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Latest News - August 2011

August 29, 2011
OP EDS New NRLB workplace election rules are more bad news for workers
Source: The Washington Examiner
By: David Denholm

Proposed changes in National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) election procedures are aimed at shortening the time between filing a petition and the vote.

At present that time averages 37 days. Under the new rules, the NLRB would strive for an average of 10.

The NLRB’s approach to the issue of union certification is based on the false premise that there are only two parties concerned with the issue – the union and the employer. There are, in fact, three parties – the union, the employer and the employees.

Other than whether to accept a job, the decision about whether or not to be represented by a union is one of the most important employment-related decisions an employee can make. It is essential that this be a well-informed decision.

Those who seek to shorten the time between the filing of a representation petition and the election are shortening the time that many employees have to gain information about this important decision.

It is important to recognize that, other than during the very brief period of time between petition filing and the vote - whether it is 10 or 37 days - the union is in virtually complete control of the timing of the election.

The time-frame in question is actually just the last few days of a union organizing campaign. The union can campaign for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or more and file the petition when it considers the time to be most favorable.

The idea that shortening the time from 37 to 10 days would substantially improve a union’s chance of winning a secret ballot vote on union representation illustrates just how much a union victory depends on not giving employees sufficient time learn enough to make a well informed decision.

If an employer believed that its most favorable time for a union election was at the very outset of organizing, and an option existed to request a quick election, the unions would undoubtedly complain that such a quick election deprived them of the time needed to educate potential members about the advantages of unionizing.

Union organizers who choose to blame their failure on the activity of employers are, for the most part, sadly mistaken. The proof of this can be found in surveys of public opinion on whether an employee would vote to unionize their workplace.

The employees who respond to these surveys are not at the time of the survey under pressure from their employer to vote against union representation.

In 1984, the AFL-CIO contracted with Harris and Associates to conduct a survey to help them understand their losses. One of the questions asked was:

“If an election were held tomorrow to decide whether your workplace would be unionized or not, do you think you would definitely vote for a union, probably vote for a union, probably vote against a union, or definitely vote against a union?”

The results were 10.3 percent definitely for, 20.0 percent probably for, 27.7 percent probably against, and 37.3 percent definitely against. A combined total of 65 percent of workers - who were under no pressure from their employer - said that they would probably or definitely vote against union representation.

That same Harris study found that 73 percent of those employees who have "worked in a place where a union existed" but who were now working in a non-union setting would "prefer a non-union than union place to work."

In short, a greater percent of employees who had experience with a union were opposed to unionizing than those who didn't.

A poll conducted by Zogby International for the Public Service Research Foundation in June 2005 replicated that question and found 16 percent definitely for, 20 percent probably for, 18 percent probably against, and 38 percent definitely against.

In addition to the information available about how employees would vote, there is some information about whether a worker would want to be a member of a labor union.

Most employees don’t want to be members of a labor union.  In August 1999, the Gallup Poll asked “Would you, personally, like to belong to a labor union at work, or not?”

Only 21 percent said “yes,” while 76 percent said “no.” In August 2006, a Zogby Poll asked, “Would you personally like to be a member of a labor union?” Only 20 percent said “yes,” while 74 percent said “no.”

Regulations to shorten the time between the filing of a representation petition and the election date have the potential for a negative unintended consequence for organized labor.

Employers who viewed the unionization of their workforce as a threat might be tempted to make anti union programs a regular part of their human resources activity rather than something that was only necessary when the occasion arose. This might serve to heighten tensions and in the long run make it even more difficult for union organizers to succeed.

The present system reflects a balance between the interests of employers and unions. In the process the interests of the most important participants, the employees, are served to a limited extent.

Changing the system in an effort to provide an advantage to labor unions would be a disservice to the employees involved and has the potential for harmful consequences.

David Denholm is president of the Public Service Research Foundation.



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