U.S. Second Circuit - The FindLaw 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

2nd Cir. Adopts NLRB Standard for Bargaining Units

The Second Circuit has adopted the National Labor Relations Board's organizational standards for proposed unions. In applying a two-part test, the court joined other federal jurisdictions to evaluate whether proposed collective bargaining units consist of employees who share a "community of interests" and do not "arbitrarily exclude other employees." The panel reached its decision in Constellation Brands v. National Labor Relations Board, a contest over the organization of a winery's operations department.

"We hold the Specialty Healthcare framework to be valid, as our sister circuits have, and to be consistent with this Court's precedent," the court said. While upholding the NLRB's framework, however, the court concluded the Board did not properly apply the standard.

No Whining

The case grew from a dispute at Woodbridge Winery in California, which employs about 100 managers and 200 production and maintenance employees. The employees are divided into various departments. The cellar operations department is organized into two subgroups: "outsider cellar" with 46 employees and "barrel" with 18 employees.

The dispute centered on whether the "outside cellar" employees were sufficiently distinct from the "barrel" employees to be treated separately for collective bargaining purposes under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The cellar employees voted to unionize, but the winery, owned by Constellation Brands, refused to negotiate with them.

More Is More

In considering the question, the Second Circuit followed the reasoning of six other circuit courts. The Third, Fourth,Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Circuits also have held that the NLRB standards for unionization are valid.

"Our sister circuits have accepted the Specialty Healthcare framework based on the understanding that it requires the Board to ensure, at step one, that employees are not inappropriately "excluded [from a bargaining unit] on the basis of meager differences," the Second Circuit said.

The the three-judge panel then remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings under their ruling.

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