Unions Get a Win With NLRB Vote for Speedier Workplace Elections

What organized labor was unable to get through the discredited Employee Free Choice Act, they now are getting directly from a vote by the National Labor Relations Board.

The Wall Street Journal reports that today the NLRB “adopted a rule that will speed union-organizing elections in private-sector workplaces, ushering in some of the biggest procedural changes in decades and scoring a win for unions that say scheduling a vote often takes too long.”

Bloomberg news says the new rule will take effect April 30 and “will simplify union-election procedures and shorten the deadline for balloting after employees request a vote. The board, which resolves disputes between labor and management, adopted the change in a 2-1 vote.”

Business groups, as you might imagine, were highly critical of the NLRB action.

According to The Hill newspaper:

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Business groups denounced the rule as a transparent attempt by the NLRB to help unions.

“This rule has no conceivable purpose but to make it easier for unions to win elections,” said Randy Johnson, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits, in a statement.

“While couched in technicalities, the purpose of this regulation is to cut-off free speech rights to educate employees about the effects of unionization. The elimination of these rights has long been on the wish list of organized labor and the Board has dutifully granted that wish today.”

What the NLRB vote means

Here’s what this all means, according to The WSJ: 

The change will compress the time between when workers file a petition with the NLRB to hold an election and when the actual voting occurs. That period will shrink to 25 days or fewer, some legal experts estimate, nearly two weeks less than the current median of 38 days. Employer groups and lawyers say the current median is barely enough time for employers to tell employees why a union isn’t needed.

The change could result in more workers and labor groups seeking to hold union-organizing elections with the hope of getting a better shot at a vote without delay. But that wouldn’t guarantee unions could win the majority of votes they would need to represent a group of workers.”

The real reason behind the change in workplace union election rules is, of course, is political. The two NLRB members who voted for the change are Democrats; the one against is a Republican. And, the vote is just one of of a huge number of workplace-focused enforcement and changes that have come out of Washington this year.

Still, as The Wall Street Journal story notes, the reason for the new NLRB rule to help speed up union elections is largely due to the labor-leaning NLRB board majority wanting to help stop the dwindling number of unionized workers.

Unionization rates in the private sector have been declining for the last few decades and dropped to just 6.9% of the U.S. work force in 2010. The NLRB held 1,690 union-organizing elections in 2009, the latest year for which data are available, down 38% from 2,715 elections four years earlier. Unions say the overall drops reflect unfair barriers to organizing, while employers say they reflect workers’ waning desire to join a union.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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