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Using an Independent Monitor to Resolve Union-Organizing Disputes Outside the NLRB: The FirstGroup Experience


Publication Date: 
August 31, 2011
Journal Article
Bibliography: William B. Gould IV, Using an Independent Monitor to Resolve Union-Organizing Disputes Outside the NLRB: The FirstGroup Experience, 66 Dispute Resolution Journal 46 (2011).

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Facing an aggressive unionorganizing campaign at its U.S. subsidiary, a multi-national company implemented an unprecedented ADR program to address complaints that management violated the company's corporate social responsibility policy and its commitment to the right of employees to associate with a union. The program, known as the Independent Monitor could be a model for other companies.

For decades, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that enforces the NLRA, have been ineffective in protecting the rights of employees to associate freely with labor unions. This has led some unions to devise alternative strategies, such as "corporate campaigns,"1 to obtain recognition as a collective bargaining representative for employees. One British company, FirstGroup plc, faced such a campaign and took an unprecedented approach in response to union complaints that its U.S. subsidiary was interfering with the right of employees to unionize. The company adopted a Freedom of Asso ciation Policy (FoA Policy) and appointed a neutral third-party expert in labor disputes to create an Independent Monitor Program (IM Program) to investigate alleged violations of that policy.

This article briefly discusses the limitations of the NLRA and NLRB, which have contributed to a decline in union organizing. It then discusses the development of FirstGroup's FoA Policy and IM Program and examines how they worked. Finally, the article considers whether the NLRB should defer to private dispute resolution programs like the IM Program, which could provide a model for private multinational companies wrestling with labor-organizing disputes.