Employment LawScene Alert: NLRB Issues New Rules for Union Elections

On Monday, December 15, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued rules that will speed up the union election process.  Although the rules do not take effect until April 14, 2015, employers should be aware of them and start preparing for the changes now.

Under the current rules, representation petitions are filed seeking to have the NLRB conduct an election to determine if employees wish to be represented by a union for the purposes of collective bargaining with their employer.  The Board then investigates these petitions to determine if an election should be conducted and will direct the election, if appropriate.  There is  currently a 25-day minimum period of time between the filing of a petition and the date of an election.  Parties must agree prior to the election on the voting unit and other issues.   If the parties do not agree, the 25-day minimum can be extended in order to hold a pre-election hearing and, if necessary, a post-election hearing.  Currently, that date as to when the pre- and post-election hearings are held can vary by Region. Also, under current rules, parties are not required to identify all specific issues in dispute, and litigation on voter eligibility and inclusion can occur prior to the determination of whether an election should be held.

Under the new NLRB rules, the road to a representation election will be substantially different and quicker. There will no longer be a minimum time frame between the date of the petition and the date of the election.  This means that since representation elections will happen more quickly and with a shortened time frame to an election; and employers will be severely limited in their ability to properly and effectively communicate with their employees about the pros and cons of union representation. While the NLRB did not specify any date certain as to when an election must be conducted, under the new expedited election rules, it is anticipated that an election will now occur between 10 and 21 days after the filing of a petition as compared with the current 38 to 45 day time frame.

Now petitions can be filed and transmitted between the parties electronically. With the filing of a representation petition, the petitioning union must also file a letter of position and evidence that employees support the petition (the “showing of interest”). Upon receipt, an employer must post and distribute to employees an NLRB notice about the petition and the potential for an election to follow.

The regional director will now set a pre-election hearing eight (8) days after a petition is filed. The purpose of the pre-election hearing is limited in scope and is designed to determine whether there is a “question of representation.” Employers will be required to file a letter of position prior to the pre-election hearing identifying all issues that the employer wishes to litigate before the election. In addition, employers must also provide a list of the names, shifts, work locations, and job classifications of the employees in the petitioned-for unit, and any other employees that it seeks to add to the unit based upon a community of interests. Based upon the evidence presented at the hearing, the regional director will decide whether an election should be held and which, if any, voter eligibility questions should be litigated prior to the election.

If an election is directed, the regional director will ordinarily transmit the notice of election at the same time as the direction of election and will specify in the direction of election the election details, such as the date, time, place and type of election and the payroll period for eligibility. An election date will be set for the earliest date practicable. Now there is a new Excelsior list requirement as an employer, within two (2) days after a direction of election is issued (as opposed to seven (7) days under the previous rules), must provide a list of employees eligible to vote that now must include employees’ personal phone numbers and email addresses, if available.

The NLRB regional office will then conduct the election and, if necessary, hold a post-election hearing to resolve any challenges to voters’ eligibility and objections to the conduct of the election or conduct affecting the results of the election.  While objections to voter eligibility had been a pre-election issue, it will now be held off until after the election in the event that the objection becomes moot.  However, any issues not raised in the employer’s position statement will most likely be considered waived by the NLRB.  The post-election hearing will be scheduled 14 days after the filings of objections.

Although there is already a pending legal challenge to the new NLRB rule, a suit filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several trade associations, and there are likely to be others, employers should prepare for these rules to be enforced as the NLRB’s new rules are game changers for employers. Employers will have less time to effectively communicate with their employees and employees will have less time formulate their true desires as to whether union representation serves their best interests.

Importantly, employers should not wait until an election petition is filed to address workplace issues that may lead to a representation petition being filed.  Employers will need to be proactive in informing their employees about their stance on union-related issues and making sure that employees feel that their concerns are being heard and addressed by the employer.  Employers should also train supervisors to be aware of issues that could lead to employees’ desire to unionize. If an employer anticipates or suspects that any type of union organizing activities is occurring within its workplace, delaying a response is no longer a viable option.  Now, employers will be required to immediately begin the process of drafting communications to employees upon any indication of organizing activities and devise a sound and lawful strategy as to how it will confront any attempt to organize well before a petition is filed. Waiting to act until a petition is filed may be too late!

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