Browning-Ferris appeals U.S. ruling on 'joint employment'

(Reuters) - A California waste management company has launched a legal challenge to a new U.S. labor board standard for “joint employment” that could make it easier for unions and regulators to hold companies accountable for the practices of staffing agencies, contractors and franchisees with which they partner.

Browning-Ferris Industries, a subsidiary of Republic Services Inc, this week sought review of the National Labor Relations Board’s decision on joint employment by a federal appeals court in Washington.

The company “strongly believes that it has rights that require vindication,” Browning-Ferris’ attorney Stuart Newman of Seyfarth Shaw said of the petition, filed on Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Earlier this month a three-member panel of the NLRB unanimously found that Browning-Ferris violated federal labor law by refusing to negotiate with Teamsters Local 350, which represents workers at the company’s recycling facility in Milpitas, California. The company had declared in September that it would not deal with the union. It insisted it had no duty to do so, in spite of an August ruling by the NLRB that it was a joint employer of the recycling plant workers who were hired by a staffing agency.

In that ruling, the NLRB had said an existing standard that companies only qualify as “joint employers” of workers hired by another business if they had “direct and immediate” control over employment matters was outdated, and did not reflect the realities of the 21st century work force.

The ruling said parent companies can be held liable for labor violations committed by franchisees and contractors even when they have only indirect or unexercised control over employment conditions.

The August ruling setting forth the new joint employment standard sparked immediate and fervent protest from the business community. Trade groups and Republican lawmakers have claimed the change could upend the contracting and franchising models that many companies depend on. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced legislation to undo the new standard.

Unions and others who support the change say the decision is necessary to bring companies that indirectly control working conditions to the bargaining table and to curb the use of “permanent temps” who are paid less and do not get the same benefits as ordinary employees.

Larry Daugherty, who heads the Teamsters affiliate trying to negotiate with Browning-Ferris, said the company’s appeal brings the parties one step closer to the bargaining table.

Reporting by Robert Iafolla in Washington; Editing by Tom Brown, Alexia Garamfalvi and Mary Milliken