Social distancing and stay-at-home orders won’t stop elections to unionize workplaces.
The National Labor Relations Board bowed to pressure from union leaders and their allies in Congress to end the COVID-19 suspension of elections and allow votes to proceed beginning Friday.
The move opens the door to high-stakes balloting to unionize workers at Southern California Edison outside Los Angeles and Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant in Glen Rose, Texas.
Those are two of the big ones but NLRB oversees about 100 workplace elections each month, according to board’s 2019 tally.
The decision to allow the elections, the details of which will be worked out at the board’s regional offices, comes as the NLRB orders its workers to stay home to avoid spreading the coronavirus that has virtually shut down business in America.
NLRB Chairman John F. Ring said the board’s general counsel advised that appropriate measures are available to permit elections to resume safely and effectively.
“Conducting representation elections is core to the NLRB’s mission, and ensuring elections are carried out safely and effectively is one of our primary responsibilities,” he said. “We appreciate the patience and understanding of all NLRB stakeholders during this challenging time.”
The Republican-majority NLRB was targeted by an intense pressure campaign to restore the elections since the board suspended voting March 19 because of the virus.
“It is hard to imagine this wasn’t a factor in their decision,” said Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation that advocates for non-union workers.
Rep. Bobby Scott, Virginia Democrat and House Education and Labor Committee chairman, prodded the board just before it decided this week to restore workplace voting.
He said workers need union representation now more than ever to fight for safe working conditions amid the pandemic.
“Employers around the country are making important decisions regarding terms and conditions of employment, such as safety standards and access to paid leave, and employees are petitioning for union representation in order to collectively bargain over these issues,” Mr. Scott wrote to the board.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka made a similar appeal to the board.
“Right now, union representation is critical in the midst of the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis, with workers facing unsafe conditions, layoffs and intense uncertainty,” he said. “So long as the NLRB is not conducting elections, we call on the Board to demand that all employers similarly suspend their anti-union campaigns.”
≈The board’s decision also cleared the way for decertification votes in which workers petition to kick unions out. But the vast majority of workplace elections are about whether to let unions in.
In 2019, 1,059 workplaces held unionizing elections and 157 workplaces held decertification votes, according to NLRB records.
“This is more about union power and their ability to force workers into their ranks and into forced union dues than it really is about fairness to workers,” Mr. Semmens said. “They have shown again and again that they will do whatever they can to stop workers from taking a vote when that vote is about removing a union.”