The National Labor Relations Board and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Driver’s of Green Fleet Systems Right to Unionize

Jennifer MelendezEdgar M. Rivera, Esq.Owen H. Laird, Esq. and Yarelyn Mena

Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) to guarantee employees the right to form or join labor organizations. As a result, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was created to enforce those rights. The NLRB guarantees democratic union elections, arbitrates deadlock labor-management disputes, and penalizes unfair labor practices. Some examples of unfair practices the NLRB handles are restraints in labor’s self-organizing rights, employer interference with the arrangement of labor unions, discouragement of union membership, and prohibitions against  collective bargaining. NLRA violations have been the center of a protracted dispute between Green Fleet Systems (GFS) and its drivers.

In early 2012, GFS drivers teamed up with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union to begin organizing. In early 2013, the Teamsters notified GFS management of their campaign, initiating a strike to, among things, force GFS to allow its drivers to unionize. In August and November 2013, the Teamsters organized two, brief strikes at the GHS’s facility in which approximately forty drivers participated.  At one of the strikes, GFS employee, Ramon Guadamuz, stated “This is the first time as port truck drivers that we are doing this, exercising our rights. We started in May last year, working together, exercising our right to form our union. We have been struggling against illegal tactics by GFS.” Among Guadamuz and the other drivers were Mateo Mares and Amilcar Cardena. During the same time of the strikes, they also filed wage claims alleging, among things, that GFS misclassified them as independent contractors. Consequently, on June 2014, GFS officials retaliated against Mares and Cardena by terminating their employment.

On June 18th 2014, the NLRB filed a complaint against GFS alleging that they: (i) attempted to sabotage the union organization efforts of its drivers; (ii) persuaded employees into signing anti-union petitions; (iii) sought to force drivers to withdraw wage claims that were filed with the state; (iv) allowed anti-union employees to harass and assault drivers who engaged in union activity; (v) threatened to fire pro-labor workers; (vi) and lastly, planned an anti-union operative around its workforce. Eric Tate, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 848 Union stated: “Green Fleet systems has done everything they can to stop their drivers from having a voice on the job, but the drivers stayed strong knowing the law was on their side.”  The NLRB found in favor of the drivers. GFS appealed. On October 31, 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied GFS’s appeal and ordered GFS to reinstate Cardena and Mares to GFS, who returned to work in early November 2014. Mares stated, “The port trucking industry is the poster child for wage theft in America. This ruling is a great victory not just for me… but for all drivers at Green Fleet Systems who have been too fearful to openly support our effort to become Teamsters.”

GFS’s conduct is a prime example of an employer’s violation of multiple labor laws.  If you feel that you have been illegally denied of wages and/or have been prevented from organizing a union with fellow employees, contact THE HARMAN FIRM, LLP.