Court Upholds Unfair Labor Charge Against USPS

May 5, 2008

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A federal appeals court has upheld an unfair labor practice charge against the Postal Service in a case involving a supervisor who threatened to retaliate against an employee who had filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected USPS claims that the supervisor was exercising his rights under the First Amendment when he threatened to sue the employee and warned the worker that he “had better get a good attorney.” The supervisor was acting as an agent of the Postal Service when he made the threat, the court found, and his “illegal speech” was not protected by the First Amendment.

The National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from retaliating or threatening to retaliate against employees who file such complaints.

The case stemmed from an incident on Aug. 25, 2004, when an employee at a Florida post office discovered white powder in a tray of letters. Mindful of incidents involving anthrax in the mail, several workers protested the supervisor’s instructions to process the mail. The supervisor told the shop steward at the Destin post office to shut up, and an employee filed an unfair labor practice charge, alleging that the supervisor had refused to allow the shop steward to perform his duties.

When the supervisor learned of the complaint, he was working at another post office. He phoned the employee who lodged the complaint, questioned him about the charge, told the employee he would be sorry, and said he was going to sue.

The supervisor never sued the employee, but the postal worker filed a charge with the NLRB, asserting that the Postal Service, through the supervisor, had threatened retaliation, in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB, concluding that the supervisor’s statement constituted a threat for “protected union activity” filed an unfair labor charge against the Postal Service. An NLRB administrative law judge upheld the charge, and the full board adopted the judge’s recommendation. The board ordered the Postal Service to “cease and desist from threatening employees with a lawsuit or other reprisals for filing unfair-labor practice charges” and to stop interfering with employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act. 

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