Teamsters test insidious bargaining unit standard to split dump, mixer driver pool

By recognizing a petitioned-for bargaining unit in an integrated ready mixed and aggregate producer’s driver ranks, the National Labor Relations Board has applied a standard it set in a contentious August 2011 decision, Specialty Healthcare, now under challenge in federal court.

NLRB has rejected Corliss Resources’ request for review of a decision allowing an election to determine if Teamsters Local 174 will represent the Sumner, Wash., aggregate and ready mixed producer’s 29 dump truck drivers. In April, the Tukwila, Wash., local sought a bargaining unit confined to dump truck drivers, who along with 45 mixer, tanker and yard vehicle peers are based at the company’s headquarters plant south of Seattle.

NLRB Regional Director Ronald Hooks (Seattle) noted that Corliss Resources had not demonstrated a significant “community of interest” factor in the day-to-day functions of dump truck drivers and their counterparts. “I find the petitioned-for unit of dump truck drivers has been shown to be appropriate, as these employees share the same department, classification, skills, job functions, wages and benefits, work locations, and supervision,” he wrote in his mid-June decision. “The burden shifts to the Employer to establish that the unit is inappropriate as the drivers in that group share an overwhelming community of interest with the balance of drivers.”

In Specialty Healthcare, NLRB holds: “In cases in which a party contends that a petitioned-for unit containing employees readily identifiable as a group who share a community of interest is nevertheless inappropriate because it does not contain additional employees, the burden is on the party so contending to demonstrate that the excluded employees share an overwhelming community of interest with the included employees.”

In a request for a review of the decision, Corliss counsel Davis Grimm Payne & Marra cited a company business model centered on hiring drivers who hold Class A Commercial Drivers Licenses and cross-training them to run dump, concrete mixer and cement tanker trucks. “This is an integral part of the Employer’s business,” attorney John Payne explained, adding how the interchange arising as drivers serve four ready mixed and aggregate operations, plus many job sites where the company supplies concrete and aggregates is what “makes Corliss Resources efficient and profitable. The Union’s attempt to organize the dump truck drivers only defies the very essence of the Employer’s business.”

Corliss counsel also appealed to the NLRB regarding potential problems from a “fractured” bargaining unit, including questions of work assignment, contract protections, discipline procedures and seniority accrual for dump truck drivers temporarily reassigned to duties outside the bargaining unit.

A dump-driver election outcome might be clouded by action in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Washington, D.C., where Specialty Healthcare employers are challenging the decision NLRB now uses as a standard for bargaining unit recognition. As Teamsters Local 174 petitioned for a Corliss dump-driver only bargaining unit this spring, surely mindful of NLRB’s new standard, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace—whose members include National Precast Concrete Association and National Ready Mixed Concrete Association—submitted a Specialty Healthcare employer-supporting brief for the Sixth Circuit.

Practically reading the union playbook just off the press, CDW counsel Proskauer Rose LLP, Washington, D.C., describes the Specialty Healthcare standard as fundamentally altering “the legal framework for determining appropriate bargaining units in all industries.” It will potentially force companies to “bargain and administer a multitude of different collective-bargaining agreements in a single workplace,” observes Proskauer’s Ronald Meisburg, “… very likely [resulting] in a constant state of bargaining, grievances and other disruptions to the detriment of employers and employees.”