Our guest bloggers are Zane Farr, an intern with the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s American Worker Project, and Karla Walter, senior policy analyst with the AWP.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing yesterday attacking a proposed National Labor Relations Board rule to standardize the union election process. The common sense proposal doesn’t specify a time frame for elections, but recommends a number of changes that would help put an end to delay tactics used by employers or unions and create a more level playing field in the workplace.
But committee Republicans and the anti-union witnesses — including Michael Lotito from Jackson-Lewis,one of the oldest and largest union avoidance law firms in the nation — argued the rule would limit employers’ free speech and prevent workers from having enough time to make informed decisions:
Workers would have to make decisions on representation based only on what, if anything, the union or fellow workers told them. Such information would be incomplete at best, misleading at worst…By depriving employees of views that are likely to be very different from the union’s, and information about the union that the union may be reluctant to divulge, the NLRB would impinge on employees’ right to make a free and informed choice.
Lotito’s comments about communicating with workers is interesting in the context of this hearing given the advice his employer has doled out. Jackson-Lewis, Mr. Lotito’s firm, has posted memos on its website for prospective titled “Time Is On Your Side” about the benefits of delaying the certification election.
But the NLRB election process gives ample opportunity for employers and unions to educate workers — according to CAPAF’s David Madland — and this wouldn’t change under the provisions of the proposed rule:
[R]esearch demonstrates that employers already communicate well before elections occur. Employers’ views on unions are commonly incorporated into new-hire orientations, according to numerous academic and advocacy group reports. Even when employers don’t start their campaigns upon hiring, their communications often start long before the filing of the petition.…In fact, much pre-election communication crosses the line into illegal intimidation of workers.
Indeed, research released last month from respected academics Kate Bronfenbrenner and Dorian Warren finds that almost half of all serious violations of the National Labor Relations Act — such as illegal harassment, coercion, or firing — occur before the petition is filed.
Unfortunately, 35 percent of all union elections are called off in the face of endless delays and often illegal employer opposition according to research by John-Paul Ferguson of Stanford Business School. The proposed rule won’t fix every barrier facing workers trying to organize, but it’s a modest, common-sense step to help make the union election process fairer. Despite all this, House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said he will use “everything in our toolbox” to prevent the reform from coming online.