On December 13, 2019, the Trump administration’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—the federal agency charged with enforcing labor law and overseeing union certification elections—escalated its assault against workers’ rights by abruptly changing the rules of union elections, without notice or public comment. According to a December 21, 2019, article by William Lewis in Truthout, “Starting in six months, when workers petition for an election, they must wait at least 14 business days until a pre-election hearing.”
The NLRB was created by the Wagner Act of 1935 and is charged with protecting workers’ rights to unionize and collectively bargain with employers. It consists of up to five politically appointed board members. At the moment, there are only three members of the board—all pro-business Republican lawyers.
Under the new NLRB rules, not only must workers who have asked for a certification election wait fourteen days for a hearing, but the board also has the power to postpone pre-election hearings any time they find “good cause.” After a two-week waiting period for a hearing, the scope of the bargaining unit and the eligibility of individual employees to vote in a certification election is subject to litigation. These changes put unions at a major disadvantage, since employers now have more time to inundate workers with anti-union propaganda in the lead-up to an election.
As Lewis noted, if a union looks like it might manage to win a certification vote, “the unelected NLRB now has the ability to suspend the election to resolve any ongoing disputes over the bargaining unit.” Moreover, recent changes to NLRB rules make it easier to decertify legally recognized collective bargaining units.
Though these NLRB rule changes erect yet more “legal hurdles” to workers seeking to form a union, Lewis wrote that businesses seeking to prevent their workers from unionizing “can also simply break the law.” He cited a 2019 Economic Policy Institute study that found more than 40 percent of employers in union certification elections resort to “unfair labor practices aimed at undermining electoral procedures and retaliating against pro-union workers.”
There has been no corporate news coverage of the changes to the NLRB regulations governing union elections. Aside from articles in independent media outlets Truthout and Common Dreams, the only coverage of the NLRB’s rule changes has come from two legal news sites, Bloomberg Law and the National Law Review, that reported in detail on the NLRB’s actions and included additional information about how the new rules overturn Obama-era regulations designed to streamline union election procedures.
Jessica Corbett, “Progressives Blast New NLRB Union Elections Rule That ‘Betrays the Workers It is Meant to Protect,’” Common Dreams, December 13, 2019, https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/12/13/progressives-blast-new-nlrb-union-elections-rule-betrays-workers-it-meant-protect.
William Lewis, “Trump Labor Board Escalates War on Workers’ Rights,” Left Voice, December 19. 2019, https://www.leftvoice.org/trump-labor-board-escalates-war-on-workers-rights; republished by Truthout, December 21, 2019, https://truthout.org/articles/trump-labor-board-escalates-war-on-workers-rights/.
Lynn Rhinehart, “Under Trump the NLRB Has Gone Completely Rogue,” The Nation, April 7, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/nlrb-workers-rights-trump/.
Student Researcher: Cem Ismail Addemir (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)