Welcome to the new world of labor relations.
On April 14, 2015, new union election rules from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) went into effect, signifying a dynamic shift in the way unionization efforts can play out in work places across the country.
The changes follow heated and somewhat controversial discussion in Washington, including a joint resolution of disapproval from Congress, two pending lawsuits, and objections from many employers and business groups. President Obama, in a memorandum supporting his veto of the Congressional resolution, called the new rules "modest but overdue reforms to simplify and streamline private sector union elections." House Speaker John Boehner, however, denounced the new rules an "an assault on the rights and privacy protections of American workers."
What does this all mean for employers? More than ever, preparation is key because time is not on your side.
Commonly referred to as "quickie election" rules, the NLRB's new rules significantly shorten the period between the date an employer receives an election petition from a union and the actual election date when bargaining unit employees vote on union representation. Currently, this campaign period lasts an average of 38 days, but, under the new election rules, an election could be conducted in as few as 13 days after the employer's receipt of the petition - and even as few as 10 in certain circumstances.
With a shorter election period, unions believe that they will be able to better harness the momentum of their pre-petition organizing efforts and limit employers' ability to wage an effective counter campaign. We have seen more widespread unionization attempts in recent years, particularly in areas like manufacturing, healthcare/nursing homes, and clerical/service among others. The new rules will only buoy those efforts. Employers who are unprepared for a union petition could find themselves halfway to an election before they even catch their breath.
In addition to a shorter election period, the new rules also, among other things:
- Require employers to provide more detailed, personal information about employees to the union so that the union can more easily contact them during the election campaign;
- Limit the issues or objections that parties can raise during the pre-election hearing; and
- Restrict the parties' ability to challenge NLRB determination and election results.
Simply put, these rules, along with other recent significant policy shifts by the NLRB, are making it easier for employees to organize and harder for employers to curtail such efforts.
Benjamin Franklin said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." For employers, failing to prepare for a union organizing campaign or election now could lead to an election loss and a unionized workforce sooner than they might think.