NLRB rejects co-op workers’ claims

May 30, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

SOUTH ST.—The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has rejected claims by two former employees at the JP Harvest Co-op Markets that they were unjustly fired for union activities, union organizer and co-op employee Matthew Andrews told the Gazette.

Kathleen McCarthy of the
NLRB’s region 1 office, which covers Boston, confirmed that former employee Diego Bencosme’s claim was rejected because he is considered a supervisor and therefore not protected under labor law.

She could not confirm that the complaint by the other employee, Deon Furtick, had been officially rejected.

The letter that would “officially notify the charging party that the NLRB found there was no basis for the complaint” has not been issued yet, she said. But, she said, “It should be issued in the next week.”

As the Gazette previously reported, Bencosme and Furtick both worked for the co-op for about four years. Both say they had publicly expressed support for union organizing efforts at the co-op by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). And both were fired for failing to punch out when they went off shift—a rule they claim was rarely, if ever, enforced during their tenures.

Bencosme was fired in December 2007, and Furtick in January of this year.

The lack of an official declaration aside, Andrews told the Gazette he was informed of the regional board’s decision in a phone conversation earlier this month.

In Furtick’s case, the IWW will appeal to the national office of the NLRB, he said, but “we don’t have any expectations. The national office is less progressive than the regional.”

In any case, it could be as long as six months before the national office rules on Furtick’s case, and he needs to find a new job, Andrews said.

A victory in the appeal would be “mostly symbolic,” he said.
Bencosme, Andrews said, is the victim of ill-conceived labor laws. “In a small operation like the Harvest, as much as one-third of the workforce could be supervisors,” he said.
As supervisor of the meat department, Bencosme normally had two or three people working under him and most of his extra responsibilities were for things like placing orders, he said.
Andrews also said a new employee handbook the co-op is planning that some hope will clearly describe standardized disciplinary procedures has not yet been issued.
Mike St. Clair, general manager of the co-op, previously told the Gazette the new handbook would be out by the end of May. He did not return Gazette phone calls for this article by press time.