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June 19, 2018 3:15 PM, EDT
NLRB Rules UPS Illegally Insisted Teamsters Proposal Be Written in English
Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg News

UPS Supply Chain Solutions Inc. illegally insisted that a Teamsters union local in Puerto Rico translate its proposal for a collective bargaining agreement from Spanish to English, the National Labor Relations Board ruled.

UPS ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest North American for-hire carriers.

The decision illustrates that while companies and unions may propose and negotiate rules and procedures for negotiating union contracts, they can’t hold up talks indefinitely to force agreement on the ground rules they prefer.

NLRB members Mark Gaston Pearce, Lauren McFerran and Marvin E. Kaplan on June 18 cited prior board and court rulings saying that an employer can’t force a union to accept its ground rules for contract talks.

The board members also cited evidence that the union and management negotiators at the bargaining table all spoke Spanish and didn’t need anyone to translate the union’s proposal for them.

Employer Insisted on English Text

According to the decision, Unión de Tronquistas de Puerto Rico, Local 901 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was certified to represent a unit of approximately 15 warehouse employees at the company’s facility in Caguas, Puerto Rico.

After the union was certified by NLRB, it requested bargaining and sent the company a 67-page contract proposal in Spanish. The company responded with a written set of proposed ground rules, including a demand that all proposals and counterproposals would be made in writing, in English. The union eventually agreed to put all future proposals in English, but the parties reached an impasse over the company’s demand that the union translate its original proposal.

An NLRB administrative law judge found that the company delayed bargaining for months by failing to make counterproposals and refusing to schedule bargaining sessions.

But the board said the judge also should have found that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act by holding up negotiations with its demand that Local 901 translate its contract proposals into English.

Ground rules for collective bargaining don’t directly relate to wages, hours and working conditions, so they’re permissive, rather than mandatory, subjects of bargaining under the NLRA. An employer can propose such ground rules but can’t lawfully insist that its stipulations be met as a condition of reaching a contract. The company violated this “well-established voard precedent,” NLRB said.

It ordered the company to bargain in good faith with Local 901, to meet with the union for a minimum of 24 hours per month and to put any eventual understanding into a signed agreement.

Attorneys for UPS Supply Chain Solutions didn’t immediately respond to a June 19 request for comment on the decision.

NLRB attorneys represented the board’s general counsel.