Victory! UPS Loses Retaliation Case

A legal victory delivers vindication for Rob Atkinson, stronger protections for Teamster activists.

Teamster Rob Atkinson won his case against UPS after a nine-year battle. 

Source: Rob Atkinson

Teamster member Rob Atkinson won a major victory at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) when the board ordered UPS to reinstate him with full back pay, nine years after he was fired.

It was a sweet victory for a courageous Teamster and an important precedent for all Teamsters, because it strengthened the legal rights of rank-and-file activists against retaliation.

Today, Atkinson is an International Representative and the Coordinator of the UPS Contract Enforcement Campaign. Last year, he served as the coordinator of the UPS contract campaign.

But Rob’s story began ten years ago when, as a package car driver, he helped lead the Vote No campaign against the 2013 UPS contract.

When UPS managers came to visit Atkinson’s center, the Teamsters put big “Vote No” signs in the windshields of all cars. Management was not happy.

In November 2014, Rob was suspended (and then fired) on trumped up charges of violating company methods.

He lost his job at the Western PA grievance panel, where he was “represented” by Betty Rose Fischer, the head of Local 538.

An NLRB subpoena later revealed that Fischer was sending UPS management reports on his union activities and hinting that they should fire Rob, a steward and 27-year Teamster.

Rob attended his first TDU Convention, where he met attorney Cathy Highet. Highet has volunteered legal help for TDU members and is on the Board of the Association for Union Democracy (AUD).

“TDU organizer Pete Landon came to me in the hallway and suggested I meet a couple of attorneys at the ‘Ask the Experts’ workshop. I explained my firing to Cathy Highet. She took the case, and has been a warrior for nine years.”

The Trump-era NLRB dismissed Rob’s charge. Highet appealed that decision to the US Court of Appeals, and TDU and AUD submitted amicus briefs on Rob’s behalf.

The Court of Appeals ordered the NLRB to take a new look at the case. Last November, the Biden NLRB ruled that UPS must reinstate Rob and pay back pay for lost wages and benefits.

The Legal Precedent

The NLRA prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for union-related activity, such as running for union office, filing grievances, or opposing ratification of a contract.

UPS fired Rob for his active opposition to the 2013 contract, but the NLRB initially dumped Rob’s case because of its policy of “deferral.”

Deferral is an NLRB policy of putting cases on hold when there is a grievance process pending.

Usually at the end of the grievance process, the NLRB just adopts the result of the grievance in the Unfair Labor Practice case too.

That makes sense in some cases, but not when the member is a union dissident and the union leadership wants him gone as much as the company does.

The US Court of Appeals directed the NLRB to take a look at the conflict-of-interest at the grievance panel—and Rob won.

The NLRB has now adopted a better standard for deferral, which could benefit other unionists who find themselves in Rob’s shoes.

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