(CN) – Two Las Vegas hotel-casinos violated federal law when they stopped deducting union dues from workers’ paychecks more than 15 years ago, the 9th Circuit ruled, shaking up a labor board that has been deadlocked for years.
The Las Vegas Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 filed unfair-labor-practice charges against Hacienda Resort Hotel and Casino and Sahara Hotel and Casino in 1995, alleging that the employers had illegally terminated the so-called dues-checkoff provision of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. The provision required the employers to automatically deduct union-membership dues from an employee’s wages as long as the worker agreed. A right-to-work state, Nevada prohibits unions from requiring membership as a condition of employment, but the unions had negotiated for the deduction as part of its long-term agreement with the hotels.
But when the unions’ collective bargaining agreement with the hotels expired in 1994, and negotiations for a new deal fell apart, the hotels unilaterally stopped the deductions.
The unions filed unfair-labor-practices charges against the hotels, but an administrative law judge dismissed the complaint. Citing precedent, the National Labor Relations Board agreed in a 3-2 decision, ruling that the employers had every right to cancel the dues-checkoff provision when their agreement with the union expired.
The unions appealed to the 9th Circuit, which found the board’s reasoning “inadequate” and remanded the issue. Since then, the board has been deadlocked, with two members voting to dismiss the claim, two members finding that the hotels had violated the law, and one member recusing himself.
Apparently weary of the impasse, the federal appeals court in Portland shook the case loose on Tuesday, ruling in the unions’ favor. It said the board arbitrarily justified its decision by relying on its own precedent.
“A pattern of obedience to an arbitrary rule … does not by itself support the rule’s continued application,” Judge Richard Paez wrote for the three-judge panel. “Stability in labor relations must arise from reasoned rules promulgated by the board, not from our willful ignorance of the board’s arbitrary decisionmaking in an effort to avoid rocking the boat.”
The unanimous panel ruled that, after some 15 years, the board has “yet to provide a reasoned explanation for its rule excluding dues-checkoff from the unilateral change doctrine in right-to-work states.”
“Accordingly, we conclude that in a right-to-work state, where dues-checkoff does not exist to implement union security, dues-checkoff is akin to any other term of employment that is a mandatory subject of bargaining,” the judges explained. “Because each affected employee individually requested dues-checkoff, the employers’ actions in this case were an unlawful termination of a bargained benefit to employees, not merely the cessation of a provision that automatically terminated along with the [collective bargaining agreement] and union security.”