ST. ELMO — Employees at St. Elmo-based Conagra Brands, formerly Pinnacle Foods LLC, recently won a decision from the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., affirming their right to hold a decertification vote that could remove their union.

In a 3-1 National Labor Relations Board decision on Oct. 21, the board decided the NLRB District 14 director erred in his decision to dismiss a decertification petition after a settlement agreement between the company and the union.

According to the Decision of Review and Order issued by the National Labor Relations Board, the union was certified to represent a unit of production and maintenance employees on March 7, 2017, when Pinnacle Foods owned the facility. The order said that after the company and union could not reach an agreement on a first contract, a one-year “settlement bar” was established that blocked workers from holding a vote to remove the union.

According to a press release from The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, employee Robert Gentry submitted his petition for a decertification vote in August of 2018. A week after submitting his petition, Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers union filed unfair labor practice charges against Pinnacle Foods that was unrelated to the Gentry petition. On the day the union filed the charges, the acting Region 14 director granted a request from the union to block further processing of the decertification petition.

“Although it’s good news that Robert Gentry and his coworkers will belatedly be given the opportunity to exercise their right to remove a union they oppose, this case shows how the so-called ‘settlement bar’ and other ‘bars’ are manipulated by union bosses to trample workers’ statutory rights under federal labor law,” said National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Union bosses should not be able to trap workers in union ranks on the basis of a settlement to which the workers were not party and to which they had no say.”

“It’s long past time the NLRB put employee free choice back at the center of American labor law and eliminated the numerous ‘bars’ and doctrines that block workers from exercising their right to removing union officials they oppose,” added Mix.

The three-member majority agreed with the reasoning in Gentry’s request for review, ruling that “because [Gentry] did not consent to the settlement agreement, we find that the settlement agreement can neither waive [his] right to have his decertification petition processed nor delay” a decertification election.

The Pinnacle Foods case kept the Pinnacle name, as it was when Gentry filed his petition in August of 2018. Conagra Brands purchased Pinnacle Foods LLC in October of 2018 according to Dan Hare, with corporate communications representing Conagra Brands. Hare declined to comment further.

The case was remanded back to the NLRB District 14 office in St. Louis by the NLRB board in Washington, D.C., for a decertification vote.

Edwin Egee, director of the Office of Congressional and Public Affairs for the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., said a NLRB agent has contacted all parties involved with the case and as of Friday had not agreed to an election date. He said if an election date is not reached, a pre-election hearing is scheduled on Friday, Nov. 1, at 9:30 a.m. in the St. Louis NLRB Region 14 office.

Neither a representative of Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers nor Gentry could be reached for comment.

Charles Mills can be reached at charles.mills@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.

Reporter/Videographer

Charles Mills is reporter and videographer for the Effingham Daily News. A 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, he worked as senior video editor for a Nashville television station. He is a native of Vandalia.

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