Labor board gives unions new leverage to organize workers

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The National Labor Relations Board is moving to grant unions sweeping new powers to organize workers over fierce objections from business leaders, who complain that actions announced last week amount to early Christmas gift for Big Labor.

The NLRB on Friday published regulations allowing for at speedier union elections, two years after a nearly identical rule was struck down in federal court.

The highly anticipated regulations were issued a day after the NLRB decided that employees should be allowed to use company email systems for union business. .

The controversial NLRB moves have labor leaders cheering and businesses reeling.

“There’s no question about it,” said Randy Johnson, senior vice president at the Chamber of Commerce, “unions are going to have the upper hand.”

Former conservative NLRB board member Brian Hayes called the agency’s recent efforts a “gift to organized labor.”

The NLRB’s efforts to speed up union elections could go a long way toward reversing declining union numbers, he says.

Labor officials complain that businesses often slow down the process in months and sometimes even years of litigation, which discourages workers from unionizing.

But the new rules will reduce many of these “unnecessary delays” and ensure that workers vote “in a timely manner,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“Too often, lengthy and unnecessary litigation over minor issues bogs down the election process and prevents workers from getting the vote they want,” Trumka said in a statement. “We commend the NLRB’s efforts to streamline the process and reduce unnecessary delay.”

The NLRB does not offer a specific timetable for holding union elections, but will require that a vote is held at “the earliest date practicable.”

Currently, it takes an average of 38 days to hold a union election, according to the NLRB.

But business groups speculate that, under the new rule, elections could happen in as few as 10 days.

“(This) means corporate bosses will have fewer opportunities to cheat you out of your right to join together,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement.

The NLRB’s first previous version of the rule was struck down in federal court because the board did not have a full quorum when it was issued.

The current five-member board reissued the rule in February with few changes, but believes it will stand up in court this time around.

Business groups, who say the NLRB has become blatantly pro-union under President Obama, have said the regulation will allow “ambush” and “quickie” elections.

“The ambush rule released today by the NLRB further demonstrates the board’s shift from neutral arbiter of labor law to cheerleader for big labor,” said Geoff Burr, vice president of government affairs at the Associated Builders and Contractors.

Business groups say the rule will not only give them less time to prepare for a union election, but it will also rush employees to make a decision.

Small businesses are particularly concerned about speeding up union elections, because many companies do not have lawyers on staff and say they cannot prepare for an election in such a short amount of time.

“The unions want a ‘ready, fire, aim’ election where the election is held before the basic legal facts are decided, and we think that’s unfair,” said David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation.

Businesses are also contesting another provision in the rule that would require them to turn over employees’ email addresses and phone numbers. They argue this could lead to their employees being “harassed” by union organizers.

But the union election rule is far from the only NLRB decision that has business groups upset.

On Thursday, the NLRB decided employees can use their work email accounts for union organizing activity, reversing the agency previous policy.

This is another move that will give unions “the upper hand” over business, experts say.

“Laborers are among the happiest people in the world this holiday season because these are enormously important gifts,” said Michael Lotito, co-chair of Littler’s Workplace Policy Institute.

Business groups don’t expect the NLRB to slow down anytime soon.

With board member Nancy Schiffer’s term ending next week, Hayes and Lotito believe the NLRB is rushing to push out decisions before she leaves. Schiffer is the deciding Democratic vote at the agency.

“The board will want to continue to pump out those decisions before Schiffer’s term expires next Tuesday,” Lotito said. “It’s only natural to want to see the fruits of your labor come to fruition.”

Businesses are bracing for another decision that could help cement a previous finding that McDonald’s a so-called “joint employer.” Such a designation could hold the company responsible for the labor violations at its independent franchisees, potentially sending shockwaves through every industry operating under a franchise model.

The NLRB’s decision in the case could come by the end of the year, experts say.

Hayes says he’s also on the lookout for NLRB decisions in cases about whether college athletes can organize and how much authority the board has over religious institutions.

Lydia Wheeler contributed.

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