Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- A politically divided U.S. labor board proposed speeding up the process for employees to form a union, reviving a 2011 rule fiercely fought by business groups before it was thrown out by a court on a technicality.
The National Labor Relations Board in a 3-2 decision released today said it was reissuing rules to shorten the time for employee elections and requiring businesses to give union leaders lists of worker phone numbers and e-mails before a vote. Within hours, the Republican-led House Education and Workforce Committee announced a March 5 hearing on the measure.
The 2011 rule was hailed by labor and drew legal challenges from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to stop “ambush elections.” It was among several contentious decisions that drew the ire of Republicans who delayed votes on President Barack Obama’s board nominees. A federal judge in 2012 threw out the rule, saying the board lacked a quorum.
“Unnecessary delay and inefficiencies hurt both employees and employers,” NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce said today in a statement. “These proposals are intended to improve the process for all parties, in all cases, whether non-union employees are seeking a union to represent them or unionized employees are seeking to decertify a union.”
Employer groups had braced for today’s action. With the five-member panel operating at full strength for the first time since Obama took office five years ago, business groups such as the U.S. Chamber anticipate the board will revive initiatives that were sidelined by vacancies.
“We were expecting this,” Steven Bernstein, a labor attorney in Tampa, Florida, who represents management, said in an interview. “Myself and many members of the business community would describe it as overreach. You could argue they’re really gutting the substance of the process.”
Republicans Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson, who joined the board in August, dissented today, saying shortening the time for elections would “curtail the right of employers, union and employees” before a union is formed.
Pearce joined Democrats Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer approving of the rules.
“Employees will only hear the union’s side of why they should vote for a union,” Randel Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits at the Washington-based chamber, said in a statement. “As bad as this is, it is only one piece of a policy agenda at the board to undermine employee and employer rights.”
The rules shorten the time between when employees sign cards indicating a desire to join a union and a board-supervised election to two or three weeks, from five weeks to more than two months, Bernstein said.
“The NLRB is recycling a bad rule in an attempt to overturn more than 75 years of settled labor policy,” Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of manufacturers, said in a statement. “Ambush elections hurt manufacturers” and “undermine the strong and productive relationships between managers and employees.””
The board is seeking public comment through April 7 and plans to hold a hearing. During the 2011 process, the NLRB received 65,958 written comments on the speedy election process, according to a statement.
Union advocates praised the rule saying it balances the playing field in the workplace.
“When workers petition for an NLRB election, they should receive a timely opportunity to vote,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO federation of 56 unions with 12.5 million members, said in a statement. “But the current NLRB election process is riddled with delay and provides too many opportunities for employers to manipulate and drag out the process through costly and unnecessary litigation and deny workers a vote.”
Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, a Washington-based group aligned with labor, said employers subject workers to “preemptive, intimidating anti-union campaigns.”
“This rule will only address employers’ cynical procedural maneuvers and not their anti-union conduct or communications with employees,” Gupta said in a statement.
The board is at full strength after a two-year standoff with Republicans who blocked Obama nominees, threatening to leave the panel with too few members for a quorum. Obama nominated two Democrats, including a former general counsel for the United Auto Workers, who took office in August.
The makeover was complete in November when Richard Griffin, a former lawyer for the International Union of Operating Engineers, took over as general counsel, a powerful post that oversee investigations and prosecutions and acts independently of the board.
In an interview last month, Griffin said the board will revisit other issues with potentially far-reaching impact, from the status of collective bargaining agreements after a corporate takeover to whether union organizers can use a company’s e-mail.
The revived election rule drew criticism from Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the committee that oversees labor policy.
“Ambush elections are one more example of how the Obama National Labor Relations Board continues to be more of a union advocate than an umpire,” Alexander said in a statement. “This latest effort is a political power play on behalf of unions that makes an end run around employers and forces workers to make decisions without all of the facts.”
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