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Immigration Org.'s Attys Can Be In Union, NLRB Official Says

By Beverly Banks · 2024-06-25 15:33:42 -0400 ·

Attorneys at a nonprofit providing immigration legal services may remain in a voluntarily recognized union bargaining unit, a National Labor Relations Board regional director concluded, saying the attorneys are not supervisors who are excluded from unionizing under federal labor law.

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An NLRB regional director determined that supervising attorneys at an immigration legal services nonprofit are part of a bargaining unit represented by a NewsGuild affiliate. (Rafael Henrique / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

NLRB Region 16 Director Timothy L. Watson determined Monday that supervising attorneys at Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services are included in a bargaining unit represented by the Washington-Baltimore News Guild Local 32035.

Watson found that the supervising attorneys at RAICES didn't meet certain criteria pertaining to hiring, discipline and assignment of work to employees to be considered supervisors under the National Labor Relations Act. The regional director also considered these factors when weighing whether supervising legal assistants and refugee resettlement program managers were supervisors.

"To the extent capacity involves a qualitative assessment of workload, the record indicates employees themselves make that assessment," the regional director said. "Thus, supervising attorneys do not exercise independent judgment in making case assignments based on capacity."

The supervising attorneys also lack the power to discipline or hire workers, Watson said.

Supervising attorneys provide hiring recommendations that the nonprofit's unit directors give "significant weight," the regional director noted, but those suggestions aren't accepted outright.

"Unit directors and supervising attorneys discussed potential hires in most situations and disagreed in rare situations, e.g., when an applicant was not yet licensed or when an applicant did not seem interested in the unit's mission," Watson said. "Thus, the unit director necessarily investigated, inquired, or otherwise looked into the applicant."

The union and nonprofit agreed to a voluntary recognition process covering a bargaining unit of workers in Texas, according to the regional director's decision. RAICES lists locations on its website that include San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.

The Washington-Baltimore News Guild is an affiliate of the NewsGuild, which also represents Law360 editorial employees through its New York local.

Supervising attorneys, supervising legal assistants and refugee resettlement program managers were part of the bargaining unit under the voluntary recognition process agreement, the regional director said.

But RAICES sought clarification of the unit, arguing these three positions are supervisors under the NLRA, according to the regional director's decision.

The union said the three roles lack supervisory status while also telling the regional director that the nonprofit can't try to exclude these positions from the bargaining unit in light of the voluntary recognition process agreement, the regional director said.

"I find that the petition is not estopped or barred based on the parties' stipulations in the voluntary recognition process agreement or correspondence during the voluntary recognition process," Watson said.

The nonprofit also didn't prove that supervising legal assistants and the refugee resettlement program managers have the power to hire, discipline and make assignments with independent judgment, the regional director said.

RAICES CEO Dolores K. Schroeder said in a statement sent to Law360 on Tuesday: "We admire Region 16 of the National Labor Relations Board's history of dedicated service. However, we respectfully disagree with the outcome, and will be considering our next steps accordingly."

Representatives of the union did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The union is represented in-house by Amos Laor and Robert E. Paul of the Law Offices of Robert E. Paul PLLC.

The nonprofit is represented by John R. Merinar Jr. of Steptoe & Johnson PLLC.

The case is Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services and Washington-Baltimore News Guild Local 32035, case number 16-UC-315282, before the National Labor Relations Board Region 16.

--Editing by Emma Brauer.

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