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American Red Cross Loses Anti-Union Appeal

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 24, 2013 4:19 PM

People typically associate the American Red Cross with collecting donations and offering disaster relief. It's a do-gooder group.

On the flip side, there's Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Cudahy's description of the Red Cross as "a company charged with unilaterally changing conditions of employment in order to cripple a new union."

This week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals stepped into a dispute between the Red Cross and the National Labor Relations Board with its own brand of disaster relief: instructions for an interim injunction.

The problems started when a new union of blood collection specialists for the American Red Cross was elected in 2007 and certified in 2010. During the unionization process, ARC objected repeatedly, forcing impoundment of the 2007 ballots and delaying union certification. (The objections were later overruled by the National Labor Relations Board.)

During the delay between the 2007 election and the 2010 certification, the ARC unilaterally changed its union-represented employees’ terms and conditions without notice or bargaining with the Union. Those changes included suspending merit pay increases, discontinuing 401(k) matching contributions, closing the pension plan to new employees, changing health care benefits, decreasing employee personal time-off rollover hours, and allowing non-unit employees to perform bargaining unit work.

If the ARC planned to cripple the Union, it worked. Employee attendance at Union meetings declined approximately 88 percent in one year.

The Union director and NLRB sued.

A district court ordered a rescission of the ARC’s failure to grant the scheduled merit-based pay increases, but reasoned that rescinded the other unilateral changes would force the court to “micro-manage” employment relationships.

The Seventh Circuit disagreed, concluding, “The district court’s finding of judicial micro-managing is misplaced. The recission of changed terms and conditions would merely return the parties to the lawful status quo, before (the American Red Cross) began targeting the Union for unlawful injury,” Thomson Reuters News & Insight reports.

The case has been remanded to the district court for the appropriate injunctive relief.

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