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Four Democratic members of Congress came out in support of proposed changes being reviewed by the National Labor Relations Board that would update the process through which union formation elections are held. The four were Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Robert Andrews (D-NJ), who expressed their support in a letter sent to the NLRB this week.
In the letter, the Democrats say that current procedures are outdated and cause unnecessary delays that allow for employers to harass and workers who are exercising their rights. They said that the changes would ensure the rights of both workers and employers and lower litigations costs for all involved.
Specifically, the new rules would:
-Allow for electronic filing of election petitions and other documents.
-Ensure that employees, employers and unions receive and exchange timely information they need to understand and participate in the representation case process.
-Standardize timeframes for parties to resolve or litigate issues before and after elections.
-Require parties to identify issues and describe evidence soon after an election petition is filed to facilitate resolution and eliminate unnecessary litigation.
-Defer litigation of most voter eligibility issues until after the election.
-Require employers to provide a final voter list in electronic form soon after the scheduling of an election, including voters’ telephone numbers and email addresses when available.
-Consolidate all election-related appeals to the Board into a single post-election appeals process and thereby eliminate delay in holding elections currently attributable to the possibility of pre-election appeals.
-Make Board review of post-election decisions discretionary rather than mandatory.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says he supports the new rules but argues that they don't go far enough in protecting workers:
The proposed rule does not address many of the fundamental problems with our labor laws, but it will help bring critically needed fairness and balance to this part of the process.
When workers want to vote on a union, they should get a fair chance to vote. That’s a basic right. But our current system has become a broken, bureaucratic maze that stalls and stymies workers’ choices. And that diminishes the voice of working people, creates imbalance in our economy and shrinks the middle class.
Business leaders have, not surprisingly, criticized the new rules, engaging in significant misinformation about the new rules. The AFL-CIO's Josh Goldstein clarifies that the changes cut back on delays during the process, cut back on unnecessary litigation, and standardizes procedures. Also, he notes, the new rules do not do what critics say:
The rule does NOT deny companies the opportunity to express their opinion about union representation. From the first day workers are hired, companies have full access and ample opportunity to make their views clear to workers. In fact, nearly half of charges of illegal conduct filed with the NLRB during organizing campaigns involve employer misconduct that took place before workers filed a petition.
The rule does NOT require that elections be held within a specific time period. It simply makes the process fair by removing opportunities to delay the vote. Delay is a tactic used to wear down and discourage employees who want to form a union. Employers and workers alike are entitled to a process that cannot be manipulated to gain unfair advantage and is clear, precise and efficient.
This rule does NOT hurt our economy or stifle business. On the contrary, a fair, efficient and predictable process saves time and resources for companies, workers and the government. And if workers decide to choose a union, the economy benefits. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that if 5 million service workers were to join unions, approximately $34 billion in new wages would flow into the economy. Furthermore, unions help build successful partnerships between workers and corporations every day. At companies like AT&T and UPS, workers have formed partnerships with their employers to improve their lives, and these businesses continue to lead their industries.
The AFL-CIO also submitted 21,000 comments to the NLRB this week, showing overwhelming support from workers for the new rules.
Since the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935, the rules for forming unions have been changed more than three dozen times, so these changes are consistent with the history of the law.