Workers at Full-Fill Industries, pictured, filed multiple unfair labor practice charges while organizing last year. Two involving egregious employer searches were decided in their favor, but that may not have been the case with the NLRB’s new ruling.
     Photo credit: Lynn Arwood

The National Labor Relations Board has issued a new anti-worker decision that allows an employer to search an employee’s personal items, including their cars, while on company property.

“The ruling, issued June 24 and known as Verizon Wireless, gives an employer the right to search its employees’ personal work space, locker or even an employee’s own vehicle. In the decision, the board reversed a previous administrative law judge’s ruling and used what’s called the Boeing test to determine that a “reasonable employee” would not refrain from engaging in protected activity – like union organizing – if that activity could be discovered through a search of their personal property. In other words, the NLRB believes there would be no deterrent effect. The board further concluded that companies can do this because they have a business interest in protecting assets and ensuring a safe workplace.

“This decision will absolutely have a chilling effect on lawful union organizing, not to mention a person’s sense of privacy while at work,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “We don’t check all our rights at the door when we clock in.”

It also upheld another decision by the administrative law judge that allows employers to search company-issued computers and email systems for “legitimate management reasons.”

IBEW Lead Organizer Joe DiMichele was involved in a campaign in 2019 at Full-Fill Industries. Among the nine unfair labor practice charges they filed against the company, two were for searching employees, and the NLRB at that time found merit in them. One was for threatening to search employees’ lockers and the second was for searching an employee organizer’s toolbox.

“Employers always use fear and intimidation tactics to discourage employees from organizing,” DiMichele said. “This new decision completely takes away an employee’s right to organize and contradicts the purpose of the NLRB, which is to protect employees’ rights.”

Ultimately, the employees at Full-Fill voted to join Danville, Ill., Local 538. Had the new standard been in place though, DiMichele says it could have significantly altered the campaign.

“If we would have had the current decision, the employees would not have felt safe and protected in their right to organize,” DiMichele said. “It essentially allows the employer to harass its employees.”

The Verizon Wireless ruling is the latest in a growing spate of decisions by the Trump administration board that favor employers at the expense of working people. Recent rulings have cracked down on union symbols at work, given employers a green light to eject union organizers from public spaces, to more easily withdraw union recognition, to discriminate against union members in the workplace, to thwart protests and to run roughshod over the rights of people working for subcontractors and franchises.

“Time and again this board has chosen the side of management, and working people are paying the price,” Stephenson said. “We all need to remember these decisions in November when we cast our votes. We need an NLRB that works for working people, not against us.”