This week, just in time for Labor Day, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) handed down several decisions that undermine workers’ rights to tell union organizers “no.”
In one ruling, Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, the NLRB radically redefined the definition of a collective bargaining unit—the workers a union represents—to permit micro-unions. Traditionally, unions organize workers who share a community of interest. At a grocery store, for example, a collective bargaining unit would typically represent all the hourly employees.
The NLRB junked that definition in favor of a new standard: Now, instead of one union representing all workers with similar interests, unions could organize smaller micro-unions representing just a few workers. At a store this would allow separate unions to represent just the cashiers while leaving all other workers unorganized.
These rules will allow unions to gerrymander bargaining units to disenfranchise workers that oppose unionizing. If a union knows that the shelf-stockers would vote against unionizing, it can now propose a bargaining unit that excludes them. When the cashiers vote, the shelf-stockers would not get a say. However, the excluded workers would share in all the risks and downsides of unionizing. Strikes will also put them out of work, and if the union bankrupts the company, they will also lose their jobs.
The NLRB has decided that workers who do not want to take these risks will not get to vote. That certainly makes life easier for union organizers, but it hardly enhances workers’ rights.
In a second ruling, Lamons Gasket Co., the NLRB took another swipe at the secret ballot. Under current law, unions do not have to organize workers through secret ballot elections. If a company agrees to it, unions can solicit signatures on union authorization cards.
With this card-check process, unions know exactly who does and does not support them and can pressure holdouts to change their minds. Obviously, this will not necessarily reflect workers’ true preferences. But once a majority of workers sign, the company can recognize the union without an election.
Fortunately, the law gives workers an important out: They can file for a secret ballot decertification election. Or at least they could until now.
In Lamons Gasket Co., the NLRB decided that workers organized through card-check will have to wait six months to a year before they can ask for a secret ballot decertification election—by which time their company will have signed a collective bargaining agreement, and that prevents them on voting until the agreement comes up for renegotiation.
The NLRB’s message for workers who want to keep their choice private: “Fuggedaboutit!”
That certainly benefits union organizers—but not so much the workers who don’t want to explain to the Teamsters why they do not want Jimmy Hoffa’s representation services.
Unions argue that they speak for workers, but when expanding their own institutional power conflicts with workers’ rights, unions consistently put themselves first. Which may be part of the reason that less than 10 percent of workers want to join a union to begin with.