the other party before agreement is reached.” — Don Marsh