Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (2010) PERB Decision No. A387-M (Issued on 10/25/10)
This case arose from a decertification election at the Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (SVMHS). The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) sought to decertify SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West Local 2005 as the exclusive representative and to establish itself as the new exclusive representative. NUHW won the election. SEIU then filed objections to the result of the decertification election. The objections alleged that the SVMHS interfered with employees’ free choice in the election by: (1) changing its access rules for non-employee SEIU representatives; (2) allowing a management employee’s photograph to be used on a flyer supporting the NUHW; and (3) discriminating against, retaliating against, and/or interfering with the rights of several employees who supported SEIU. SEIU also filed an unfair practice charge against SVMHS based on the same allegations. The Regional Director held that SEIU failed to establish that SVMHS’s conduct interfered with employees’ free choice and therefore dismissed SEIU’s objections. The Board affirmed.
In its appeal, SEIU argued that its objections to the election should not have been dismissed—and the election should not have been certified—until its unfair practice charge based on the same facts was decided. The Board has never addressed this issue before; namely, whether findings and conclusions in an election objection decision have any preclusive effect on identical allegations raised in an unfair practice charge. Citing NLRB precedent, PERB held that findings and conclusions in an election objection decision do not have preclusive effect in a related unfair practice charge. PERB emphasized that there are “significant differences between representation and unfair practice proceedings … PERB may refuse to set aside an election even when the employer’s conduct constituted an unfair practice if the conduct did not actually affect, or have a natural or probable effect on, employee free choice … On the other hand, the employer’s conduct need not constitute an unfair practice for PERB to set aside an election.”
Here, PERB noted that the Regional Director did not address whether SVMHS’ alleged conduct constituted an unfair practice under applicable PERB standards. Rather, the Regional Director only determined that none of the alleged conduct actually influenced, or had the potential to influence, employee free choice in the decertification election. Therefore, PERB held that ruling on SEIU’s objections would not affect the subsequent unfair practice charge.
- PERB’s approach in separating the representation issues from the unfair practice issues makes sense and is practical. PERB has always prioritized representational issues, as it should. Delaying the certification of an election while an unfair practice charge is pending doesn’t make sense if the conduct has already been determined not to have influenced the election.
- Here, SEIU filed its unfair practice charge two (2) days before the ballots were counted. It is important to note that SEIU apparently did not request that its unfair practice charge be considered a “blocking charge” and that the election be stayed. Like the NLRB, PERB does allow for “blocking charges” prior to an election. A party must ask that an unfair practice charge be treated as a blocking charge and the Regional Director makes a decision on whether the stay the election. The test is whether the conduct “will so effect the election process as to prevent the employees from freely selecting their representatives.” See Jefferson School District (1979) PERB Decision No. Ad-66.
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