Board hearing continues on NMG’s attempt to organize OPEIU staff

Employer lawyers on Friday continued their effort to block a union election for field staff at the Office and Professional Employees International Union during a hearing in Miami before the National Labor Relations Board.

The field staff workers, who work for the OPEIU union, are themselves seeking to bargain collectively. Many employees who work for labor organizations are organized. The OPEIU staffers negotiate and enforce contracts for thousands of workers across the country, choosing the News Media Guild to bargain their terms of employment with OPEIU.

But in a motion filed Friday, OPEIU sought to dismiss the Guild’s petition for a federally supervised election, alleging NMG is unfit to be the union representative on conflict of interest grounds.

OPEIU lawyers contend that because some clerical workers employed by the Communications Workers of America are represented by OPEIU, allowing NMG to organize the OPEIU field staff would lead to “divided loyalties” and other conflicts of interest.

The employer subpoenaed Tony Winton, an NMG negotiator and former NMG president, to testify about the links between the NMG, an autonomous local union, and its affiliated “parent” unions, The Newspaper Guild and the CWA. Winton testified that NMG enjoys a great amount of autonomy from the parent unions in representing workers in its four bargaining units — two at The Associated Press, and one each at United Press International, and the Madrid-based EFE News Services.

Seeking to show the CWA could discipline NMG members, Silverman asked Winton about a provision in the CWA Constitution that allows internal charges to be filed against members for bringing the union into “disrepute.” He asked: if a member criticized CWA leaders, could that comment lead to charges? Winton testified that the answer was no, because the TNG and CWA have taken consistent and strong stands supporting freedom of expression and the First Amendment. Silverman pressed further, asking Winton if there was anything that a member could do or say that would bring the union into “disrepute.”

“Yes,” Winton testified. “Union-busting.”

There was also much discussion of documents sought by the Guild, such as pay stubs and work reports, items needed to help clarify the type of work various employees perform and whether they are eligible to vote in an election. OPEIU did not deliver all the information when it was due, and still has information outstanding.

OPEIU then called Kevin Kistler, the supervisor of the union’s field staff. Kistler testified that several people seeking collective bargaining rights should be excluded, and others whom the Guild believes do not belong in the bargaining unit should get a ballot. Many of the issues focus on whether a particular employee is a manager, what types of benefits they receive, the type of work they perform. One of the purported employees the OPEIU is seeking to include, for example, is the dean of the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia.

All told, the Guild and the Employer disagree on 14 individuals. The Guild petitioned for a unit of 17 employees; the OPEIU says the unit should have 21 employees.

The hearing will resume Monday, with continued testimony by Kistler. When the hearing is complete, the NLRB hearing officer will make a report to the NLRB regional director, who will then decide on voting eligibility questions and how the federally supervised election will be conducted.