Although, like everyone else, the personnel at the NLRB have been consumed with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on daily operations, including the ability of its Regional Offices to function and serve the public, the Board nevertheless continues moving forward on non-COVID-19 matters as well.

On March 31, 2020, the NLRB announced it had finalized three amendments to its rules and regulations regarding union election and recognition procedures.  The rule was finalized on April 1, 2020, and will take effect on May 31, 2020.

The Board implemented the final rules with minor modifications from the proposed rules published on August 12, 2019 (which we reported on here) based on the 80 comments it received.  The rules are intended to “better protect employees’ statutory right of free choice on questions concerning representation.”

The Board also published a fact sheet that provides a helpful summary of the final rules and the differences from the originally-proposed rules.

The key takeaways from each of the three final rules are discussed below, including the changes from the original notices of proposed rulemaking from last year.

Replacing the Blocking Charge Policy to Expedite the Election by Implementing Vote-and-Impound or Vote-and-Count

A major criticism of the current election rules has been the ability of (mostly) the petitioning union to block, sometimes for months or years, an election based on the filing of charges alleging that the employer committed unfair labor practices.  The process for investigation and resolution of the charges could leave employees in limbo as to a decision.

Now, the final rule eliminates the ability of a party to block an election merely by filing charges.  Despite a pending ULP charge, the election will proceed as scheduled, and the votes will either be impounded (i.e., not counted) or counted, depending on the nature of the alleged unfair labor practice:

  • Vote-and-Impound: Where the party alleges a violation of 8(a)(1) and (2) or 8(b)(1)(A) that challenges the circumstances surrounding the petition or the showing of interest submitted in support of the petition; or where an employer has allegedly dominated a union in violation of 8(a)(2) in order to disestablish a bargaining relationship.
  • Voteand-Count: All other unfair labor practice charges.

Importantly, regardless of the nature of the charge, the certification of results, including, where appropriate, a certification of representative, will not issue until the ULPs are finally disposed of, and the effect on the election is determined.

Changes from Proposed Rule in Final Rule:  The August 2019 proposed rule established the vote-and-impound procedure for all ULPs, whereas now, only those ULPs that address the very legitimacy of the election process necessitate a vote-and-impound procedure.  As a result, for most ULP charges, the election results will be publicized to all interested parties, and even though the election results will not be certified until the ULPs are resolved, the union will know whether it was acting “with the support of or in the teeth of employee’ wishes,” which the Board hopes will facilitate settlement between the parties.

Reinstating Dana Corp. Challenges to Voluntary Recognition

In Lamons Gasket, Co., 357 NLRB 739 (2011), the Board, overruling Dana Corp., 351 NLRB 434 (2007), established that an employer’s voluntary recognition of a union immediately barred the filing of an election petition for between 6 months to one year after the parties’ first bargaining session.

Now, the Board has overruled Lamons and reinstated Dana Corp., providing that where an employer voluntarily recognizes a union pursuant to NLRA Section 9(a), it must post a notice to its employees reflecting the same, and employees may challenge such recognition if they petition for a secret-ballot election within 45 days thereafter.  If no petition is filed during the 45-day notice period, the voluntary recognition bar would operate for “a reasonable period of time” afterwards.

Changes from Proposed Rule in Final Rule:  Unlike in the proposed rule from August 2019, the final rule:

  • Applies only to an employer’s voluntary recognition on or after the effective date of the rule, and only to the first collective bargaining agreement reached after such voluntary recognition;
  • Permits either the employer or the union to notify the NLRB Regional Office that recognition has been granted (the prior rule required both parties to do so);
  • Specifies the employer’s notice to employees advising them of the 45-day notice period must be posted “in conspicuous places, including all places where notices to employees are customarily posted”;
  • Eliminates the rule’s specific reference in the notice as to the right to file a “decertification or rival-union petition” and just refers to a “petition”;
  • Requires an employer to distribute the notice to unit employees electronically if the employer customarily communicates with its employees by such means; and
  • Provides the wording of the notice to employees.

For Construction Industry Employers, Requiring Evidence of Majority Employee Support for Section 9(a) Recognition in Addition to Contractual Language

In the construction industry, NLRA Section 8(f) allows employers and unions to form a collective bargaining relationship through what are often called “pre-hire” agreements, even absent the support of a majority of employees.  8(f) relationships last as long as the term of the contract, unless the parties agree to extend.  All other employer/union relationships, which are formed pursuant to NLRA Section 9(a), last indefinitely, even after the CBA term expires, unless the union no longer maintains majority support of the workforce.

Under Staunton Fuel, 335 NLRB 717 (2001), a union could convert a Section 8(f) agreement with a construction industry employer to a “full” Section 9(a) agreement through contract language alone – e.g., by including language in the CBA that agreement was subject to Section 9(a) of the NLRA and the union has majority support of the bargaining unit.  Indeed, many unions have insisted on such language in construction industry agreements to maintain their foothold on the relationship.

The Board’s final rule overrules Staunton, and conditions Section 9(a) status on “positive evidence” that the union demanded recognition, which was accepted by the employer and supported by a majority of the employees.  The Board clarified that the required “positive evidence” would be the same showing necessary for unions in non-construction industries to establish recognition.  In other words, contract language alone is insufficient.

Changes from Proposed Rule in Final Rule:  Importantly, like the voluntary recognition bar amendment, the Board clarified that this rule applies only to voluntary recognition extended or any CBA entered into on or after the effective date of the rule, as the Board hoped to minimize the impact on longstanding bargaining relationships.  As a result, construction industry employers with existing CBAs referencing NLRA Section 9(a) cannot rely on this final rule to transform their collective bargaining relationship with the union to 8(f).

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The Board’s finalization of these rules addressing union election procedures continues its mission of adopting the principles set out in its ambitious rule making agenda from May 2019.

Already, the Board has updated the representation-case procedures that are expected to go into effect on May 31, 2020; and announced a proposed rule regarding the “employee” status of students, and accepted all comments as of February 28, 2020.  All that is left from the May 2019 agenda is a proposed rule regarding the standards for access to an employer’s private property.

As always, we will continue to monitor any developments and keep you updated.