2011 has been a busy year for labor unions across America. After historic budget battles in Wisconsin and Ohio, governors in more states like Florida and New Jersey have been clamping down on collective bargaining rights and targeting state worker benefits in attempts to cut spending and balance budgets.
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board made headlines when it filed a controversial complaint against Boeing aircraft for moving a plant from Washington to South Carolina. According to the complaint Boeing was violating labor laws by allegedly moving the plant so that the company would not have to deal with frequent strikes in their Seattle location.
On Tuesday the NLRB also released newly proposed rules regulating the formation of unions. To form a union, workers must file a petition with the NLRB which then conducts a secret-ballot election to ensure that the majority of employees are on board. According to a recent New York Times article this process took an average of 57 days in 2008, giving what aspiring unions complained has been too much time for employers to discourage their formation.
The new rules, if implemented as written, would facilitate the unionization process to modernize the filing of petitions and streamline the time needed to hold an election.
The new rules would…
- Allow for electronic filing of election petitions and other documents.
- Ensure that employees, employers and unions receive and exchange timely information they need to understand and participate in the representation case process.
- Standardize timeframes for parties to resolve or litigate issues before and after elections.
- Require parties to identify issues and describe evidence soon after an election petition is filed to facilitate resolution and eliminate unnecessary litigation.
- Defer litigation of most voter eligibility issues until after the election.
- Require employers to provide a final voter list in electronic form soon after the scheduling of an election, including voters’ telephone numbers and email addresses when available.
- Consolidate all election-related appeals to the Board into a single post-election appeals process and thereby eliminate delay in holding elections currently attributable to the possibility of pre-election appeals.
According to NLRB chairman Wilma Liebman, “the current rules still seem to build in unnecessary delays, to encourage wasteful litigation, to reflect old-fashioned communication technologies, and to allow haphazard case-processing, by not adopting best practices.” The new rules could go into effect after the board to considers public comments, which includes and hearing set for July 18th and a 60 day period for written comments to be submitted.
These proposals come at a time when a historic low 11.9 percent of Americans belong to unions (down from 20.1 in 1983) and when unemployment has not dropped below 8.8 percent in the last 26 months. Many see these initiatives as designed to hamstring employers from mediating disputes with their employees while forcing them to enter collective bargaining agreements which slow hiring.
Job creation has thus far been the defining hot-button issue of the 2012 campaign and conservatives are certain to use these new regulations as yet another example of what they see as the Obama administration’s hostility towards business. In a Wednesday editorial, The National Review referred to the NLRB as a “runaway agency pursuing a narrow, partisan political policy rather than a legitimate public mandate.”