Labour regulations watchdog says that latest reforms by the Trump administration will make it harder for workers to organise into unions.
Workers in the United States have been dealt a blow to organising efforts by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), continuing a series of blows to labour in the US, according to a DC think-tank.
The NLRB, which oversees the implementation of the National Labor Relations Act, a law passed in 1935 that gave most private sector workers the right to form unions, announced a new rule on union elections, the first step in unionisation at workplaces across the US, that gives extra time to employers in the process.
Under the previous NLRB rule, pre-election hearings were scheduled to start within eight calendar days, or one business week, from the notice of the hearing. Now, it’s 14 business days, or just under three weeks, and “regional directors will have discretion to postpone the opening of the hearing for good cause”, the NLRB said in its rule.
The NLRB’s new rule, set to enter the Federal Register on December 18, taking effect 120 days later, will “will make it harder for workers who want a union in their workplace to demand a fair election”, Celine McNicholas, the Economic Policy Institute’s director of government affairs and labour counsel, said in a statement delivered to TRT World that decried the move “betrays” workers, many of whom voted President Donald Trump into the White House.
‘Unfair’ labour practice
Most unions in the US receive legal recognition through an election process, whereby workers vote on whether to support unionisation through secret ballots, following campaigns from supporters and detractors of the union.
The changes instituted will allow for delays in these elections, according the EPI, which describes itself as a nonpartisan think-tank that works to include low- and middle-income workers into policy discussions, that will afford employers more time to “campaign” against unions in these elections.
The EPIs research found that campaigns may not be the only thing about which pro-union workers should worry. The EPI requested a trove of documents from the US Labor Department and found that “unfair labor practice charges were filed against employers in four out of ten union representation elections that took place in 2016 and 2017”.
These charges included illegal coercion, disciplinary action, and firing against workers interested in unionisation.
The number of cases increased to 54.4 percent when the number of workers attempting to unionise was over 60, the EPI said.
“This rule does nothing to address these issues and instead gives employers more time to threaten, coerce, and retaliate against workers trying to organise”, McNicholas said.
Heralding a return to prosperity for American workers was a large part of the foundation on which Trump ran his 2016 campaign, which succeed thanks in large part to voters in the “Rust Belt,” a section of the US that was once home to the country’s formidable manufacturing industry, that has seen many jobs move overseas.
Many union voters went for Trump in 2016, allowing him to win Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, important swing-states for the US presidency, including a quarter of the roughly 400,000-person United Automobile Workers (UAW) union, Forbes reported.
Democrats are attempting to win back union workers like those in the UAW, though they must contend with a strong economy shepherded by the Trump administration.
Unions on the decline
While some union members support the president, Trump has stated that he prefers “right-to-work” measures over unions and businesses that bear his name have disputed union election results, most recently at the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.
The results were accepted in 2016 and the culinary union was afforded a contract from 2017 through 2021.
Right-to-work legislation bars unions from creating security agreements with employers that require their workers to either join the union or pay its fees.
Labour union membership is on the decline in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2018, 14.7m US workers were members of unions, or 10.5 percent of the workforce, down from 20.1 percent or 17.7m in 1983.
The decline in US union membership has coincided with one of the US’s largest periods of growing wage inequality, prompting some to draw a correlation between the two.
The NLRB did not immediately respond to TRT World’s request or comment on the new rule, which the EPI noted was submitted without a public comment period.
“These are common sense changes to ensure expeditious elections that are fair and efficient … to the benefit of all parties”, NLRB Chairman John F Ring said in a statement.
But for EPI’s McNicholas, it doesn’t represent a win for both sides: “This is just the most recent example of the Trump NLRB elevating corporate interests above those of working people.”