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NLRB Seeks Rule to Streamline Union Elections

A new set of rules from the National Labor Relations Board would accelerate union elections and introduce an electronic element into the process.

The labor board wants to tighten up the process by ensuring that employers, employees and unions receive needed information sooner and by delaying litigation over many voter-eligibility issues until after workers vote on whether to unionize […]

According to the N.L.R.B., the average amount of time it took from petition to election in 2008 was 57 days.

American companies have repeatedly opposed any effort to shorten the period from petition to vote, saying that would make it harder for managers to tell workers about the disadvantages of unionizing and to ensure that workers gets both sides of the story.

The board said its steps announced Tuesday “are intended to reduce unnecessary litigation, streamline pre- and postelection procedures and facilitate the use of electronic communications and document filing.”

This does not extend to electronic voting, which would be a real innovation. But if the rules are adopted, unions could file petitions and assorted election documents electronically, which would speed up the process. Employers would also have to provide a voter list to the union of all employees as a digital file, including email addresses and phone numbers.

Union elections have been heavily tilted in favor of business for many years now, because of the long lag times between the announcement and the actual election, and because of how businesses use that time to intimidate and harass employees. Even despite this, 63% of all union elections succeeded in 2009, a testament to worker desire to join together to fight for their rights. If the process were streamlined and made more fair, their would not only be a better rate of victory, there would probably be more elections.

Expect a major battle with union busters over this one, and a lot of lies about what the NLRB decision would allow. I would rather see a set time frame for elections – perhaps two weeks – or electronic voting, or of course something like the Employee Free Choice Act. But this is a minor but important step to balance the scales of union elections, and since that’s the primary interest of the NLRB, they should be allowed to move forward. It’s not the end of the road for labor law reform, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, when he pointed out that the rule “does not address many of the fundamental problems with our labor laws, but it will help bring critically needed fairness and balance to this part of the process.”

In a parallel action, the Labor Department announced a rule that would force public disclosure of the consultants hired by employers to union-bust. This rule expands the 1959 Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act to close a loophole that employers used to bring in anti-union consultants, saying they merely provided “advice.” Expect employers to be hyperbolic about this as well – a spokesman for the US Chamber of Commerce called it “the most significant handout to organized labor that we’ve seen in this administration.” That may actually be true, but it only means that the Administration has generally kept out of this fight, and now is only coming in to increase basic fairness and transparency.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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