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Coffman v. Queen of Valley Medical Center

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 16, 2018

Jill Hawken Coffman, Regional Director of Region 20 of the National Labor Relations Board, for and on behalf of the National Labor Relations Board, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
Queen of the Valley Medical Center, Respondent-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted June 14, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California No. 4:17-cv-05575-YGR Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, District Judge, Presiding

         COUNSEL

          Ronald J. Holland (argued), Philip Shecter, and Ellen Bronchetti, DLA Piper LLP, Menlo Park, California, for Respondent-Appellant.

          Rebecca J. Johnston (argued), Attorney; Richard J. Lussier, Supervisory Attorney; Elinor L. Merberg, Assistant General Counsel; Jayme L. Sophir, Associate General Counsel; Peter B. Robb, General Counsel; National Labor Relations Board, Washington, D.C.; for Petitioner-Appellee.

          Before: Mary M. Schroeder and Ronald M. Gould, Circuit Judges, and Miranda M. Du, [*] District Judge.

          SUMMARY [**]

         Labor Law / Preliminary Injunction

         The panel affirmed the district court's entry of a preliminary injunction, pursuant to Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), requiring the employer to engage in unconditional bargaining with a union.

         The panel held that an employer cannot begin unconditional bargaining and later withdraw recognition because such actions interfere with the union's collective bargaining rights protected by the NLRA. The panel held that the Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board had shown a sufficient likelihood of success in establishing its underlying position that the employer recognized the union and engaged in unconditional bargaining before withdrawing recognition and refusing to bargain in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the NLRA. The panel held that the Director established a continuing threat of irreparable harm to the union's collective bargaining rights to support the extraordinary remedy of injunctive relief. The panel also held that the harm to the union outweighed the harm to the employer. The panel further held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in balancing the equities, and in finding that injunctive relief in this case was in the public interest.

         The panel held that the Director submitted sufficient evidence to establish a likelihood of success and irreparable harm with regard to the union's claim that the employer discriminated against an employee for his union activity in violation of Section 8(a)(1) and (3) of the NLRA.

          OPINION

          SCHROEDER, Circuit Judge:

         It is a well-settled principle of labor relations law that an employer cannot start unconditional bargaining with a union and then quit when negotiations do not go well. In this case, a Regional Director ("Director") of the National Labor Relations Board ("Board") believed the employer did just that. The Director successfully applied for an injunction pursuant to Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 160(j), requiring the employer to engage in unconditional bargaining. In this appeal from that injunction, the employer contends the Director lacked a sufficient likelihood of success in establishing its underlying position that the employer recognized the union and engaged in unconditional bargaining before withdrawing recognition and refusing to bargain. According to the employer, it did nothing more than bargain conditionally to preserve its right to challenge the results of the union election.

         The record shows that the employer had considerable dealings with the union following the union's certification, including discussions that resulted in agreements over some hours and working conditions, and that these negotiations took place before the employer made any official challenge to the certification. We therefore hold that the Director has shown a sufficient likelihood of success in establishing a withdrawal of recognition and refusal to bargain unconditionally, as well as a continuing threat of irreparable harm to the union's collective bargaining rights, to support the extraordinary remedy of injunctive relief. We affirm the District Court's entry of the preliminary injunction. We vacate the stay previously entered by a motions panel of our Court.

         Background

         I. Factual history

         A. Employer's withdrawal of union recognition

         The employer in this case is Queen of the Valley Medical Center ("QVMC"), which operates an acute-care medical facility in Napa, California. The union is the National Union of Healthcare Workers ("Union"). The employee bargaining unit consists of nonprofessional and technical employees at QVMC's facility. In the mail ballot election held on November 15, 2016, a majority of eligible bargaining-unit employees voted by a wide margin for the Union's representation. QVMC objected to the election results, but the Director overruled those objections and, on December 22, 2016, certified the Union as the employees' bargaining representative.

         QVMC then filed a request for review of the Union's certification with the Board on January 9, 2017, but the Board denied that request on February 28, 2017. The first formal communication from the employer to the Union of a refusal to recognize the Union came weeks later, on March 16, 2017. On that day, QVMC sent the Union a letter asserting that the mail ballot election was flawed and demanding that the Union "stipulate to a new in-person election." If the Union refused, QVMC stated, it would "engage in a 'technical refusal to bargain, '" by "formally notify[ing] the Union that [QVMC] believes the unit certification was faulty and . . . refuse to bargain with the Union so that [QVMC could] pursue its review of the certification in the courts." QVMC stated that it would "discuss the terms of a collective bargaining agreement [but] with the mutual understanding that it [would] only take effect if and when all of [QVMC's] appeals in court are denied."

         This case is before our Court on an injunction because, prior to the March 16 letter, QVMC had extensive discussions with the Union about working conditions and schedules for members of the bargaining unit. Before QVMC's January 9 request for review of the Union's certification, QVMC's Directors of Labor and Human Resources arranged a meeting with the Union to negotiate the schedule and job assignment of a bargaining-unit employee. During these communications, QVMC's agents did not indicate to the Union that QVMC was bargaining conditionally by reserving its right to contest the Union's certification. The Director therefore concluded injunctive relief would be appropriate and the District Court agreed.

         The record before the District Court reflects the extent of the parties' dealings with each other after QVMC's request for review was denied on February 28, 2017, but before QVMC sent its "technical refusal to bargain" letter on March 16. QVMC provided information to the Union that was relevant for the full collective bargaining agreement and promised to respond further "as [data became] available." QVMC stated that it would respond to the Union's proposed dates for the full bargaining session as well. During the same time period before March 16, QVMC proposed dates and attempted to schedule a meeting with the Union regarding bargaining-unit phlebotomists' schedule changes. Also during this time period, QVMC and the Union arranged for a Union representative to attend a bargaining-unit employee's investigatory meeting. On March 2, the Union requested information from QVMC regarding changes to the schedules of bargaining-unit employees in the Sterile Processing Department and asked QVMC to cease and desist from implementing the changes until the parties could discuss the changes. QVMC met with the Union and employees ...


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