New rules governing how workers petition and vote for union representation took effect April 14.

The National Labor Relations Board implemented changes that the agency says will streamline the election process and keep pace with advances in technology. Instead of waiting nearly a month – and usually longer – to vote, workers could cast ballots in as few as two weeks.

“Unions historically have been at the forefront of establishing things like the 40-hour work week, the weekend, child labor laws, fair benefits and decent wages,” Obama said last month after vetoing a congressional measure passed by anti-worker lawmakers that would have scrapped the new rules.

Other new procedures allow organizers to electronically submit petitions, speeding up the filing time. Employers are also now required to provide the NLRB and the union with an alphabetized list of employees in the voting unit by job classification, shift and work site location within one week of the petition’s filing and must post an election petition notice within two business days.

Several GOP lawmakers and business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, called the NLRB’s reforms “ambush election rules” that would hamper employers’ abilities to stop organizing drives.

A 2009 study by labor expert and Cornell University professor Kate Bronfenbrenner shows that large numbers of employers fire union supporters and threaten to close worksites or cut wages and benefits during campaigns. Even workers who do win organizing drives face more opposition down the road, with more than half still lacking a contract in the first year after a campaign.

“One of the freedoms of folks here in the United States is that if they choose to join a union, they should be able to do so,” Obama said in a recent New York Times article. Obama also plans to host an event at the White House this fall to explore ways of helping middle-income families who fared worse than the wealthy during and after the Great Recession, the paper reported.

 Read a comprehensive list of the new NLRB rules here.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user BeckyF.