Since two dozen Portland call center workers unionized 16 months ago, their employer, the Fund for the Public Interest, has fired at least nine union supporters. Communications Workers of America Local 7901 protested most of the firings to the National Labor Relations Board, charging illegal retaliation. Up to now, the federal agency has dismissed the charges: Investigators didn’t find enough evidence that suppressing worker rights was a motive, in a high-turnover workplace where firings are routine.
But on Feb. 27, the NLRB issued a formal complaint against the Fund, which is the fundraising arm for the U.S. PIRG network and its spinoff environmental groups. In the complaint, the NLRB says the Fund broke federal labor law when it fired David Neal.
Neal, a 35-year-old single father of two teenage boys, had done well as a fundraiser in 18 months at the call center. But on more than one occasion, he defended the union in arguments with call center director Referd Raley. On Nov. 2, talking with co-workers, Neal criticized Raley’s behavior toward employees. Word got back to Raley, and on Nov. 6, Raley accused Neal of having submitted false numbers in a phone report, and fired him over the phone while Neal was driving to work.
Neal denied that, and says he was fired illegally. The NLRB agreed, saying Neal was fired because he “engaged in concerted activities with other employees for the purposes of mutual aid and protection,” and/or “because he engaged in Union activities.”
Before issuing the formal complaint, the agency tried to get the two sides to reach a voluntary settlement. The Fund was willing to settle the charge and compensate Neal with back pay, but balked at his insistence on being reinstated to his job.
A federal administrative law judge is scheduled to hear the case June 25.