Eastern Fisheries Inc., a global supplier of seafood based in New Bedford, Massachusetts, announced on April 3 that would employ workers directly instead of through staffing firms. Eastern Fisheries said the decision to employ workers directly comes after a decision in an NLRB case.
According to the company’s announcement, the issue arose when one worker from a staffing firm filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board claiming the company had improperly asked the staffing firm to stop sending the employee to its workplace. Eastern Fisheries said that while it wished it had handled the individual situation differently, the matter is resolved, and the employee is back with the company with full back pay for any time missed.
However, Eastern Fisheries reported the NLRB determined it was a joint employer with staffing firms, and the company said the repercussions mean there is no longer legal separation between the company and the staffing firms.
“In examining the implications of joint employment, it was my decision to end all of our staffing agency agreements and, going forward, to revise the terms under which we might use temp agency services,” said Joe Furtado, executive VP at Eastern Fisheries.
“For the benefit of the affected workers, we did not do this abruptly,” Furtado continued. “We provided two months’ notice to each of the staffing agency employees impacted. We offered each and every person the opportunity to immediately apply for direct hire with our company to their former positions, with equal pay and a better benefits package.”
Eric H. Rumbaugh, an employment attorney and partner with Michael Best and Friedrich LLP, views this situation as a “nothing case,” noting that Eastern Fisheries and its staffing providers were always co-employers.
“If someone is in your building doing work under your supervision, you’re usually a co-employer,” Rumbaugh says. “This should have been no surprise to them.” If an employer is using staffing firms because they think they aren’t co-employers, “they are misusing staffing firms,” he says.
Eastern Fisheries noted a two-month transition period ended March 31, but it is making sure that all former staffing firm employees are able to be hired on directly for their jobs.
Controversy around the move also appears to be coming from workers, according to media sources. SeafoodSource reported on April 4 that 110 employees were affected but just five had been rehired, reportedly because the company is using the federal government’s E-Verify system to confirm applicants’ eligibility.