Labor board moves to hasten elections

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced Tuesday that it plans to amend regulations for union elections, setting off the latest battle between labor and business in Washington.

The labor board will file a notice of proposed rule-making for the changes on Wednesday. If finalized, the new rules will likely speed up union elections by streamlining the voting process.

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“Resolving representation questions quickly, fairly and accurately has been an overriding goal of American labor law for more than 75 years,” said NLRB Chairwoman Wilma Liebman in a statement announcing the rules.

The labor board will propose a slew of amendments to the rules that govern union elections, including allowing parties to electronically file petitions; requiring parties to offer evidence quickly after a petition is filed in order to avoid litigation; and requiring employers to provide a voter list soon after an election is scheduled, among other changes.

Union elections typically take 45 to 60 days to run their course. It’s unclear how quickly the proposed changes could speed up the process, but Brian Hayes, the labor board’s lone GOP member, said in his dissenting opinion to the rules that they could lead to union elections being completed in 10 to 21 days.

Unions greeted the announced changes with approval, but warned that lawmakers should leave the labor board, an independent agency, alone. After its complaint against Boeing for allegedly retaliating against union members, the labor board has been under heavy scrutiny from Capitol Hill.

“Unfortunately, in today’s poisonous political environment, any action by the board may unleash a torrent of attacks from politicians and ideologues opposed to any protection of workers’ rights. We call on leaders from both sides of the aisle to defend the independence of the NLRB,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.

That did not prevent a number of Republican lawmakers from criticizing the labor board’s proposed changes. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, called them “an outrageous assault on America’s job creators and workers.”

Business groups blasted the changes as well.

Glenn Spencer, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, described the new rules as “the administrative response to the failure of card-check.”

Spencer was referring to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that unions campaigned for during the 2008 elections. The bill, which never came to a vote last Congress, would allow workers to organize by signing off on authorization cards.

Spencer noted that Liebman’s term expires at the end of August, while another board member — Craig Becker, who was recess-appointed — will see his term expire at year’s end, when Congress adjourns.

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“So if they can’t figure out how to fill those seats, they are down to just two seats. The board knows that it has got a limited window if it wants to get things done,” Spencer said. 

Labor officials denied that the new 

NLRB rules are similar to EFCA.

“All this rule is saying is that if workers want to have an election, they should get a vote. It will help stop the delays in getting that vote,” said Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO.

Goldstein noted that EFCA would have changed labor law by increasing violation penalties and having the government appoint an independent mediator to settle contract disputes, along with allowing workers to use the authorization card method to form unions.

The summer will likely be consumed by debate over the new rules. The labor board has scheduled a public hearing to discuss them on July 18 that could stretch into the following day.

The NLRB has a 60 day-comment period for the rules, followed by 14 days during which the public can respond to the comments filed. The labor board will then review the comments and publish the final rule, though it’s not clear when that will be.


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