Unions Want Electronic NLRB Elections Added To Virus Relief

By Danielle Nichole Smith
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Law360 (May 6, 2020, 7:54 PM EDT) -- A coalition of unions urged Congress on Wednesday to "correct a mistake made in past legislation" and direct the National Labor Relations Board to develop a system for conducting union elections electronically in future bills addressing the coronavirus outbreak.

The AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers and others said in their letter that while the COVID-19 crisis made workers' right to organize "more important than ever," the pandemic also made it "extraordinarily difficult" for them to form unions. Holding in-person elections is impractical given social distancing guidelines, and a number of employers had already objected to mail ballot elections, according to the unions.

"Workers across the country are now being forced into horrifying circumstances like unemployment, underemployment, or working in dangerous conditions, often without proper safety equipment and standards," the unions said. "Especially in these conditions, workers must have the right to have a meaningful say in their working conditions and standards."

The unions argued that it didn't make sense to "deny workers access to a safe and efficient process for conducting representation elections" given the circumstances, noting that the National Mediation Board, which was established by the Railway Labor Act, has held representation elections electronically for more than a decade.

The letter asked the lawmakers to "correct a mistake made in past legislation that precludes NLRB representation elections from being held electronically."

"The next COVID-19 response bill must include funding and direction to implement the changes needed for the NLRB to adopt an electronic representation election process," the unions said.

The unions aren't alone in calling for the change. In April, a bipartisan group of 168 lawmakers led by U.S. Reps. Andy Levin, D-Mich., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., asked Congress to pave the way for electronic elections at the NLRB in its future coronavirus-related legislation.

Craig Becker, the general counsel to the AFL-CIO, told Law360 on Wednesday that the lawmakers' request "makes all the sense in the world."

Becker was a member of the NLRB when Congress placed the appropriations rider restricting the agency from using funds for electronic representation elections, he said. The rider resulted from a simple request for information about electronic voting, Becker said. 

"The rider ought to be lifted, and the board ought to have, as a tool, the ability to conduct elections electronically," Becker said. "It just makes sense."

In addition to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, SEIU and UFCW, 11 other unions signed the Wednesday letter.  

The NLRB declined to comment Wednesday.

--Editing by Haylee Pearl.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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