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New rules would speed up union elections

By Sam Hananel
Associated Press

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addresses collective bargaining bill protesters at the state Capitol in Madison on Feb. 18. Trumka praised new plans announced Tuesday calling for quicker union elections, saying it "a common sense approach to clean up an outdated system." (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Michael P. King)

Washington — Labor regulators are proposing sweeping new rules that dramatically would speed up the time frame for union†elections, a move that could make it easier for struggling unions to organize new members, and cut the time businesses have to mount anti-union campaigns.

The National Labor Relations Board announced the new rules Tuesday, saying the current rules build in unnecessary delays and encourage wasteful litigation.

The proposal is expected to irritate Republicans and business groups who have complained about the board’s pro-labor actions.

Most labor elections take place within 45-60 days after a union gathers enough signatures to file a petition, a time many companies use to discourage workers from unionizing. The new plan could cut that time by days or even weeks — depending on the case — by simplifying procedures, deferring litigation and setting shorter deadlines for hearings and filings.

But it does not impose a specific deadline for elections, as many labor leaders had hoped. Canada, for example, requires such elections to take place in as little as 5 to 10 days.

Board chairwoman Wilma Liebman said the plan would lead to rules that were simpler and clearer, removing unnecessary delays and avoiding wasteful litigation.

“Resolving representation questions quickly, fairly, and accurately has been an overriding goal of American labor law for more than 75 years,” she said.

Passage would be a victory for labor unions that long have complained about employers using procedural delays and litigation to hold up elections and intimidate workers. Some employers hire so-called “union busting” consulting firms to produce videotapes, draft talking points or create brochures to deter unionizing.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka praised the plan, calling it “a common sense approach to clean up an outdated system.”

“Our current system has become a broken, bureaucratic maze that stalls and stymies workers’ choices,” Trumka said. “The proposed rule does not address many of the fundamental problems with our labor laws, but it will help bring critically needed fairness and balance to this part of the process.”

The proposal was approved by the board’s majority, led 3-1 by Democrats. The board’s lone Republican, Brian Hayes, issued a vigorous dissent, saying the proposal would result in the type of “quickie elections” union leaders long have sought. Hayes claimed elections could be held in as little as 10 to 21 days from the filing of a petition, giving employers less of a chance to make their case.

“Make no mistake, the principal purpose for this radical manipulation of our election process is to minimize or, rather, to effectively eviscerate an employer’s legitimate opportunity to express its views about collective bargaining,” Hayes wrote.

Glenn Spencer, an executive director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the plan would interfere with basic management decisions.

“Cutting short the election period aims to tip the scale in favor of union organizing by curtailing employers’ free speech rights and preventing workers from hearing both sides of the story,” Spencer said.

The board will take 75 days to review comments and replies before making a decision on whether the rule should become final.

Union membership steadily has declined from about 20 percent in the 1980s to just to 11.9 percent of all workers, and just 6.9 percent of the private sector. Many members blame increasingly aggressive anti-union tactics, but they have tried without success to beef up federal penalties for what they say are growing instances of intimidation and threats against workers.

Labor leaders made a major push in 2009 for Congress to pass so-called “card check” legislation that would have increased penalties for such violations and made it easier for unions to organize workers by signing cards instead of holding secret-ballot elections. But the measure failed to garner a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Since then, labor has pinned its hopes for a revival on action at the NLRB, the Labor Department and other sympathetic administrative agencies.

The board has not disappointed. It has cracked down on businesses that fire employees during union organizing drives and proposed rules that would require all business to display posters explaining union rights. In perhaps the most prominent case, the NLRB’s acting general counsel filed a controversial lawsuit this year that accused Boeing Co. of retaliating against union workers in Washington state by placing a new assembly line for the Dreamliner 787 in South Carolina, a right-to-work state.

The proposed rule could be another step in helping unions halt the membership decline and organize more workers.

It would:

• Allow electronic filing of petitions and other documents to speed up processing.
• Set pre-election hearings to begin 7 days after a petition is filed.
• Defer litigation of eligibility issues involving less than 20 percent of the bargaining unit until after the election.
• Eliminate pre-election appeals of rulings by an NLRB regional director.
• Reduce from 7 to 2 days the time for an employer to provide an electronic list of eligible voters.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


  1. Union leaders are angry, dishonest, coercive, mean spirited and a socialist cancer on our society.
    We finally are doing away with the public employee unions.

  2. You’d be angry, too, if you had to work for dishonest, coercive, mean spirited, ‘capitalist’ pig employers who make 2,000 times what their average wage earner employee makes in a year and then begrudge decent healthcare and other benefits. And you wonder why workers are upset.

  3. Sudsy – that is exactly the point. This is a free country, if workers are so upset with their “capitalist” pig employers, they can simply leave and join a union company. There they can push for unsustainable benefits that will drive the company into bankruptcy or force them to move to SC or Mexico in order to compete and then they become an unemployment statistic (generalizing).

    Unions were instrumental in protecting labor in the past. However, in today’s society, there are laws well enforced to protect employees rights – unions are no longer required, so in order to protect themselves, they have morphed into a pollitical bully where their only source of revenue is taking wages from the working man. I believe the continual decline of union membership can be mostly attributed to this becoming more evident.

    “Probably the greatest harm done by vast wealth is the harm that we of moderate means do ourselves when we let the vices of envy and hatred enter deep into our own natures”
    – Theodore Roosevelt

  4. Chuck,

    The public unions are not being done away with. Since the workers gained the freedom of choice, the unions simply need to show how those dues are worth it to the rank and file. If the unions are such a great service for the workers, they should have no problem doing that, right?

  5. The newest statistics show private employer unions is around 9% while public unions are around 33%.

  6. EC – You clearly do not live on the same planet. Single employees will never have the same power to bargain with their employer who holds the greater power. Only when employees join together do they begin to share equal power with the employer, and therefore, command attention and bring fairer treatment for individual employees. This is as true today as it was in 1930. We are learning very quickly (see the current budget bill for the example that civil service protections will be able to be over-ridden/ superceded) that laws created 30 or 50 or 75 years ago to protect employees are as nothing and can quickly disappear. You really need to wake up.

  7. Sudsy
    I will pay you $150.00 an hour , heck you can name your hourly rate or salary, all you have to do is drag these contracts in the door , if I can make enough to pay your salary and cover the overhead heck bring twenty of your best buddies as well.

    You can demand any amount of pay, problem is nobody will be profitable, if you make 200,000 a year but have not worked in 3 years it all becomes mute. But in the public sector government will just run a defecit or squeeze the already unemployed more in taxes.
    If your working and collecting a wage and bennies be happy, nobody will feel your pain if you lose some contract language, many families out there struggling, people just want to work, feed the family, pay for the house, with no strings attached.

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