Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The Fourth Circuit recently issued an interesting decision on the LMRA's prohibition under against employers giving anything of value to a union (Section 302). In Adcock v. Freightliner, the court rejected the argument of employees (represented by the Right to Work Foundation) that a card check agreement between an employer and union violated Section 302. According to the court:
The issue presented in this appeal is whether Freightliner LLC (Freightliner) delivered "money or other thing[s] of value" to the International Union, United Automobile and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (the Union) pursuant to a card check agreement with the Union, wherein Freightliner agreed, among other things, to: (1) require some of its employees to attend, on paid company time, Union presentations explaining the card check agreement; (2) provide the Union reasonable access to nonwork areas in company plants to allow Union representatives to meet with employees; and (3) refrain from making negative comments about the Union during organizing campaigns. . . . As the Employees’ argument goes, because these concessions made by Freightliner benefited the Union’s organizing efforts, they were "thing[s] of value" under § 302, because a "thing of value" means anything that has subjective value to the Union. . . .
Under the plain language of the statute, the concessions made by Freightliner in the Card Check Agreement do not involve the payment or delivery of a "thing of value." The concessions provided by Freightliner all involve permitting the Union access to employees during an organizing campaign. Such concessions do not involve the delivery of either tangible or intangible items to the Union. . . .
Our reading of the statute is consistent with the purposes of § 302. . . . [Section] 302 is aimed at preventing "bribery, extortion and other corrupt practices conducted in secret." In this case, the concessions made by Freightliner do not involve bribery or other corrupt practices.
Our interpretation of the phrase "thing of value" also is buttressed by § 302’s penalty provision. Under § 302’s penalty provision, the severity of the sentence is dictated by the monetary value of the thing delivered by the employer or received by the union. A person who willfully violates § 302 is guilty of a felony unless the value of the money or thing involved does not exceed $1,000, in which case the person is guilty of a misdemeanor. Thus, Congress clearly intended § 302’s "thing of value" to have at least some ascertainable value. In this case, unquestionably, the concessions made by Freightliner, which simply involved allowing the Union access to Freightliner’s employees, have no such whatsoever.
I haven't looked at this issue in detail, but it's my sense that this decision is in line with other interpretations of Section 301. Perhaps we'll hear an opposing view from some of our RTWF readers.