A proposed federal rule requiring job site posters that outline a worker’s right to join a union will have little effect if nobody reads the signs.
According to the poster written by the Department of Labor, workers have the right to join a union and, when off the clock, to attend rallies or distribute union pamphlets. The poster would be required on federal project sites and would encourage workers to file National Labor Relations Board complaints if employers violate labor laws by, for example, questioning employees about union activities.
“I’m not going to turn cartwheels over that one,” said Scott Vaughn, executive director of the Building and Construction Trades Council of South Central Wisconsin. “But it helps.”
A poster quoting federal labor law is not likely to attract the attention of many construction workers, said John Schmitt, business manager for Laborers Local 113 in Milwaukee. He said every person who joins Local 113 gets a book about organizing rights, but that does not mean it makes a difference.
“I don’t think it would have any (effect),” Schmitt said. “Half the guys probably won’t even read it.”
But Thad Steinke, organizing director for Operating Engineers Local 139, Pewaukee, said he has noticed that many workers do not know their organizing rights. Posting those rights on the wall at the work site could give workers more confidence when trying to join unions, he said. The posters also could encourage more NLRB complaints, Steinke said.
“Absolutely it would,” he said. “Once they realize the protection levels under the labor laws are available to them, Americans want to exercise their rights.”
The poster requirement is the latest point of contention between management and labor groups over changes in federal policy that will make it easier to organize companies.
“This notice-posting mandate is going to be the steppingstone and the frontrunner to other law changes,” Steinke said.
Whether the posters will attract many eyes on construction sites is secondary to how the requirement fits into a broader shift in federal policy, said Robert Hirsch, director of legal and regulatory affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.
“All of these really are going toward the promotion of the whole labor-relations issues and with the promotion of an ultimate outcome, which is employers should be organized,” Hirsch said. “And we don’t agree with that.”
Hirsch said the ABC is reviewing the wording on the poster to see if it encourages organizing. The association will submit a comment to the Department of Labor about the rules before the public comment period closes Sept. 2, he said.
Vaughn said the poster requirement is a relatively minor change dwarfed by the federal Employee Free Choice Act. The proposed law, which unions support, would eliminate the requirement that the NLRB supervise a vote among company employees to decide whether to join a union.
“I don’t think you can have too many work forces organizing, myself,” Vaughn said. “I worked as an organizer for Operating Engineers 317 in Milwaukee, and it had been a tough, uphill fight.”