Published : Saturday, September 9, 2017 | 5:07 AM
A lawyer from Pasadena is representing a small family-owned construction company in Pueblo, Colorado, that squared off Thursday against the National Labor Relations Board in the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
Thomas Lenz, a veteran labor law attorney who’s been practicing for over 30 years, said the appeal focuses in part on Colorado Fire Sprinkler’s claim that the union, Maryland-based National Road Fitters Local 669, failed to appropriately represent its dozen or so workers. Lenz said prior legal decisions in the area of the construction industry labor law support the company’s position.
Colorado Fire Sprinklers claims the NLRB was wrong when it sided with the union in a March 2016 majority decision.
The NLRB came into the picture after the union and the company failed to agree during contract renewal talks in 2012 and 2013.
Officials of the company said the union’s health insurance and benefits plan was becoming too expensive because it was designed for higher-cost major markets such as Denver, and not lower-cost rural and smaller metro areas such as Pueblo. They also asked union leaders to consider the fact that Southern Colorado was rebounding slower from the recession than Denver.
The union refused to negotiate on the issue, and Colorado Fire Sprinkler declined to agree to a new contract, instead opting to enroll the workers in a nonunion health insurance plan. The company argued that the union failed to adhere to labor laws governing proper representation of workers in the construction industry.
In its ruling, the NLRB said the union acted within its rights, and that the company is bound by the terms of the old contract. The ruling also obliges the company to retroactively pay into the union’s health insurance and benefits package, as it continues to fund nonunion health insurance.
During Thursday’s hearing before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., Lenz and his team squared off against the NLRB lawyers for more than the 40 minutes allotted them, says a report on The Pueblo Chieftain.
“The judges were clearly interested in the issues in this case,” Lenz told the Chieftain in a telephone interview.
The court could take anywhere from three to six months before a decision is made.
Lenz began his law practice with the NLRB Region 21 in Los Angeles, where he investigated and tried unfair labor practice cases, ran workplace elections, and acted as an administrative hearing officer. He was assigned difficult cases, including numerous charges involving Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Justice for Janitors campaign activity throughout Los Angeles. The majority of his cases required work in the Spanish language. He received a formal commendation for his performance from the Agency’s General Counsel.
Since joining the Pasadena-based Atkinson, Andelson, Luya, Ruud and Romo law firm in 1992, Lenz has handled a vast array of labor and employment matters. Much of his efforts involve advising, training, and developing strategies to prevent workplace issues from developing into crises for employers.
Lenz received his undergraduate degree from Marquette University and his law degree from the Louisiana State University Law Center. He studied in Spain during college, at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and in France during law school.
Lenz has been honored as one of the Top One Hundred Labor Attorneys in the United States by Labor Relations Institute, Inc., a leading industry information source.