— In a win for organized labor, the National Labor Relations Board on
Wednesday approved sweeping new rules that would speed the pace of union
elections, making it easier for unions to gain members at companies that
have long rebuffed them.
quickly denounced the move, saying it limits the time that employers have to
educate workers about the impact of joining a union. The U.S. Chamber of
Commerce has already filed a federal lawsuit challenging the rules.
The rules, which
take effect April 30, simplify procedures and reduce legal delays that can
hold up union elections after employees at a work site gather enough
signatures to form a union.
“This rule is
about giving all employees who have petitioned for an election the right to
vote in a timely manner and without the impediment of needless litigation,”
board chairman Mark Pearce said.
Unions say the
old rules allowed companies to file frivolous appeals, stalling elections
for months or years. The new rules could help unions make inroads at
businesses like Target and Wal-Mart, which have successfully resisted union
organizing for years.
groups claim the new plan allows “ambush” elections that don’t give company
managers enough time to respond.
erodes employers’ free speech and due process rights and opens the door to
rushed elections that will deny employees access to critical information,”
said Katherine Lugar, executive vice president for public affairs at the
Retail Industry leaders Association.
elections currently take place 45 days to 60 days after a union gathers
enough signatures to file a petition. The new rules could shorten that time
by several weeks, depending on the situation.
use the time leading up to an election to talk to workers about the cost and
impact of joining a union. But union officials claim the lag time is often
used to pressure or intimidate workers against forming a union.
"It’s good news
that the NLRB has taken this modest but important step to help ensure that
workers who want to vote to form a union at their workplace get a fair
opportunity to do so,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.
leaders publicly tried to play down the new rules as a modest development,
labor experts called the change significant. Unions have seen their ranks
dwindle steadily over the last three decades to 11.9 percent of the work
wouldn’t have fought against it so hard if it wasn’t going to make a
difference,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research
at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
employers can currently delay union elections is to raise questions about
which workers should be included in a bargaining unit. Supervisors aren’t
eligible for union membership, and the company and union can spend months
litigating that issue.
Under the new
rules, questions about the makeup of bargaining units are resolved after the
election takes place.
going to change the world, but it’s one step, and we haven’t had a step
towards workers’ rights in a very long time,” Bronfenbrenner said.
The rules were
approved by the board’s two Democratic members. Its lone Republican, Brian
Hayes, has not yet cast his vote, but he is expected to cast a dissenting
opinion sometime before the rule takes effect.
Hayes is so
strongly opposed to the plan that he threatened to quit the commission last
month, claiming its Democratic members were ignoring longstanding procedures
in their haste to finish the rules.
The final rules
were scaled back from an earlier version that would have required employers
to hand over to union organizers a list of employees’ e-mail addresses and
The board rushed
to approve the new rules before the end of the year, when the term of
Democratic member Craig Becker expires. The board currently has only three
members instead of the usual five, and the Supreme Court has ruled that it
can’t issue any decisions with less than three members in place.
Republicans have blocked President Barack Obama from filling vacant posts on
the board, and lawmakers have used procedural tactics to prevent Obama from
bypassing the Senate to make recess appointments.
filed by business groups late Tuesday claims the board circumvented its own
operating procedures to finalize this rule, and that the rule itself
short-circuits safeguards meant to ensure fair elections.