It's Christmas for Labor Unions
Despite workers' overwhelmingly choosing to not to join unions, as seen in an all-time low union membership rate of 6.6 percent in the private sector, the National Labor Relations Board has given union bosses so many gifts lately it seems like Christmas. Many rules and decisions over the past year give an unfair advantage to labor unions at the expense of workers' freedom of choice.
In April, the NLRB implemented a regulation for union-representation elections. Under the new rule, the time frame between the filing of a petition and the date on which an election is conducted is reduced to as little as 14 days. The short time frame gives employees little time to educate themselves on the pros and cons of unionization. Workers should get as much time as they need to inform themselves about an important decision that impacts their pay, benefits, and work conditions.
This "ambush election" rule also poses a serious threat to worker privacy. It compels employers to provide employees' contact information to union organizers, including personal cellphone numbers, e-mail addresses, and work schedules, without any opportunity for workers to opt out. This will almost certainly expose workers to harassment, intimidation, and even identity theft.
And there was no need for this change. Before the NLRB's ruling, the median time between the filing of an election petition by a union and the holding of the election was 38 days, hardly an unreasonable delay.
Another decision handed down recently targets workers' wallets directly. The board overturned a 50-year precedent last month when it ruled that a housing and nursing service center for the elderly must continue to deduct union dues from the paychecks of workers who had authorized such deductions — even though the contract those dues supported has expired.
The ruling too has no practical justification. Nothing prohibits workers from paying union dues themselves if they choose. The decision is just another example of this federal agency tilting the labor-relations playing field in favor of labor unions.
Yet another way the NLRB has restricted workers' freedom of association is by making the removal of a union an extremely arduous, seemingly impossible, process, as I detailed in this space last month. In Alabama, it took workers at Hamilton NTN-Bower plant five votes over a two-year period to decertify the United Auto Workers as their monopoly bargaining representative. The reason for so many votes? The NLRB considered the previous attempts invalid after the UAW disputed the results. A majority of workers voted to remove the UAW in four of the five elections. In the only election that the UAW won, 148 votes were cast while there were only 140 eligible voters.
And in late August, the NLRB presented its latest gift to Big Labor. In the Browning-Ferris case, the agency ruled that companies may be held liable for labor violations committed by other employers they contract with, including temporary staffing agencies, contractors, and franchisors. The decision gives unions the ability to drag the parent corporation — say, McDonald's instead of the local franchise owner — to the bargaining table, and the legal capability to picket, protest, and boycott third parties who were previously protected from such activity.
The change would disrupt many kinds of beneficial business arrangements. That''s an unfortunate result, since these employment relationships have been a bright spot for U.S. job growth. For example, the temporary workforce hit an all-time high of over 2 percent of the total private-sector workforce in 2014, and franchise businesses accounted for 10 percent of new jobs created in 2013 and 2014.
It is important to remember that Congress constructed the NLRB as a neutral arbiter to represent the public interest in labor disputes, not as the litigation arm of Big Labor. Workers deserve better. It is up to Congress to rein in the NLRB and ensure it protects worker rights. One remedy available to Congress is to withhold funding for the enforcement of the most harmful policy coming out of the NLRB.
Trey Kovacs is a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.