By Steven M. Swirsky, Adam C. Abrahms, Kara M. Maciel and Casey M. Cosentino
As previously predicted by the Management Memo on August 1, 2013 and October 30, 2013, the National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) issued a second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to amend its existing rules and regulations governing union elections procedures. If they look familiar when you see them, there is a good reason for that: you have seen them before.
As readers of the Management Memo are well aware, the NPRM is the latest development in the long saga of organized labor’s attempts to “fix” the representation election process in its favor. Most significantly, the Board’s current attempt only comes after having its more modest 2011 attempt struck down by a federal judge.
The present proposal is identical “in substance” to the Board’s original proposals first contemplated on June 22, 2011, and as such are more aggressive than the Rules ultimately adopted on December 21, 2011, and later struck down. The Board claims the proposed amendments are necessary to, among other things, facilitate the swift resolutions of questions concerning representation, simplify representation-case procedures, eliminate needless litigation, and consolidate all requests for review of regional directors’ determinations into one post-election request. However, if adopted as written, the proposed rules will radically up-end 75 years of Board practice and make it considerably easier for unions to organize employees and win elections.
History of Proposed Rule
The Board first contemplated the proposed amendments in a notice of proposed rulemaking on June 22, 2011. Following a period of public comment, the Board issued a final rule on December 22, 2011, that adopted some of the proposed amendments but deferred other more controversial aspects of the proposed amendments for further consideration. The final rule was immediately challenged in federal court. See Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. NLRB, 879 F. Supp. 2d 18, 21, 24 (D.D.C. 2012). In May 2012, the D.C. District Court struck down the final rule on procedural grounds. In response, the Board suspended the implementation of changes to its election representation case process.
Proposed Amendments to the Election Procedure
To the favor of unions, the proposed amendments announced this week would significantly change the existing procedures for union elections in the following ways:
- Permit electronic filing of election petitions.
- Require pre-election hearings to be held within 7 days after a hearing notice is served, shortening the time period between the petition and election.
- Require employers to file a detailed statement of position on any and all issues involved in the petition before the hearing commences (i.e., within 7 days of first receiving notice of the petition). Failure to present an issue in the statement would constitute waiver of the issue in all future proceedings.
- Grant hearing officers the authority to limit the issues to be heard at the hearing, depriving employers of their ability to litigate valid legal/factual positions prior to an election.
- Defer resolution of voter-eligibility issues to post-election challenges until after an election, replacing the longstanding practice of having a pre-election hearing to determine such issues. This will allow unions to claim that some supervisors should be included in the bargaining unit, which could prevent an employer from utilizing them in the campaign to communicate its own position to the employees they supervise.
- Grant hearing officers the authority to deny an employer the ability to file a post-hearing brief.
- Eliminate an employer’s ability to seek Board review of a Regional Director’s rulings, which would also reduce the time between the petition and election.
- Shorten the time for holding an election to as early as 10 days after the Regional Director’s direction of election (down from the typical 25 to 30 day minimum that now exists)
- Require an employer to provide the NLRB with the list of voters’ names and addresses within 2 days after the Regional Director’s direction of an election instead of 7 days.
- Require employers to provide the phone numbers and email addresses of all eligible voters as well as specifying each employee’s work location, shift, and classification. Currently, employers must only provide name and mailing address to the NLRB, which it then provides to the union. Since unions will use be able to use this information during the days before the election, it is feared that instances of organizers harassing and coercing employees will significantly increase.
- Grant the Board discretion to deny review of post-election rulings. Currently, the Board is required to decide post-election disputes.
The Board’s False Pretenses and True Intended Harm of “Ambush” Elections
The Board asserts these election “fixes” are necessary to address alleged long delays in the representation process; however, such delays are rare. To the extent that the NPRM seeks to address election delays, objective data of NLRB elections conducted between 2008 and 2010 shows that such delays occurred less than 10 percent of the time. In fact, currently median time between petition and election is only 38 days and almost all elections occur within 56 days. The Board’s current proposal, however, could shorten that period to 10 to 21 days, which essentially eliminates the ability for employers to make a full and meaningful presentation of their position or employees to make a truly informed choice.
Typically, union organizers campaign under the radar for months before a petition is filed and unions wait until they believe that they have the support of the majority of the employees in a unit before they file a petition. Shortening the election period so drastically will erode an employer’s ability to respond to the union’s propaganda and communicate its position on union representation. Employees will vote without having the benefit of hearing the employer’s position. This contravenes the express purpose of the Act, which is to protect employee rights— not union rights and would gut the right that employers are granted by the Act to communicate their positions to employees. This one-sided campaign will almost certainly result in more election victories for unions and less real choice for employees.
It is with intention that the Board’s proposed rules will significantly alter the entire union representation election process in favor of unions. Although it is a proposed rule at this point, and the Board will be accepting public comment through April 7, 2014, with a public hearing that same week, it is likely that the final rule will be issued not long thereafter. To prepare for the Board’s “ambush” election rules, employers should promptly adopt any or all of the following strategies:
- Examine your workforce for potential vulnerability to union organizing, including wage and hour violations or uncompetitive wages or benefits.
- Review and update workplace policies that become relevant during union organizing such as solicitation/distribution, electronic communications, and social media.
- Assess your workforce for potential bargaining unit issues like identifying who are supervisors and which employees share a “community of interest.”
- Train your managers and supervisors on recognizing early warning signs of union organizing and responding lawfully to union campaigns.
- Contact legal counsel with any questions or for any assistance with ensuring you are prepared to respond to an organizing campaign consistent with the proposed rules.