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Decided: April 26, 2016

The Fourth Circuit denied Respondent’s petition for review and granted Petitioner’s cross-petition for enforcement of its order.

Nestle Dreyers (Dreyers), an ice cream factory stationed in California, employed two types of workers, production staff who focused on the production of the ice cream, and maintenance staff who focused on the maintenance of the machinery used to produce the ice cream. These groups of workers share many similarities; however, they also maintain several distinctions from each other. In 2011, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 501, AFL-CIO (the Union) filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (the Board) seeking to represent the maintenance employees of the factory. Dreyers objected to the proposed unit, arguing that it should also include the production employees. The Board’s Regional Director approved the maintenance-only unit over Dreyer’s objections and denied Dreyer’s request for review. After the maintenance employees voted in favor of joining the Union, Dreyers refused to participate in collective bargaining with the Union. In response, the Union filed an unfair-labor-practices charge with the Board. The Board granted summary judgment to the Union and Dreyers filed this appeal.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) requires the Board to determine the unit appropriate for the purposes of collective bargaining. In making its determination, the Board exercises “the widest possible discretion” and may approve any appropriate unit; it need not identify and select the single most appropriate unit. Therefore, a challenger to a Board’s unit determination has the burden of proving that the bargaining unit selected by the Board is “utterly inappropriate.” However, the NLRA does prohibit the Board from blindly deferring to a union’s proposed unit. In order to follow the NLRA, the Board has traditionally employ a several-factor test that ultimately asks whether “employees in the requested unit share a sufficient community of interest to be included in the same unit.”

The Fourth Circuit upheld the Board’s determination and concluded that, after a thorough analysis of the facts, the Board correctly applied the relevant community-of-factors test in determining not only that the maintenance employees share a community of interest amongst themselves, but also that the maintenance employees formed a distinct group from production employees. The Union applied the test correctly in determining that the maintenance employees were distinct from the production employees because they formed their own department, had different job classifications, had different skills, and performed different functions from production employees. Moreover, maintenance employees had more technical knowledge than the production employees and were required to have more experience than the production employees.

Accepting the Board’s determination that the exclusion of the production employees from the maintenance employees’ union and that the Union applied the correct framework in determining whether or not to exclude the production employees, the Fourth Circuit denied Dreyer’s petition for review and granted the Board’s cross-petition for enforcement of its prior order.

Full Opinion

Brandon Gregg