The Hearst Tower, center, is shown in New York, as firefighters rescued two maintenance workers whose scaffolding collapsed from the top of the buildingCORRECTION Scaffold Workers Rescue, New York, USA

The National Labor Relations Board is understood to be looking into claims that there is already an existing union representing Hearst Magazine staffers and the probe could potentially delay the attempts by employees to unionize by months.

Hearst Magazines workers have since November been trying to unionize through the Writers Guild of America, East and Hearst Corp.’s refusal to recognize it resulted in the so-called Hearst Magazine Media Union filing for a union election with the NLRB, the federal agency that oversees disputes related to workplace organizing.

But at a two-day NLRB hearing at the end of last week, a potential wrench was thrown into the works as The Hearst International Employees Association, a union claiming to already represent Hearst staffers, filed an intervenor motion, attempting to block the new union.

Little is known about The Hearst International Employees Association apart from it shares the same address as Hearst Corp., and a representative for the company did not respond to request for comment.

For now, the NLRB is understood to be looking into the claim and labor experts told WWD that it will first have to determine whether it is still a fully fledged union.

“Even if there was a union it may in fact not be functioning now,” Angela Cornell, the director of the labor law clinic at Cornell Law School, explained, adding that the union could be defunct if it hasn’t filed the necessary paperwork. “The board will have to sort it out and if it is defunct then that shouldn’t adversely affect the union that’s petitioned for a representational election.”

If it is in fact functioning, then much will depend on whether The Hearst International Employees Association already has a bargaining contract.

“I don’t know whether the union that’s in there has a contract. If they have a contract, the petition could be dismissed because the contract bars the petition unless the petition is timely filed toward the end of the three-year period that the agreement has run. This is the so-called contract-bar issue,” said former NLRB chairman William B. Gould IV.

“If there’s no contract then the petition can be entertained and the incumbent union can be challenged,” added Gould, currently the Charles A. Beardsley professor of law, emeritus at Stanford Law School.

Both Cornell and Gould agreed that it was unusual that a union shares the same address as a company. “The fact that they have the same address does sound a little bit suspicious because, under our law, so-called company unions are unlawful. That is to say a union that is controlled by or assisted by the company,” Gould told WWD.

Commenting on media reports that staffers were unaware of the existence of The Hearst International Employees Association, Cornell added that it is “very peculiar and warrants additional investigation.”

“It is suspect that there is a union that workers are not aware of and collective bargaining agreements that no one has seen before,” she said, adding that it could result in months of delay.

The Hearst International Employees Association could not be reached for comment and WGAE did not respond to request for comment.

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