A federal labor panel has ordered a Pennsylvania plastics machining company to hire back an employee it fired in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic for questioning whether it was an essential business that should have stayed open.
In an Aug. 31 decision, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Miller Plastic Products Inc. in Burgettstown, Pa., illegally dismissed former employee Ronald Vincer for raising COVID concerns about his workplace that were protected under federal law.
The company had argued that Vincer's complaints were individual "griping," that he was fired for poor performance and talking too much, and that his workplace complaints were not protected by the National Labor Relations Act.
The agency ordered Miller Plastic to offer Vincer his job back within 14 days, pay him for lost wages and compensate for tax penalties, and post notices within the company telling other employees it was doing that.
The small company, which has about 30 employees and makes chemical tanks, pipe systems and tanks for boats, did not return a call seeking comment.
The decision will impact labor-management relations at other companies, according to an agency news release, because it overturns a 2019 NLRB decision during President Donald Trump's term that had narrowed the range of protected workplace speech.
The board, with new members under a majority chosen by President Joe Biden, said the Miller decision overrules the 2019 NLRB decision, known as Alstate Maintenance, and reinstates more permissive standards for worker speech dating from a 1986 decision.
"The right of employees to engage in concerted activity to improve their working conditions is central to the National Labor Relations Act," said Chairman Lauren McFerran. "The board should not artificially constrain the definition of concerted activity, as the Alstate Maintenance decision did. By returning to the board's traditional approach, we better protect employees who seek to improve their working conditions."
Media coverage of the Miller order said it was part of a series of decisions by the Biden-era NLRB to overturn agency rulings under former President Trump.