Will the Charges Stick?

The National Labor Relations Board issues a formal complaint against Van Os and Associates

On March 29, the National Labor Relations Board, acting through its Acting General Counsel, issued a formal complaint against Van Os and Associates, based on the charges former employees filed against the firm at the NLRB's Phoenix office. The NLRB complaint provides much more detail than had been available from the earlier, summary statements of employee claims; it itemizes employee allegations that the Van Os firm engaged in actions designed to interfere with the employees' attempts to engage in "concerted activity" and potentially, to organize a union (protected activities under U.S. labor law). In addition to many specific charges against David Van Os, the complaint also makes clear that the employees' grievances are in part directed against the actions of Rachel Van Os, David's wife, who (the complaint alleges) "effectively held the position of office administrator" at the law firm.

According to their complaint, staff members met on various occasions throughout 1999 and 2000 "for the purposes of collective bargaining and other mutual aid and protection by, among other things, discussing the conduct of Rachel Van Os and their work environment." In March and April of last year, the complaint alleges, Rachel threatened to fire employees "because they engaged in concerted activities."

The NLRB complaint describes, from the staff's perspective, events that took place in Van Os' office in the three months preceding several employees' decision to sign union cards in May of last year. The complaint alleges that Van Os "isolated" employees from one another by staggering their lunch periods. Two staffers named in the NLRB case first protested their wages, hours, and working conditions in April of last year, specifically voicing complaints "with respect to the conduct of Rachel Van Os in the workplace." According to the complaint, one of those employees was fired a week later, and the other left three days afterward because she was required to "perform functions that she was physically unable to perform" and "openly ridicul[ed] for her inability to perform those functions." On the Sunday before, the complaint states, David Van Os called employees at home and "interrogated" them about their concerted activity, told employees that such activity was "evidence of employee disloyalty and dishonesty," and "threatened employees with unspecified reprisals."

According to the complaint, Rachel Van Os subsequently threatened employees with termination or harsher duties should they continue to organize, asked them to report on the organizing activities of other employees, and required employees to submit to written rules effectively prohibiting any concerted activity. The complaint alleges that other employees continued to discuss Rachel's conduct "for the purpose of mutual aid and protection," "seeking a remedy to working conditions created by Rachel Van Os," and that Rachel and David responded by interrogating employees, "prohibiting employees from talking to each other," and discharging employees for concerted activity.

After employees signed union cards on May 26, the complaint alleges, Rachel and David threatened to close or relocate the offices of Van Os and Associates and (in orders relayed through supervising attorney Tim Mahoney) informed employees they would have to submit job applications and take a typing test to keep their jobs. Furthermore, the complaint alleges, employees were informed that they were being subjected to surveillance, were threatened with arrest because of concerted activities, and had their pay withheld.

Now that the NLRB has issued the complaint, David Van Os has two weeks to decide whether to concede the charges or to contest them in a judicial hearing scheduled for July. NLRB spokesman Robert Reisinger told the Chronicle that respondents to NLRB complaints usually concede to most charges against them before the case goes to a hearing, and that the only remedy under the law is a "make-whole" remedy: payment of wages lost, less any interim earnings.

Asked for his comments on the NLRB complaint, Van Os and Associates' attorney Shelton Padgett said he had been expecting a complaint to be issued but had not yet received it. Padgett said his client is not interested in arguing his case in the media, and intends not to concede but to proceed to a hearing. "Unlike the people who have come to you to air their grievances in the news media while trying to settle with us," said Padgett, referring to Van Os' former employees, "we intend to deal with this in the proper forum."

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  • More of the Story

  • Union's Due

    Labor lawyer David Van Os stands accused by former employees of blocking their attempts to organize

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