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Progressives Blast New NLRB Union Elections Rule That 'Betrays the Workers It Is Meant to Protect'

The board's only Democrat said the move "places an unjustified burden on workers seeking to exercise their fundamental workplace rights."

fight for $15 protest

One critic called a new National Labor Relations Board rule "the most recent example of the Trump NLRB elevating corporate interests above those of working people." (Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The Republican-dominated National Labor Relations Board on Friday unveiled a new rule amending its procedures for union elections that, according to at least one progressive think tank, "betrays the workers it is meant to protect."

"This is just the most recent example of the Trump NLRB elevating corporate interests above those of working people."
—Celine McNicholas, EPI

As Celine McNicholas, director of government affairs and labor counsel at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), put it in a statement: "This is just the most recent example of the Trump NLRB elevating corporate interests above those of working people."

The primary purpose of the NLRB is to administer the National Labor Relations Act and protect the rights of all workers, regardless of their union membership. One of the federal agency's chief responsibilities is governing the formation of collective-bargaining relationships between private employers and employees.

The NLRB issued the new rule (pdf) without providing notice or taking public comment. The rule is set to take effect 120 days after appearing in the Federal Register; the NLRB expects it to be published on Dec. 18.

Bloomberg reported that the rule will make more than a dozen changes to the board's election procedures, "extending deadlines and adding steps to a process that had been shortened and streamlined during the Obama administration." 

Republican NLRB Chairman John Ring, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said in a statement that "these are common sense changes to ensure expeditious elections that are fair and efficient."

However, McNicholas highlighted problems with the current procedures and expressed concerns that the changes will only make it harder for workers who are trying to organize and collectively negotiate with an employer:

We know that, under the current system, employers are charged with violating the law in 41.5% of all NLRB-supervised elections. Further, employers are charged with illegally firing workers in 20% to 30% of all NLRB-supervised elections. This rule does nothing to address these issues and instead gives employers more time to threaten, coerce, and retaliate against workers trying to organize.

McNicholas called on Congress to "hold the Trump NLRB accountable and prioritize legislative reforms like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act that will help to restore the original promise of our nation's labor law—to encourage and promote the formation of unions and the practice of collective bargaining."

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Various labor advocates and unions took to Twitter to spotlight concerns with the rule:

In a series of tweets Friday, NLRB member Lauren McFerran also criticized the new rule from her board's Republican majority. McFerran is the only Democrat currently on the five-member board—three seats are held by Republicans and one seat is vacant—and formally opposed the proposal.

The rule "more than triples the time it will take workers to get from petition to certification in a contested union election," she noted in a tweet shared by EPI. "In its 84-year history, the board has never before intentionally added substantial delay to the election process."

"This is a textbook example of arbitrary agency action," McFerran continued. "The majority makes radical changes to the election process without any factual basis at all—indeed, they make a determined effort to avoid examining relevant, readily-available data."

"From this troubling approach," she concluded, "comes an even more troubling result: adding delay to the election process undermines the very purpose of the NLRA and places an unjustified burden on workers seeking to exercise their fundamental workplace rights."

The rule came just a day after the NLRB delivered a "victory" to McDonald's in a closely watched, years-long case. Union leaders and the Fight for $15 campaign denounced the decision as "illegitimate" and vowed to appeal it.

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