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National Labor Relations Board Sides with Union in Case against Kentucky Fire Sprinkler Company

Mar 16, 2022

Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings (BS&J) attorneys David Suetholz and K. Grace Stranch won a recent case against a Kentucky company for unfair labor practices. The case is Johnston Fire Services, LLC, and United Association of Journeymen Local 669, case numbers 10-CA-254411, 10-CA-264181 and 10-CA-264549, before the National Labor Relations Board.

Johnston Fire Services, LLC, is a fire protection equipment and sprinkler systems company located in Paducah, Kentucky. 

Originally filed in December of 2020, the complaint alleged that Johnston Fire Services violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act 1 by:

  • Soliciting employee complaints and grievances
  • Promising increased benefits and improved terms and conditions of employment if employees were to forego union representation
  • Interrogating employees about their union activities and sympathies, as well as those of other employees
  • Implying that employees were disloyal because they supported the United Association of Journeyman and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, AFL-CIO, Local Union 669 Road Sprinkler Fitters (the Union)
  • Conditioning employment upon an employee being and remaining anti-union

In addition, the claim alleged that the company violated Section 8(a)(3) and (1) by discharging employees David Reason and Chris Goodman because they formed, joined and assisted the Union and engaged in concerted activities. In their response to the claim, the company denied the alleged violations and asserted that Reason and Goodman were laid off due to lack of work, failed to communicate with the company on the availability or willingness to return to work, and refused offers to return to work.

In July of 2021, an administrative law judge ruled that Johnston Fire Services committed multiple and serious unfair labor practices, including firing two employees for protected organizing activities. However, the judge also ruled that the company made a valid offer of reinstatement to Reason and Goodman in early 2020. The Union filed exceptions to this particular finding in August of 2021, while Johnston Fire Services filed their own cross-exceptions to the judge’s overall ruling in September.

In a decision issued Jan. 27, 2022, a three-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board concurred with the previous decision, with the exception of the judge’s ruling on the valid offer of reinstatement.

The board stated, “The Union excepts to the judge’s finding that the Respondent (Johnston Fire Services) made Reason and Goodman a valid offer of reinstatement in January 2020. We find merit in the Union’s exception and find that a valid offer was not made until May 2020.” The board also stated that the company violated federal labor law due to text messages being sent to the fired employees that lacked specificity as to whether or not they were being offered full reinstatement.

The board ordered Johnston Fire Services and its officers, agents, successors and assigns to cease and desist from:

  • Discharging or discriminating against employees for supporting the Union or any other labor organization
  • Telling employees they are disloyal or bringing harm to the company if they support the Union or any other labor organization
  • Soliciting grievances from employees and promising to remedy them or improve benefits to discourage employees from selecting union representation
  • Vandalizing the property of employees who engage in Union activities
  • Refusing to reinstate employees who offer unconditionally to return to work after engaging in a lawful work stoppage
  • Conditioning employees’ hiring on their opposition to the Union or any other labor organization
  • Interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed them by Section 7 of the Act

The board also ordered the company to take affirmative action necessary to effectuate the policies of the Act, including:

  • Offer David Reason full reinstatement to his former job or a substantially equivalent position 
  • Make Chris Goodman and David Reason whole for any loss of earnings and other benefits resulting from the discrimination against them, provide all necessary financial records, and compensate them for adverse tax consequences
  • Remove any reference to Goodman’s and Reason’s unlawful discharges from company files and notify them in writing
  • Post copies of a NLRB notice regarding the company’s violation of national labor law and the rights to which employees are entitled under the law, which must also be read by a company executive to employees during working hours

With regard to reading the NLRB notice to employees, the board stated, “This is appropriate here because the respondent’s unlawful conduct, which began as soon as it became aware of the union organizing campaign, was both severe, including criminal destruction of property motivated by antiunion animus, and widespread.”

“Although we agreed with the majority of the earlier ruling last July, we found no basis for the judge’s decision regarding a valid offer of reinstatement, and we are delighted that the NLRB panel supported our exceptions to that decision,” Suetholz said. “Johnston Fire Services’ brazen violations of federal labor law, their deliberate actions to prevent union organization among their employees, and their retaliation against those employees is truly appalling, particularly in light of the fact that the co-owner is a former union member himself. We applaud the Board for their careful analysis of this case and their resulting decision and order.”