WASHINGTON -- A recent decision by federal labor relations overseers jeopardizes a recruiting strategy that unions have used with increasing success to try to stem their declining memberships.
The National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, said on Monday it would take a "critical look" at agreements that enable workers to get union representation by having a majority sign petitions or cards instead of going through elections.
Known as "card check" and "neutrality" agreements because they allow unions to represent workers where a majority have signed union cards and employers agree not to interfere, they have become the labor movement's main alternative to an NLRB election process it sees as fatally flawed.
The NLRB election process allows employers to delay or challenge the outcome of votes for years through litigation and to use intimidating tactics against workers, according to Stewart Acuff, organizing director of the AFL-CIO labor federation, whose member unions represent 13 million workers.
"Because of that, workers and unions have been increasingly looking at ways to organize outside of the NLRB election process, because it is so flawed and so broken," Acuff said.
Although the AFL-CIO does not keep detailed records of how many workers are represented through "card check" agreements, Acuff said they enabled unions to get most of the 400,000 to 550,000 new members they recruited annually in recent years.
UNION MEMBERSHIP STILL SLIDES
The labor movement has failed to keep up with membership losses caused mostly by layoffs and outsourcing, with union membership last year accounting only for 12.9 percent of the workforce.
The United Auto Workers union had bargained "card check" agreements into contracts with Dana Corp., an Ohio auto parts maker, and privately owned auto parts maker Metaldyne Corp. of Plymouth, Mic.
It was these agreements that the NLRB decided to review.
In a 3-2 partyline vote, the board's Republican majority said it would review whether dissident workers have a right to launch drives to decertify the union immediately, instead of after the typical one-year grace period, after the company agrees to recognize the union.
Critics of "card check" have claimed it undermines the secret-ballot process and opens the door to worker coercion by union organizers and coworkers.
If the NLRB decides to allow dissident workers to launch immediate decertification drives, it would force unions and workers at a newly unionized workplace to return to the election process instead of bargaining a first contract, said AFL-CIO General Counsel Jon Hiatt.
A final decision would typically take the NLRB about a year to complete, he said.
"But I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to get it done by (November) Election Day," Hiatt added.