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Group challenges vote to unionize

The National Labor Relations Board’s Boston office has scheduled a hearing after reviewing objections filed by Citizens League for Adult Special Services Inc. that an employee vote to unionize was unfair because of the conduct of representatives of the Service Employees International Union.

The hearing will begin Thursday. The vote to join Local 509 of the SEIU on May 29 was 48 in favor and 46 against, NLRB records show. One ballot is being challenged; that ballot is not included in the official tally.

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The NLRB has not recognized the SEIU as the representative union for Citizens League employees, according to the nonprofit’s president and chief executive officer, Robert A. Harris.

The human services agency provides clinical support, education, and job training to individuals with disabilities.

“The fact that a hearing has been scheduled is not a judgment on the merits of the objection,” said Scott F. Burson, deputy regional attorney at the NLRB. “The purpose of the hearing is to take evidence on it.”

According to Burson, such objections are “a high priority” for the labor relations board. In cases like this, the hearing officer typically issues findings within two to five weeks. However, the amount of time required to render a decision “will depend on the complexity of the issues involved and the length of the [hearing] transcript,” he said.

In an e-mail to the Globe, Jason Stephany, spokesman for Local 509, said Citizens League’s objections are “frivolous” and “baseless.”

The objections were filed June 5, according to Burson. On June 11, the union filed charges with the NLRB alleging Citizens League engaged in unfair labor practices.

According to Burson, the six objections by the Citizens League include that employees had to thread through a group of union supporters on their way in to vote; that the union posted a message during the election that they had already won; that union representatives at the May 16 picket at Citizens League for Adult Special Services threatened and harassed the agency’s workers; and that the union has harassed Citizens League by filing “baseless and frivolous” complaints with the Occupation Safety & Health Administration.

On election day, the union alleged in its written complaint, Citizens League “conducted video and/or photo surveillance of concerted, protected activity, and threatened and assaulted union representatives in front of employees.” The union also alleged that agency “has disciplined and/or discharged workers known or perceived to have voted yes or to be supportive of [the union].”

“The union’s assertions regarding unfair labor practices are false,” said Harris in an e-mail Thursday. “Our sole focus as an agency is providing care and support to the individuals who depend on us. That is the work we have been doing since 1976 and we do it very well. We are an employer of choice in the Merrimack Valley and make a vital contribution to our community in the form of both services and employment.”

Thursday’s hearing is expected to focus on whether the vote to join the union should be upheld.

Burson said charges of unfair labor practices during an organizing campaign are given the agency’s highest priority, and the goal is that the charges are “fully investigated within 35 days and that we have a disposition within 49 days of the date of the filing.”

Ultimately, the NLRB could order a new election.

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