Proposed Changes to Labor Laws Raise Concerns

WASHINGTON Business leaders, including retailers, last week denounced proposed rule changes by the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Department of Labor as an end-around to achieving the same pro-union goals as the so-called card check legislation that died last year in Congress. The NLRB last week proposed a series of procedural changes that would speed the process of union elections, in

WASHINGTON — Business leaders, including retailers, last week denounced proposed rule changes by the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Department of Labor as an end-around to achieving the same pro-union goals as the so-called “card check” legislation that died last year in Congress.

The NLRB last week proposed a series of procedural changes that would speed the process of union elections, in part by deferring litigation over voter eligibility issues until after elections are held. That announcement came a day after the Labor Department separately proposed revisions in its rules that would expand reporting obligations for employers who use labor relations consultants.

The proposals were published in the Federal Register last week and are open for public comments for 60 days. Public hearings on the NLRB changes are scheduled July 18 and July 19, if necessary.

Ty Kelley, director of government relations for Food Marketing Institute, estimated that the NLRB's proposed revisions — which include measures allowing electronic filing of petitions and standardized timeframes for parties to settle or litigate issues before and after union elections — would expedite union elections from a current average of 31 to 40 days following a petition to a period of 10 to 21 days. Kelley said that time frame is “unworkable” for employers, given that union drives were likely organized well before they petitioned for election.

“When a petition is filed for an election, the union representatives have been working at this for quite some time, trying to persuade a workforce to vote in favor of the union,” Kelley told SN in an interview. “So at the very least an employer needs to be given adequate time to express his views on the downside of going with a union.”

Business groups including FMI, the National Grocers Association and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, along with many Republican lawmakers, have expressed concern for some time that federal agencies would seek to enact more labor-friendly laws, particularly after the Employee Free Choice Act, known as the “card check” legislation, that would allow for easier union elections, stalled in Congress. Concerns grew last spring when President Obama appointed Craig Becker, an outspoken union lawyer, to fill a vacancy on the NLRB (SN, April 12, 2010). The NLRB is a federal agency that administers the National Labor Relations Act.

In proposing the changes last week, NLRB said the changes “would simplify representation-case procedures and render them more transparent and uniform across regions, eliminate unnecessary litigation, and consolidate requests for board review of regional directors' pre- and post-election determinations into a single, post-election request.”

NLRB member Brian Hayes dissented from the rulemaking, saying the current procedures were adequate, and noting that fewer than 10% of union elections involve contested pre-election issues.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce denounced the proposals by both federal agencies, saying the Labor Department's stance on so-called “persuader” disclosure would “make it virtually impossible for companies to obtain the legal advice they need to safely exercise their statutory rights to express their views during union organizing campaigns.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers said it approved of the proposed changes, saying votes are typically “plagued by delays, bureaucracy [and] obstacles.”