By Dan Cook
Perhaps if a restaurant located in Boiling Springs, S.C., can operate successfully with an Alaskan hunting lodge theme, then it can also be the stage for a counterintuitive National Labor Relations Board ruling.
The drama that played out between labor and management at the Copper River Restaurant resulted in an NLRB ruling that flies in the face of prior rulings as well as “common sense” that you can’t fire someone merely for having a bad attitude.
That's what happened to Autumn Bellew, who not only lost her job for having a bad attitude but had the NLRB rule against her.
Now, it should be pointed out that the panel that supported Copper River’s firing of Bellew did have a 2-1 GOP bias. Had the bias gone the other way, observers have opined, the ruling might have as well. But fact is, this firing was upheld.
Bellew’s situation emerged as part of a large labor-management squabble at Copper River, described by an NLRB regional officials as “a restaurant featuring American cuisine in an open floor plan with the atmosphere of a large Alaskan cabin or lodge. It is decorated in a cedar wood look and has very tall ceilings.”
Beneath the tall ceilings and amid the cedar trim, trouble was brewing. A labor union came a-knocking, and employees responded. The company tried to block the organizing campaign. The union fought back and, in the midst of the election process, two people got canned. One was Bellew.
She was fired last July after she arrived several minutes late for her shift. Her termination became part of the larger dispute the NLRB brought on behalf of the union, which claimed her firing was related to her support for the union.
The company provided evidence that, among other transgressions, Bellew had bad-mouthed the restaurant in front of customers. The worst incident presented alleged that she had said, “F--- Copper River!” in front of a customer. It also alleged she was often late for work or called in to change her shift assignment, and that she didn’t get along with supervisors.
Testimony showed there was a lot of back and forth about just how bad her attitude was. She also denied making that foul-mouthed remark. But in the end, the Republican-heavy panel ruled that her firing was appropriate and was not related to the union organizing campaign.
The panel cited the company handbook, and Work Rule 4, which, the panel decided, “does not prohibit ‘a negative attitude,’ as the General Counsel’s brief states, but rather prohibits displaying a negative attitude, and it prohibits only such displays that are disruptive to staff or have a negative impact on guests.”
Writing for the Franczek Radelet law firm blog on the matter, attorney David Weldon said: “This decision illustrates that employers can win before the NLRB, but employers who maintain a similar rule should proceed cautiously. NLRB panels are randomly selected, and a panel that did not include both Republican members likely would have found the negative attitude rule to violate employees’ Section 7 rights. This decision appears to directly conflict with previous NLRB decisions.”
Originally published on BenefitsPro.com