Unions, frustrated by steadily declining membership, believe workers should hear only from union advocates during organizing drives. They believe management should remain “neutral” — that is, silent. Any messages from management, they argue, interfere with workers’ rights to form a union and therefore constitute “union busting.”
The National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency charged with enforcing union laws, agrees. In a memo to the board released in April, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo called on the NLRB to prohibit employers from holding mandatory meetings with employees on unionization. “This license to coerce (attendance) is an anomaly in labor law, inconsistent with the (National Labor Relations) Act’s protection of employees’ free choice. It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights,” she argued. The board hasn’t formally responded to the request.
Abruzzo, a former top lawyer with the Communications Workers of America, also called on the agency to unilaterally adopt “card check” rules for all union elections. Under current rules, unions can demand recognition once they can present management with cards signed by a majority of workers. Management can request a secret ballot election overseen by the NLRB to verify the union’s claim.
Prohibiting management from making that request would effectively end secret ballot votes in most union certification elections. Management typically uses the lead-up time to an election to make the case against a union. Card check would take that time away. The board hasn’t formally responded to this request either.
In October, the NLRB hit Amazon CEO Andy Jassy with an interference complaint for telling CNBC that unionized workers would find their workplaces “more bureaucratic” with less individual autonomy and for telling Bloomberg that the workers would be “better off without a union.” He argued that the company had an open-door policy that made it easy for individual employees to demand changes, and “that type of empowerment doesn’t happen when you have unions.”
Amazon isn’t the only corporation to face such charges. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was hit in October for comments regarding unions, indicating that the NLRB is taking a harder line on corporate speak generally. Corporations like Amazon have the resources, legally and financially, to contest charges by agencies like the NLRB. Smaller companies may not. They’re also less likely to have experience with the laws and regulations regarding unions. Smaller businesses facing a union organizing bid will be second-guessing themselves on anything they say publicly or to their workers lest the NLRB hits them with a complaint.
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