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Union Deauthorization and Recertification Gains Employees Freedom in the Workplace

In today’s highly fluid workforce, employees require the freedom to associate or disassociate with labor unions in a timely manner. But for disgruntled union employees, breaking away from union representation (a process known as decertification) can be impossible. According to Russ Brown, unions, often with help from the NLRB, can circumvent a decertification vote simply by renewing their contract with the employer before the 30-day voting window opens. Arkansas bus drivers in Pulaski County are experiencing the challenges of union decertification firsthand: the PASS union that represents them is refusing to honor their resignations, citing a 15-day window in July in which the resignations must be received. In California, the state teachers’ union sued its local affiliate in Modesto for trying to decertify, calling the vote “illegal.” (The Modesto Teachers Association ultimately voted to retain its affiliation with the state union.) Decertification is also being attempted in Los Angeles, where employees of the “El Super” grocery chain have voted to decertify the United Food and Commercial Workers union after the UFCW rejected the company’s offer of higher wages and increased benefits for employees. The UFCW, which is advocating for more hours for full-time employees, sick leave, higher pay, and lower costs for health insurance justified the rejection of El Super’s offer by claiming that it was insufficient. In the past, the NLRB has upheld that employees can only file decertification paperwork during a narrow window of time, even ruling that workers must continue to pay their union dues because they submitted decertification paperwork too early! Decertification should not be so hard for workers who no longer desire union representation, especially in a democracy that values freedom of association. Fortunately, there is a way around decertification: Russ Brown describes a little-known tactic called de-authorization, which employees can use to remove their unions’ security clause (which would enable them to stop paying any more union dues). The Employee Rights Act would also provide much-needed flexibility for union members in the workforce because it would require a recertification election every time a union undergoes change such as a merger or a high turnover of members. A recertification election would foster democracy in the workplace, since less than 10 percent of union members actually vote for representation. One of the benefits of both deauthorization elections and recertification elections is that unions cannot impose 30- or 15-day windows on them. Workers who find themselves in the same positions as the Pulaski County bus drivers or the El Super employees could use deauthorization and recertification elections to gain freedom in the workplace.