A new report from the Institute for the American Worker (I4AW) details the ways in which the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), employers, and union executives are changing the workplace without much input from the workers themselves.
The NLRB is the enforcement body established under the National Labor Relations Act. The board consists of five members, the majority of which usually share the political values of the president. So when leadership in Washington changes, so does labor law enforcement by the NLRB. For example, last year Gwynne A. Wilcox, Jennifer Ann Abruzzo, and David M. Prouty were nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate to give the NLRB a liberal majority. Unsurprisingly, all three members come from a big labor background.
The new NLRB members have already signaled their intent to change how things are done. Here are just a few areas they may target:
- Employer Speech Restrictions: Employers are already heavily restricted in what they can tell their employees when a union tries to organize. While unions can promise increased wages and improved benefits (even though they have no guarantees of either), employers are very limited in what they can say about the union. The new NLRB members, especially Abruzzo, have signaled support for even tighter restrictions on employer speech. The I4AW report warned that this could leave workers in a rut knowing only one-half of the union/employer argument.
- Election Shake-Ups: Before the pandemic, the NLRB consistently supported in-person elections. But when Covid hit, mail-in and electronic voting options were allowed. The NLRB appears to want to keep this trend alive, despite concerns about ballot harvesting or other aggressive solicitation by unions.
- Card Checks Continue: Unlike secret ballot elections, public card checks open the door for intimidation and other public pressure for workers. While unions love to use this tactic to organize, workers may enjoy the privacy of a secret ballot when deciding on union representation. The NLRB is set to decide a major case regarding card check votes. If they vote the way unions would like them to vote, it could make it even easier for unions to claim a majority vote with card check elections.
If these trends continue to play out, many workers may ask themselves if the NLRB is there to protect their rights, or to protect the union bosses who are already in power. One big way to protect workers would be for Congress to pass legislation like the Employee Rights Act (ERA). This bill provides several safeguards against union coercion and other tactics, as well as guarantees workers a secret ballot election when it comes to union organizing.