On July 24, 2014, a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) Administrative Law Judge ruled that Mercedes-Benz violated the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) by prohibiting distribution of literature in “team centers” inside its Vance, Alabama plant. Mercedes-Benz U.S. Int’l, Inc., No. 10-CA-112406. The ALJ held that because the “team centers” were used for both work purposes and as employee break and meal rooms, the car maker could not prohibit the distribution of literature.
Mercedes maintained an employee handbook which included the following provision: “MBUSI prohibits solicitation and/or distribution of non-work related materials by Team Members during work time or in working areas. The United Auto Workers, who have been trying in vain to organize the 3,000 workers at the plant, brought an unfair labor practice charge challenging the policy. The UAW claimed that the policy was over broad because employees could construe it to prohibit solicitation in working areas, even when all employees involved in the solicitation are on non-working time. The General Counsel to the NLRB agreed with the UAW and issued a Complaint against Mercedes.
After a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge agreed with the Union and the General Counsel. ‘ [A]bsent special circumstances not present, employers may ban solicitation in working areas during working time but may not extend such bans to working areas during non-working time.” The ALJ rejected Mercedes’ argument that the overly broad language of the rule was excused because the employer had, in fact, allowed employees to solicit in working areas during non-working time. The judge found that, absent a written amendment modifying the handbook language, employees were likely to be deterred from soliciting by the policy. Therefore, the ALJ ordered Mercedes to stop enforcing the no-solicitation rule, to revise the language in the handbook, and to provide copies of the revision to all employees.