August 2011

New NLRB Rules Help Eliminate Barriers
to Voting
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For workers looking for a voice on the job, sometimes one of the biggest obstacles to forming a union is time. Too often workers who petition for a union election are forced to wait weeks or even months for the National Labor Relations Board to sponsor an election, giving management time to initiate or continue to campaign against union supporters.

But newly proposed board rules announced June 21 would streamline the election process, upholding the right of employees to hold a secret vote in a timely manner.

"For too long, the right of workers to choose their own collective bargaining agent has been hampered by red tape and delays," says International President Edwin D. Hill.

Management can easily hold up the election process by filing frivolous charges over a list of miscellany, like unit determination, allowing plenty of time to call in union busters to intimidate workers.

The board said in a statement that the changes will: "[R]emove unnecessary barriers to the fair and expeditious resolution of questions concerning representation."

IBEW Eighth District Organizer Bob Brock has witnessed firsthand how employer delaying tactics can end up denying a worker's right to vote.

A group of CenturyLink technicians in Idaho reached out to Brock in 2009 about joining the IBEW. They then signed up every worker in the half-dozen person unit to petition the NLRB for an election.

But the telecommunications company brought in the notorious union-busting law firm Littler Mendelson to make sure it never came to a vote.

"They filed every objection they could think of," Brock says. "They brought in this multi-million dollar law firm just to stop six employees from voting."

The workers never got their election and dropped the campaign after more than six months of delay. "They were worn out and disgusted by the whole procedure," says Brock.

The changes will also cut down on excessive paperwork, allowing workers to submit signed petitions online.

The board also proposes to help make workplace elections more transparent. The new rules require employers to provide workers with an up-to-date voter list in electronic format soon after an election date is set.

"This is a good first step to creating a level playing field in the workplace," says Hill.

"We've seen wages and benefits decline to their lowest levels in years, in part because anti-worker employers have manipulated the system to prevent employees from having a fair chance to vote on a union. By eliminating delays, the board is not only bringing some balance. It is also saving money for taxpayers who foot the bill because of unnecessary litigation."

The rules are subject to a 75-day public comment period before going into effect in September.