Deciding on which union to represent a truck transportation company in Chicago proved to be an arduous task. It all came down to one ballot – the deciding vote – and determining whether or not it was properly marked.
Teamsters Local 705 and Teamsters Local 710 each wanted to be the union representative for the truck drivers working at Ruan Transport Corporation’s facility near Chicago. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held an election, with simple ballots allowing a voter to make a selection for Local 705, Local 710 or neither. The initial results were 12 votes for Local 705 and 11 votes for Local 710. Two additional ballots were challenged, but one of those was approved and counted, which gave both unions an equal number of votes.
Due to the tie, a run-off election by mail was conducted. The conclusion was 14 votes for both unions, with two challenged ballots. One ballot was challenged because the voter was deemed ineligible, having retired from the company before the date of the election. The Hearing Officer overseeing the election supported the challenge, which was upheld by the NLRB.
It was the second challenged ballot that was the true cause of the ensuing dispute. On the left-hand side was a box next to Local 705 that was clearly marked with an “X” in black ink. The other side was for Local 710, but the box contained an “X” that was “partially smudged and partially scratched out.” Furthermore, the “X” had been covered by a pink or purple highlighter, a similar color only slightly darker than the ballot paper.
Ruan challenged the ballot, stating that the voter’s intent was unclear, but the Hearing Officer overruled the challenge, believing that the person had “clearly and unambiguously” selected Local 705. Both the company and Local 710 appealed the ruling, but the NLRB agreed with the Hearing Officer. The decision gave the majority of votes to Local 705, which was certified as union representative.
Ruan, however, refused to recognize Local 705 as the union or bargain with it. Consequently, Local 705 filed a charge of unfair labor practice, and the NLRB’s General Counsel issued a complaint that Ruan’s refusal to cooperate was a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB granted summary judgment against the company. Ruan filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, while the NLRB filed a cross-application for enforcement of its decision.
The company claimed that the certification of Local 705 was “improper” by not thoroughly reviewing the ballot in question, but the court disagreed on this count and focused on Ruan’s assertions that the “irregular markings” on the ballot made determining the vote an impossibility. The court saw a clear indication to vote for Local 705, with an attempt to hide the “X” by Local 710 and employing “multiple pen strokes” to designate the actual vote. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the NLRB’s certification, and Ruan was required to bargain with Local 705 as union representative.