In the past year, the National Labor Relations Board has taken a series of controversial moves making it easier for organized labor to unionize workers in the retail industry and other businesses, overturning decades of well-established federal labor law. Included are new regulations allowing “ambush” union organizing elections to be held in as little as 14 days after a union seeks a vote rather than the current average of about five weeks for most elections. “Micro-unions” that selectively organize certain departments or employees within a company can now be formed. And a still-pending proposal would require companies to hand over workers’ home addresses, personal telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses to union organizers.
The new rules are similar to key elements of the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill rejected by Congress in 2007, which would have replaced government-supervised secret ballot union organizing elections with a “card check” process where a union would be recognized if a majority of workers merely signed union cards. Despite the defeat of the legislation, unions vowed to see its goals implemented administratively, and critics have called current developments “backdoor card check.”
Why It Matters to Retailers
Faced with years of declining membership in their traditional strongholds such as manufacturing, union leaders have made it clear that they want to target traditionally non-union industries. Among these is retail, where approximately 5 percent of employees are union members. In fact, one of the first unionization efforts to emerge since the NLRB’s micro-union ruling is the current attempt by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to organize workers in the women’s shoe department at Bergdorf Goodman’s landmark store in New York City. If micro unions are allowed to go forward, retailers could be faced with a different union at each store in a retail chain, or different unions within each department of a store.
NRF Leads Retail Efforts to Overturn NLRB Actions
NRF supports workplace rules that promote workplace flexibility and economic growth, while opposing onerous policies that intrude on business operations, undermine employees’ privacy rights, and often lead to unnecessary costs for retailers.
NRF chairs the lobbying committee of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which was formed to block the Employee Free Choice Act. The coalition brought a lawsuit late last year arguing that the ambush election regulations are unconstitutional and go beyond the board’s authority under the National Labor Relations Act. A federal judge overturned the regulations this May on the technical grounds that they were adopted without a quorum. The NLRB is expected to re-pass the regulations, which could lead to a ruling on the merits of the case.
In addition, NRF and the coalition have filed an amicus brief before the NLRB in the Bergdorf Goodman case, arguing that the board’s decision to allow micro-unions was legally flawed. NRF has also strongly supported a variety of congressional efforts to overturn the NLRB actions.