INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS
LOCAL 1228, AFL-CIO
FEDERAL LABOR BOARD RULES SPORTS TV TECHNICIANS ARE EMPLOYEES,
NOT INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS
AND HAVE RIGHT TO FORM A UNION
NLRB Region 1 Grants Petition by IBEW Local 1228, Orders Union Election for Employees of Green Line Group
Affected Employees Are Essential to TV Broadcasts of Many Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics Home Games
In a major victory for union organizing with widespread implications nationwide, Region 1 of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) ruled on Friday, September 16 that a union election can go forward for employees of Green Line Group (“GLG”), a company that supplies crews of technicians for television broadcasts of local sports events and other activities. Local 1228 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (“Local 1228”), AFL-CIO, which represents employees of numerous broadcasters in New England, petitioned the labor board to organize the numerous technicians employed by GLG, which provides manpower to clients such as New England Sports Network (NESN) and Comcast, which broadcast many local sporting events.
In proceedings before the NLRB in Boston, GLG took the position that the technicians were independent contractors, not employees, and so ineligible to form a union under federal law. Instead, after a full hearing with numerous witnesses, NLRB Region 1 Director John J. Walsh, Jr. concluded that “GLG has not carried its burden of proving the independent contractor status of its crew members.”
In a detailed 17-page decision, Director Walsh applied the NLRB’s multi-factor test for distinguishing independent contractors from employees to the facts presented at the hearing and found that, while some aspects of the relationship between the technicians and GLG resemble independent contracting, the majority of factors indicate an employer-employee relationship. These factors included: (1) GLG controls many aspects of pay, including establishing pay rates in most cases; (2) technicians rarely supplied their own equipment; (3) the work done by the technicians furthers the business goals of GLG; (4) many of the workers have worked for GLG for many years; and (5) workers obtain no entrepreneurial opportunity and take on no business risk while for GLG.
The actual number of employees eligible to vote in the upcoming union election is still being determined. Estimates range from 115 to 369 eligible employees.
IBEW and AFL-CIO leaders expressed their satisfaction in the decision and stressed its importance not just to the employees of GLG, but to workers throughout the country who are classified as ‘independent contractors.’
“This important win is a victory for workers everywhere who seek better wages, hours and working conditions,” said Local 1228 Business Manager Fletcher Fischer. “This decision recognizes that new types of employee-employer relationships in this changing economy should not deprive workers of their basic right to organize and form a union.”
IBEW International President Lonnie Stephenson remarked “This NLRB’s decision is a big win for every working person who wants to come together to improve their lives,” said. “The economy may change, but the right to organize should always remain the law of the land.”
“For far too long employers have misclassified employees as independent contractors in order to deny workers the right to form a union. The NLRB ruling is a logical decision and justice has prevailed,” said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven A. Tolman. “It levels the playing field not only for workers, but for honest employers who play by the rules. This is not only a victory for IBEW, it’s a victory for all hard working people.”
In light of the small number of NLRB decisions on this important issue, the decision in this case (Green Line Group, Inc., Employer and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1228, AFL-CIO, Petitioner, Case 01-RC-181492) is likely to have a widespread impact. The decision provides a roadmap to other NLRB Regions, and ultimately to the courts, for analyzing situations in which a mix of employee and independent contractor factors are present. The message from Region 1 is clear: the burden of proving independent contractor status is a high one, and no one aspect of the relationship is controlling. If the bulk of the evidence demonstrates that the workers are employees, the presence of a few facts that may be consistent with an independent contractor relationship become irrelevant to the outcome.