The National Labor Relations Board has found probable cause to allegations GEICO engaged in anti-union activity in attempting to undermine an organizing effort at its regional headquarters in Amherst.
Last August, two company executives said in an office-wide email to employees that they should feel free to call the police on union organizers visiting their homes. Organizers, who launched a union drive last year, said those executives later questioned employees about their support for the burgeoning union and made comments suggesting that joining the effort was “futile.”
In recent weeks, however, the NLRB has found merit to charges of unfair labor practices filed by the workers about those comments and that email. It’s a move that GEICO United hopes could make its organizing efforts easier.
“GEICO is a behemoth … it’s a multibillion dollar company, owned by one of the richest men in the country, if not the world. [Warren Buffett] And if you stand by the law … you can fight back and defeat a big company like GEICO,” said GEICO United organizer Lonnie Konikoff.
Konikoff said GEICO’s actions by the company made organizing more difficult. The effort began more than a year ago, but organizers have yet to obtain enough signatures to file for a union election with the NLRB. At least 30 percent of employees at a company must sign union authorization cards in order for the NLRB to schedule a secret ballot election. A simple majority is required for the NLRB to recognize a union. Konikoff said organizers hope to petition for an election sometime next year.
About 2,600 employees work at GEICO’s regional headquarters at Amherst’s CrossPoint Business Park. The insurance firm received $110 million in subsidies to locate there.
When the NLRB finds merit to charges of unfair labor practices, it moves to settle the matter out of court before issuing a formal complaint. GEICO has yet to formally respond to a proposed settlement issued by the NLRB, and a spokesperson declined to comment.
If the company accepts the settlement, GEICO must send a mass email and post notices in its office detailing how it will no longer interfere with GEICO United’s efforts. It will not be fined.
If the company rejects the settlement, the NLRB will issue a complaint alleging that it broke the law and will ask an administrative law judge to adjudicate the matter.
Among other charges, GEICO United accused the company of:
- Removing community bulletin boards where union organizers posted information about their efforts.
- Prohibiting employees from recording meetings where executives discussed the union effort.
- Questioning employees about the union.
- Suggesting unionizing would not lead to better benefits or working conditions.
Union organizers filed a total of 22 charges against GEICO. The NLRB found merit to 10 of them and dismissed 12. The 10 charges the board found merit with form the basis of the proposed settlement.
Under the proposed settlement — if GEICO accepts it — the company must email the settlement terms to all employees who work at the Getzville office and pin up posters containing that information on two bulletin boards.
Among other terms, the proposed settlement would require that GEICO not:
- “Encourage employees to call the police if employees acting on behalf of the union attempt to contact them about organizing with GEICO United.”
- “Remove bulletin boards with union literature on them in response to union activity.”
- “Inform employees or maintain a rule that employees cannot record employee meetings.”
Konikoff said the terms of the proposed settlement are a victory because GEICO’s attempts to halt organizing efforts were partially successful, even if they violated the law. The email in which executives suggested employees could call police on organizers “produced a chill among a number of the fellow employees,” he said.
“People just weren’t answering the door.”
The proposed settlement comes as GEICO faces a downturn in its business. The company closed its California offices last year and has engaged in mass layoffs in recent months.
That atmosphere, plus backlash from management, made employees unwilling to join an organizing effort, Konikoff said. Worried that management would know they signed a union authorization card, many people would not do so, he said. The proposed settlement shows employees that the law is on their side, Konikoff said.
“For the first time on record, my fellow employees can see that the government, our government, the United States government, is behind them,” Konikoff said. “They don’t have to worry anymore. They can do this.”