NLRB rule threatens worker right to privacy

The National Labor Relations Board, charged with conducting private-sector union elections, is now implementing an “ambush election” rule overhauling the union election process.

The rule drastically shortens the time period for union organizing elections, possibly to as little as 11 days after a union files a petition. That gives employees little time to educate themselves on the pros and cons of unionizing. The rule also creates potential conflicts concerning voter eligibility, but relegates any resolution to eligibility until after the election.

Perhaps the greatest threat from the new rule is to worker privacy. Employers are compelled to provide employee contact information to union organizers, including personal cellphone numbers, email addresses and work schedules — without an opt-out provision for those who prefer not to share personal data or have a third party know when they are home or at work.

This privacy breach is not of concern to the NLRB regulators, who have an apparent bias for organized labor. And under the new rule, sure enough, unions win more elections — 1,128, a 10-year high, a Bloomberg BNA analysis shows. And more elections are being held — 1,628, a five-year high. That means more workers will have their private information wrested away. Unions get workers’ private information when an election is conducted, even if they lose the election.

Thankfully, the NLRB’s brazen attitude toward privacy may hit a roadblock. A lawsuit filed by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas could undo the provision. Politico recently reported that a 5th Circuit panel took issue with the rule’s provision that employers must fork over workers’ private information to union organizers during a union election drive.

At the panel, NLRB lawyer Marissa Ann Wagner claimed the agency took to heart privacy concerns, but Judge Catharina Haynes retorted, “See I’m not seeing the sensitivity … I’m just seeing the board go ‘Oh, well, yeah, could be a problem, but we told unions not to misuse (the information) so that solves the problem. It’s kind of an airy, dismissive attitude.’ ”

The NLRB is well aware of the problems associated with the privacy provisions of the rule. Numerous groups pointed out the privacy concerns to the NLRB during the rule-making comment period last year. And the NLRB acknowledged such concerns in agency guidance regarding the ambush election rule.

Protecting worker privacy should be a bipartisan issue. Congress should act to protect worker private information and allow workers to decide whether they want to share private information with a union.

Originally posted at Detroit News