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NLRB issues complaint against CLASS Inc. over labor practices

The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against Citizens League for Adult Special Services Inc. for allegedly engaging in unfair labor practices, including discharging and disciplining several employees who had supported a vote to unionize.

According to the seven-page complaint issued by the NLRB’s Boston office, CLASS Inc., a human services agency based in Lawrence that provides clinical support, education, and job training to individuals with disabilities, allegedly engaged in unfair labor practices both before and after a May 29, 2013 vote by employees to join the Service Employees International Union. The vote was 48 in favor and 46 against, NLRB records show.

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According to the complaint, violations also occurred at the agency’s transportation facility in North Andover and at its office in North Reading.

A hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge is scheduled for April 28. CLASS is required to answer the complaint on or before Feb. 14.

“We deny their allegations and intend to contest them vigorously,” CLASS president and chief executive officer Robert A. Harris said in an e-mail.

According to Harris, the workers were who were let go were terminated in accordance with the agency’s policies, the policies of the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, and state regulations.

“The union is pressuring CLASS to rehire former employees who were terminated with cause as a result of mistreating individuals entrusted to our care,” Harris said.

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According to Scott F. Burson, deputy regional attorney at the NLRB, the complaint filed on Jan. 31 was the result of an NLRB investigation into charges levied against CLASS by the union. Those charges were filed on eight separate dates over a nine-month period, beginning April 30, 2013.

“The NLRB does not have the authority to initiate investigations,” Burson said. “We don’t go out looking for unfair labor practices. The charges filed by the union initiated the investigation that led us to filing the complaint.”

According to the complaint, in the weeks before the vote to unionize, CLASS interrogated its employees about their union stances and threatened workers with the loss of annual bonuses, pay, and benefits and the loss of their ability to talk directly to managers if they approved the union as their bargaining representative. The complaint also alleges CLASS implemented new workplace rules, including barring employees from speaking a foreign language and banning discussions about the union.

The complaint alleges that CLASS implemented the new rules because its employees supported the union and applied the ban on union discussions “selectively and disparately . . . by prohibiting union solicitations and distributions, while permitting nonunion solicitations and distributions.”

The NLRB complaint also alleges that CLASS disciplined one employee and discharged three others between May 30 and Aug. 21 “because [they] formed, joined, or assisted the union and engaged in concerted activities, and to discourage employees from engaging in these activities.”

After the vote to unionize, CLASS challenged the election results, alleging interference by union organizers with the way the election was conducted. A hearing officer with the NLRB’s Boston office recommended on July 26 that all objections filed by CLASS be overruled and that the NLRB recognize the Service Employees International Union as the representative union for CLASS employees. CLASS has appealed. and “that appeal is still pending in Washington, D.C.,” Burson said.

Union spokesman Jason Stephany said the NLRB complaint “details a clear pattern of intimidation, retaliation, and other workers’ rights violations targeting union supporters,” and said he hopes CLASS will “refocus its resources on vital community services and the workers who provide them” rather than “wasting agency funds on delay tactics and protracted legal battles.”

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.

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