Last week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North and South Carolina) issued a new decision in the long-standing dispute between Smithfield Packing Co. and organized labor. The case, Smithfield Packing Co. v. NLRB, involved the cleaning company used by Smithfield for its hog processing facility. Employees of this contractor walked off the job after the company terminated a supervisor who they claimed was sympathetic to their grievances against the company. In response, the employees alleged that Smithfield harassed, threatened, beat, and had several of the employees arrested.
In response to a grievance filed by a union, the National Labor Relations Board concluded that Smithfield The Fourth Circuit rejected this conclusion, finding that the cleaning company’s employees never engaged in protected concerted activity. The court noted the difference between work issues that directly concern the employees, and management’s right to select and to terminate managers. Such employee protests are only concerted activity when they involve protest over actual working conditions, and are reasonable in nature. had violated Section 8(a) of the NLRA because the employee walk-off was protected concerted activity under Section 7.
The Fourth Circuit stated that employee concerns over actions taken against managers will only be protected in extraordinary circumstances. In addition, the immediate walkout by the employees was not deemed reasonable in these circumstances. This decision demonstrates the Fourth Circuit’s unwillingness to tie employer’s hands under the NLRA when it comes to matters involving supervisors not intended to be protected under the Act.