Brylane, Union Contest Significance of 2 Rulings

Not surprisingly, Brylane and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees had very different takes on two decisions this week regarding Brylane and its work force.

In one decision, the Washington headquarters of the National Labor Relations Board upheld a decision by the Indianapolis NLRB letting Brylane workers decide on whether to unionize through what the union called a “neutrality card-check process.” Brylane appealed the decision, saying that the workers should vote to determine whether to unionize.

The NLRB decision reaffirms workers' rights to select union representation “without employer interference,” UNITE said.

Audrey Wathen, senior vice president of human resources at Brylane, New York, countered by saying that “the union represents and speaks for the employees at Brylane who may want a union. There are some people at Brylane who may want a union and some who do not. There is a very strong grass-roots effort by our employees who are very vocal about not wanting a union.

“The union would like us to recognize the union based on some percent of the population that wants a union, and we don't know what that percent is.”

In another ruling, the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Brylane for health and safety violations.

UNITE said the state OSHA hit Brylane with “serious health and safety violations that resulted in thousands of dollars in fines.” The amount, the union said, was $2,250 for violations that “were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”

The union also said that Brylane workers face “severe ergonomic hazards that lead to repetitive motion injuries, with an injury rate 18 times higher than the national average for this industry,” and stated that the industrial hygiene office of the Indiana OSHA is still investigating employees' ergonomic injuries.

The union said the agency gave Brylane until Dec. 24 to correct the violations.

Wathen said the state OSHA citation involved minor offenses.

“[Regarding] the ruling that came from OSHA, in terms of finding fault, I would call that anything but numerous,” she said. “There were some minor things that we will follow up on, two, as a matter of fact, and [they're] linked to the UNITE attempt to organize.

“Any company [that] would look at them would consider [them] extremely minor. We are not talking about an unsafe workplace. We are talking about the union trying to portray Brylane as not caring about its employees.”

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