By Kevin Bogardus - 03/24/12 11:31 AM EDT
A proposal by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to include workers' email addresses and phone numbers on voter lists for union elections could become the next flashpoint in the war between labor and business.
Originally proposed as part of the NLRB's union election rule in June last year, the provision was shelved when the labor board passed other portions of that rule in December. But opposition to sharing workers' contact information has begun to grow on Capitol Hill and among business groups over worries that the NLRB may bring the proposal back.
“It's clearly something the board intends to pursue and we hope this vote will send a strong message to them that it has overstepped its bounds,” Glenn Spencer, vice president of the Chamber’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, told The Hill.
The vote Spencer is referring to is a joint resolution introduced in the Senate and the House that would overturn the NLRB’s union election rule under the Congressional Review Act. While the resolution would not affect the workers’ contact information provision since it’s not part of the current rule, Spencer said a vote against the union election rule — set to go into effect on April 30 — should serve as a warning to the labor board against further action.
“We want this to be a shot across the bow saying don't even take that up. And we want senators on the record on what they think about these issues,” Spencer said. “This particular vote to be taken by folks should be a strong statement to the board that it has gone too far.”
The Chamber is calling on its activists to engage with lawmakers. “Tell Washington you don't want your personal email address and phone number given to union bosses,” says a petition by the business group.
The campaign will also include events in states around the country, with Spencer returning from Florida this week. The Chamber will also be pushing the issue to the Workforce Freedom Initiative's Facebook page’s nearly 20,000 subscribers.
Labor backed the union election rule as it was proposed last year — including the worker contact information provision — saying it would help modernize and streamline what can be the cumbersome union organizing process.
“Email is the way we communicate today,” said Michael Wasser, a research associate at American Rights at Work, a labor advocacy group. “Providing an email address is not intrusive. We give it out on our business cards. We sign up for frequent flyer miles with it.”
Wasser said that email has become so common, that the Chamber uses it for the group’s lobbying.
“Even the Chamber runs these petitions through emails. They are asking for people’s emails,” Wasser said.
The Chamber executive said there was a key difference with its campaign.
“We are voluntarily asking for contact information to help them engage with their lawmakers but the unions want the government to forcefully take your email address to help with their own union organizing,” Spencer said.
Now, the voter list for union elections — known as the “Excelsior list” — has just workers’ names and home addresses. The NLRB proposal would expand that to include workers’ email addresses and phone numbers.
The proposal attracted attention earlier this year when NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce said in an Associated Press interview that he wanted to consider it again.
An agency spokeswoman said that the labor board made it clear when voting on portions of the proposal in December that the remaining parts, including the part that deals with workers' contact information, remained under consideration.
"The Chairman has said from the beginning that he wants to move forward with the remainder of the rule to modernize, streamline and standardize the representation-case process. Other members have not yet officially weighed in and there is no date set for a vote," said Nancy Cleeland, the NLRB spokeswoman.
Republicans have said the proposal is an invasion of Americans' privacy.
A few weeks after the Associated Press article ran, Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla) introduced legislation that would stop an employer having to share with the NLRB or a union their employees’ phone numbers or email addresses. The bill now has 39 co-sponsors.