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Under Cover of Pandemic, Trump's NLRB Moves to Make Unionizing 'Nearly Impossible for Workers'

"The Trump NLRB takes this moment to publish a rule that will make it harder both for workers to unionize and to keep unions they have. Shameful does not even begin to describe this."

Union activists and supporters rally against the Supreme Court's ruling in the Janus v. AFSCME case in Foley Square in New York City on June 27, 2018. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The National Labor Relations Board finalized a rule this week that critics warn could make unionizing "nearly impossible for workers" at a moment when employees across the nation are fighting for stronger protections against the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposed rule change from the board—which is controlled by three appointees of President Donald Trump—was published in the Federal Register on April 1. The new rule would eliminate the NLRB's "blocking charge policy," which permits the delay of union election results if the employer is accused of unlawful coercion or other unfair labor practices.

"The board is effectively sealing off any viable path to unionization at a time when workers need a voice on the job more than ever."
—Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO

The proposal would also allow employees to file for decertification of a union in as few as 45 days after the union is voluntarily recognized by an employer. Under the new rule, a petition for decertification could be filed if just 30% of employees in a bargaining unit support the move.

Opponents of the new rule said the changes could empower employees to illegally manipulate union election results and allow a minority of workers to decertify a union that a majority of workers voted to form.

The rule is set to take effect on May 31 after a 60-day public comment period.

Heidi Shierholz, labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), called the rule change "unbelievable."

"The Trump NLRB takes this moment to publish a rule that will make it harder both for workers to unionize and to keep unions they have," tweeted Shierholz. "Shameful does not even begin to describe this."

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Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement that "the board is effectively sealing off any viable path to unionization at a time when workers need a voice on the job more than ever."

"Donald Trump's caustic hostility to collective bargaining has manifested itself in the most anti-worker NLRB in America's history," said Trumka. "The labor movement will fight these actions with everything we have."

The proposed rule comes as grocery store employees and other workers deemed essential amid the coronavirus outbreak are walking off the job and holding "sick outs" to protest unsanitary workplaces and lack of protective gear.

The new rule marks the second time in less than a month that the Trump administration has advanced a union-busting proposal.

Last month, as Common Dreams reported, unions accused Trump of exploiting the coronavirus crisis to attack organized labor after the Federal Labor Relations Authority issued a rule proposal that would allow federal employees to cancel union dues at any time after a year of membership, rather than in the annual 15-day window established under current law.

In a blog post on Tuesday responding to the NLRB proposal, EPI government affairs director Celine McNicholas wrote that "it is unconscionable that the agency responsible for ensuring workers have the right to a voice in the workplace has denied them the ability to exercise these rights."

"Today and in the coming weeks, many workers will walk off the job over concerns for their health and safety in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic," McNicholas wrote. "These workers are risking their lives to deliver services that have been deemed essential to our nation."

"At the very least," said McNicholas, "we should demand that the federal agency responsible for ensuring these workers have the rights to a union and collective bargaining use our taxpayer dollars to conduct union elections for workers who want representation, as opposed to issuing rules that make it harder for workers to have a voice on the job."

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