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NLRB files action against Universal Logistics over Teamsters vote fallout at SoCal facility

Workers at Compton voted to align with Teamsters; company closed building soon after and moved work elsewhere

Several subsidiaries of Universal Logistics (NASDAQ: ULH) are the target of a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board against some of Universal’s activities in California, as the board has rounded up a series of earlier charges filed by the Teamsters into one action.

Some of the complaints filed by the Teamsters go back as far as 2019. That was the year workers at  the Compton facility of Universal Logistics voted to be represented by the Teamsters.

The earlier NLRB complaints submitted by the Teamsters targeted several Universal Logistics subsidiaries, including Mason-Dixon Intermodal, Roadrunner Intermodal — which Universal bought from Roadrunner (OTC: RRTS) in 2019 — Universal Truckload, Southern Counties Express and Universal Intermodal, which operated the Compton facility under that name. 

The businesses have “common officers … common labor policy … shared common premises … [and] have interrelated operations services and have held themselves out to the public as a single-integrated enterprise,” the NLRB said in its formal complaint. 

According to the complaint, the Teamsters was certified as the bargaining representative of the workers at Compton in early January 2020, about a month after the election was held there. The size of the workforce at Compton was about 30 employees, according to Julie Gutman Dickinson, an attorney with the firm of Bush Gottlieb, which is representing the Teamsters. She said the vote to unionize was “overwhelming.”

Leading up to the vote, according to the NLRB complaint, the company “promised its employees increased benefits and improved terms and conditions of employment if they refrained from union organizational activity.”

But also during that time, the complaint says, three workers were “discharged.” All of them had been involved in activities related to the union, the NLRB said. And then on Dec. 20, before the union was even certified but after the vote had taken place, the Compton facility was closed. Work was shifted to the Southern Counties division. 

In December 2019, the same month that the vote at Compton took place, Universal laid off not only the Compton workers but also employees of the recently acquired Roadrunner as well as those at Universal Truckload. In a prepared statement about the NLRB action, the Teamsters said those layoffs were “in retaliation for and to prevent union activity.” The Teamsters statement said organizing activities at those two subsidiaries were “nascent.”

In its complaint, the NLRB says the Teamsters has been seeking to have Universal bargain but the company has refused.  

Dickinson said the Teamsters is continuing to seek representation and recognition at Compton even though it is closed. “We are fighting the unfair labor practices,” she said. “First they had tried to intimidate their workforce, they tried to get them to vote against the union, they terminated employees,” she said. And then after the vote, “they terminated the whole workforce.”

Dickinson called the Universal action in shutting Compton and moving the work to the nonunionized Southern Counties “an insidious shell game which is very common where you avoid unionization.” “You lay off or shut down the location,” she said. 

The NLRB said in its filing that it is seeking to have an order that would restore the operations at Compton, bring work back to the facility and require Universal to “bargain in good faith.”

The hearing on the NLRB action will be June 14. Given that it is a virtual hearing, it will be accessible to the public, Dickinson said. An administrative law judge will hear the charges.

An outside attorney for Universal, Rodolfo Agraz, of the Dallas office of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, declined comment. Emails and a voice mail directed to the investor relations department of Universal Logistics had not been responded to by publication time. 

The action by the NLRB is the second this week dealing with Universal’s activities in California. In its release, the Teamsters noted that drivers at Container Connection, a Universal company, had filed a complaint against the company with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) charging it with negligence in its COVID-19 protocols in that state. 

A spokesman for Cal/OSHA said he could not confirm the action due to privacy laws.

More articles by John Kingston

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.