NLRB proposal for ‘quickie’ elections a ‘great concern’ to non-union truckers
February 26, 2014 - LM Editorial
The federal board that oversees labor relations is proposing a sweeping change to the way union elections are held, much to the chagrin of non-union trucking companies who say their ability to fight back will be compromised.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued a proposed rule that would shorten the time frame in which employers can challenge union organizing campaigns. In some cases, experts say, that period could be as little as 25 days—about two weeks shorter than last year’s median period of 38 days between when organizers petitioned for an election and the actual vote for representation.
If enacted by the Obama administration, the changes could serve to favor unions like the Teamsters, which have been actively courting workers at FedEx units, Con-way and other leading non-union carriers.
“The short answer is if you are a non-union trucking company, this is a change in the way employees can accept or reject union representation. It should be a great concern,” said John V. Jansonius, a labor relations attorney with Jackson Walker, Dallas, who has represented many trucking companies in labor organizing cases.
“It puts great limits on employers’ abilities to respond to union elections and limits the ways to express their concern,” Jansonius told LM.
The issue sets up a major policy fight between union interests such as the AFL-CIO and big business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka hailed the NLRB “for proposing these common sense rules,” adding: “When workers petition for an NLRB election, they should receive a timely opportunity to vote.”
Predictably, the U.S. Chamber does not see it that way. “We’re looking at all our options to block it,” Randel Johnson, senior vice president of labor for the U.S. Chamber, told the Wall Street Journal.
The NLRB made a similar proposal in 2011, but it failed. At the time, the NLRB was comprised of just two members, both Democrats. The Chamber successfully sued the matter, claiming the NLRB did not have a sufficient quorum of three members. Since then, the NLRB has reached a quorum—two Democratic board members and one Republican.
Big Labor has been playing defense for quite a while in this country. Currently only 11.3 percent of U.S. workers are represented by unions, down from nearly 40 percent a half century ago.
Trucking is representative of that decline in union membership. Prior to deregulation in 1980, unions represented about 95 percent (or more than 500,000) of all truck drivers. Today, there is only about 5 percent union representation (mostly UPS, YRC Worldwide, ABF and a handful of other smaller companies) in the trucking industry.
Yet, trucking remains a hot target for unions such as the Teamsters, which spent millions every year on organizing non-union trucking companies. Employers fear that social media and tools such as YouTube and instant messaging have given unions a technological edge in organizing.
Shortening the time frame for votes is seen by labor experts as giving the unions another tool in their tool box to help win union representation.
“It’s mostly the due process rather than just the time frame,” labor relations attorney Jansonius says. “It truncates the employer’s ability to express its views to employees and to the NLRB as to why a proposed bargaining unit might be inappropriate. It does not allow an adequate opportunity to explain the company’s side of the story.”
The shortened time frame between an organizing petition and an actual vote for representation inherently favors the unions, experts said.
From the employers’ standpoint, generally the union has done its campaign work by the time a petition for a union vote is filed,” Jansonius explained. “Employers shouldn’t be surprised, but there’s catch-up work to do. The rules the NLRB are proposing would limit the time frame to do that work.”
The matter appears destined to be decided by the courts. When a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the U.S. Chamber two years ago, he based his ruling solely on the fact the NLRB did not have sufficient members to issue rules. He did not address the precise merits of the issue.
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