Top 52015 is over; 2016 has just begun.  So, what were the top developments in labor law in the past 12 months?  And, what should be at the top of the list for labor professionals to keep an eye on in 2016?  I will share some thoughts on these two questions over the course of the next couple of posts on this blog.

First, a look back at 2015:

  • The NLRB’s new joint employer test.  In August, the NLRB made it easier to prove that two different employers were jointly employing a group of workers.  In doing so, the NLRB’s decision holds very significant implications for union organizing and collective bargaining in industries ranging from the temporary employee services sector to the franchise community.
  • The “ambush” election rule.  Ok, so for the purists, you are correct — this isn’t technically a 2015 development; the NLRB published its rule in December 2014.  But, what we saw in 2015 was that the rule actually went into effect after legal challenges to the rule failed.  Early results suggested that the rule was having the precise impact that the NLRB intended:  average time from filing of the petition to hold an election fell.
  • Electronic signatures on union authorization cards.  The NLRB’s General Counsel announced in September that electronic signatures on union authorization cards would be accepted.  The change opened up the possibility of an entirely new approach to union organizing.
  • The VW/UAW saga.  It started before 2015 with VW adopting a neutral position on the question of whether its employees should join the UAW.  As a result, groups of employees, each with its own backers, battled out the question of whether employees in VW’s Chattanooga plant should be represented by the UAW.  In a somewhat surprising turn of events during 2015, after the UAW won an election among a subset of the plant’s employees, VW refused to bargain with the UAW.  This set up a challenge to the “micro-unit” of only maintenance workers the NLRB approved.  How the fight will turn out could have significant implications for manufacturers when it comes to the “micro-union” issue.
  • The Supreme Court’s decision in M&G Polymers.  In January, the Supreme Court made clear that standard rules of contract interpretation control when confronted with a question about the continuation of retiree health benefits after the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement.  The decision overruled a long-standing decision that created a presumption that the benefits continued.

So, there you have it, my take on the year in labor law.  Many other developments could have easily made this list, but these seemed to be the ones that most stood out.  Check in next week for my second post in this series, which will help employer-oriented labor professionals get their “to do” lists together for 2016.

*Special thanks to my partner, Al Kinzer, for his contributions to this post.