Thursday, September 15, 2016
Ninth Circuit Revives Union’s Suit Saying LAX Security Firm Broke Labor Law
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A union did not wait too long to sue a company that provides security services at Los Angeles International Airport for interference with its organizing rights, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
Senior Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the panel that the United Service Workers West, part of the Service Employees International Union, was entitled to equitable tolling of the statute of limitations with regard to its interference and coercion claims against Command Security Corporation.
Command is the parent company of Aviation Safeguards. The union sued for violation of the Railway Labor Act in July 2012, after the company said it would not participate in mediation with the National Mediation Board.
The company had voluntarily recognized the union, and signed a collective bargaining agreement in 2008, and another one in 2009, set to expire in 2012. In 2011, however, a company official told the union that it had reached a “crossroad” and began an active effort to have the union decertified, according to the evidence.
The company then hired Cruz & Associates, which calls itself a “union avoidance” firm. This led to a series of mandatory meetings designed to persuade workers to turn against the union, allegedly including promises of higher wages if the union were gone.
At the end of 2011, the company announced that it would no longer recognize the union and that health benefits and wages would change on Feb. 1, 2012. The mediation board, at the union’s request, conducted a “pre-docketing” investigation that took nearly six months before docketing the case for June 26.
Two days later, the company said it would not mediate.
The union sued on July 31, 2012. The company responded that the suit was untimely and that the court lacked jurisdiction because the mediation board has exclusive jurisdiction of representation disputes under the RLA.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson sided with the company and granted summary judgment.
Pregerson, however, said the RLA’s six-month limitation period is subject to equitable tolling, and that the union had established equitable grounds for delaying the suit.
The union, he said, had been diligent in seeking signatures on a petition supporting its continued representation of the workers and in pursuing mediation, as provided for in the statute.
“The Mediation Board’s pre-docketing investigation lasted nearly six months. At no point during that time did Aviation Safeguards indicate a refusal to mediate. Aviation Safeguards waited until after the Mediation Board finished its nearly six-month pre-docketing investigation before informing the Union that it would not participate in mediation. The Union should not be punished for the Mediation Board’s or Aviation Safeguards’s delays.”
The judge went on to say that the union’s claims were within the jurisdiction of the court because the parties’ disagreements constitute a “major dispute,” beyond the scope of the mediation board’s exclusive jurisdiction.
On remand, Pregerson wrote, the union is entitled to summary judgment on its claims for interference and coercion, and for unlawful refusal to mediate.
The opinion was joined by Judges Richard A. Paez and Jacqueline Nguyen.
The case is Herrera v. Command Security Corporation, 14-55525.
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