Nonunion contractors are backing a federal bill that would protect them from hiring union organizers.
But even if the bill becomes law, those contractors still must navigate the rough legal waters of proving an applicant’s true intention.
Current law does not let company officials ask job applicants if they are union organizers who want to organize the company’s workers, said Jim Pease, a partner in Melli Law SC, Madison. He said attorneys have spent years wrestling with the problem of proving job applicant intent.
“It gets very hard to draw the line if they’re not getting paid,” he said. “It seems to me that if you can prove whether they’re paid or not, that they’re not doing this on their own initiative, that they’re doing this on a union order, it’s just like industrial sabotage.”
The five-member National Labor Relations Board, appointed by the president, makes labor dispute rulings, which set policy for company and employee rights in cases where applicants seek jobs in order to organize companies. The practice is called salting.
The majority of salting cases stem from complaints filed by unions claiming a company illegally refused to hire a job applicant, said Irv Gottschalk, Milwaukee regional director of the NLRB. In such cases, the worker must prove he or she is genuinely seeking work, he said.
The federal bill introduced Thursday would reverse a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said companies cannot disqualify job applicants solely because the worker is being paid by a union as an organizer. The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act so employers do not have to hire job applicants who might be advancing an agenda of another company, such as a union, or as an agent for other groups.
Brewster Bevis, senior director of legislative affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., said contractors’ lengthy review processes for applicants help weed out union organizers. The bill, introduced by U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, also would help employers get rid of union organizers after they are hired, he said.
“They put in time and energy and money to hire folks, so I don’t think they’re going to be hiring a bunch of folks and then filing salting complaints against them,” Bevis said.
Lyle Balistreri, president of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, would not say if the council salts companies, but said the building trades oppose any limits to legal methods of organizing companies.
“We need labor law reform; not deform,” he said.