DENVER -- Albertson's is getting ready to defend itself from charges made in an unfair labor practice complaint filed by the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board here.
The charges -- more than two dozen in all -- range from claims that Boise, Idaho-based Albertson's failed to comply with information requests made by the labor union that represents 40% of the chain's employees, to alleged interrogation and intimidation of workers involved in union organizing efforts.
The complaint will be aired in a hearing before an administrative law judge at the NLRB's Denver office on October 26. The hearing is expected to last several weeks and a decision will be handed down several months after the conclusion of the hearing.
Albertson's not only denies the more serious charges made in the complaint, but considers the majority of them a pressure tactic by the union, company officials told SN. Company officials concede that Albertson's may have technically violated labor law in regard to some of the information requests; However, they plan to argue at the hearing that various locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers union forced the company into the violations.
B. Allen Benson, director of the NLRB Denver Regional Office, said the complaint was filed after NLRB investigators responded to the union's request to intervene. Benson said investigators determined "that there exists a pattern of conduct over a significant period of time that warrants a broad remedy to ensure that the collective-bargaining process and employee rights under the [National Labor Relations] Act are fully protected."
He added that "We will continue to seek an appropriate settlement of this matter even though a complaint has been issued."
Steven Young, senior vice president of human resources for Albertson's, said "We believe the complaint is without merit and simply wrong."
Company spokesman Michael Read told SN "We think these charges represent intentional abuse of labor laws by the UFCW.
We look forward to the [hearing] and telling our story. We are certainly confident we will be vindicated."
Despite the absence of work stoppages by union employees, the relationship between Albertson's and the union has been somewhat acrimonious during the latter part of the '90s. Two years ago, class action lawsuits were brought against Albertson's by UFCW locals in several western states. Those were eventually consolidated into a single suit being heard in Denver.
The complaints in those suits alleged, among other things, that the company violated labor laws by allowing employees to work "off-the-clock" without pay. The union made a barrage of information requests for employees' personnel records, time sheets, payroll records and the like -- ostensibly to gather evidence for the lawsuit. The company counter-sued and that action became another basis for the NLRB's 90-page complaint.
"Respondent, through its lawsuit, seeks an order from the Court which interferes with the International Union's and the Affiliated Locals' gathering of 'off-the-clock' wage claim information from employees, advising employees regarding their wage claim rights, publishing Respondent's 'off-the-clock' work practices, and sponsoring employees' 'off-the-clock' wage claim lawsuits," the NLRB complaint states in one section.
It also claims that Albertson's lawsuit, if successful, "would require employees to raise and resolve said claims directly with Respondent," rather than through the union, which would be a labor law violation in the area that governs collective bargaining.
Addressing allegations made by individual employees who filed grievances through their locals, the complaint charges that a manager at an Albertson's store in Great Falls, Montana "engaged in surveillance of employees engaged in union and/or protected activities; interrogated an employee about a discussion with said employee's union representative" and "impliedly threatened an employee with unspecified reprisals by telling such employee to lie to the Union and say that he spent less than 10% of his work time performing stock duties."
Other unfair labor practice claims include one that allegedly occurred in 1995 at Albertson's Bozeman, Montana store when, according to the NLRB filing, during a mandatory meeting called by management, a manager "promised employees that Respondent would adjust hours worked so that employees would continue to be covered by Respondent's non-union health plan if said employees decertified UFCW [Local] 4 in a pending decertification election."
Read, the Albertson's spokesman, said the company views the vast majority of claims "as very much overstated." For instance, he said, the alleged interrogation of the Great Falls employee "amounted to nothing more than a store manager asking a question. There's a real difference of opinion on this."
Asked about the requests for information the union and the NLRB said were not fulfilled, Read countered that "We really believe these information requests are primarily a harassment tactic," wrought by the union. The motive, according to Read, is retaliation against the company after it waged successful campaigns that prevented further unionization.