ST. LOUIS (CN) – An attorney for Dollar General argued Tuesday before the Eighth Circuit that a union certification for six of its employees in Missouri should be set aside because threats and bribes from a union organizer influenced the vote.
The discount store chain is appealing a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that it violated federal labor law by refusing to bargain with union workers.
Dolgencorp dba Dollar General argued that the union certification isn’t valid because the election could have been changed by one vote had the union supporter not threatened and attempted to bribe fellow employees.
The chain’s attorney William Peterson claimed before the St. Louis-based appeals court that Dollar General employee Adam Price, while advocating for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, threatened to slash the tires of anyone voting against the union. The threat was enough to sway the vote of at least one employee, he said.
Price denies making the threat in documents submitted to the NLRB.
Peterson, of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Houston, Texas, also argued Tuesday before a three-judge Eighth Circuit panel that Price gave $100 to a fellow employee right before the vote.
Those votes are significant given the unique circumstances surrounding the vote, which consisted of just six employees at the Dollar General store in Auxvasse, Missouri. Dollar General claimed that the final vote of 4-2 approving the union was affected by the threat and that employees were only given 24 days between signing the union cards and the election.
The panel questioned Peterson on whether Price was actually an agent of the union. The attorney responded by saying that there was no question that the union asked Price to perform certain activities, including passing out a survey and checking on fellow employees to advocate for the union.
“Threats of physical violence could be even more credible coming from a third party,” Peterson told the judges. “You don’t need to be a member of a union to slash someone’s tires.”
Peterson also argued that there was no doubt that the money Price gave to the co-worker was an attempt to sway her vote.
“A union supporter clearly offered a gift he never offered before,” Peterson said in his rebuttal.
NLRB attorney Valerie Collins argued that the board officer who heard the hearing regarding the concerns about Price’s action was in the best position to judge his credibility. She said the employee who made the threat claim against Price changed her story several times and that the transcript does not reflect other factors such as the demeanor of the witnesses.
“It’s hard to look at a transcript and see snark or some of those things that come up,” Collins told the panel. “The hearing officer is in the best position to determine those things and he found Price to be credible.”
Collins argued that Price simply acted as a typical employee who was passionate about union membership, calling his actions “standard.”
She also said the $100 given to the fellow employee was a loan that came after Dollar General had slashed their hours.
“At no point does the evidence show that this was tit-for-tat or a wink and a nod,” Collins said. “These are people who hung out together and he wanted to help her.”
U.S. Circuit Judges Raymond Gruender, Morris Arnold and L. Steven Grasz heard the arguments and took them under advisement. There is no timetable for a ruling.
The Auxvasse employees took the union vote in December 2017, becoming the first Dollar General store to unionize. Auxvasse, located 93 miles west of St. Louis, has a population of 980 that is 86% white, according to city-data.com. The median household income is $38,085, more than $13,000 below the state average, and President Donald Trump won 67.5% of the 2016 vote in Callaway County, where the town is located.
Dollar General, headquartered in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, offers low prices on items including food, snacks, health and beauty products, cleaning supplies, family apparel, household wares, seasonal items and paper products, according to its website. There are more than 15,000 Dollar General stores in 44 states.