Showing posts with label Employee Free Choice Act. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Employee Free Choice Act. Show all posts

Monday, November 1, 2010

Is it illegal to ask employees to promise not to sign union authorization cards?

1888_vote While the Employee Free Choice Act has stalled in Congress, it does not mean that it is no longer newsworthy. For example, tomorrow, four states (Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah) will have ballot measures aimed at preventing the EFCA from being implemented on a state level.

For more evidence of the continued relevancy of the debate over the ECFA, consider the case of Regis Corp. The NLRB issued a complaint against Regis as a result of allegations that it asked its employees to sign a document revoking their future right to form a union by using an authorization card. According to Regis, the purpose of the document was to protect the workers’ ability to vote in a secret ballot election. Regis also contends that the agreement was completely voluntary—up to 20% of its workers have refused to sign it and none have been terminated. Yet, five employees complained to the NLRB that they felt their jobs were at risk if they didn’t sign the form, or who said they lost jobs because they questioned it.

Last week, the NLRB issued a complaint against Regis as a result of the secret ballot pledge:

The NLRB today issued a complaint against Minneapolis-based Regis Corporation … alleging it illegally solicited employees to promise in writing that they would not sign union authorization cards in the future.

The complaint also alleges that, in a DVD played to employees across the country, the company’s Chief Executive Officer warned that hair stylists would be blacklisted from the industry if they supported a union. In the recording, he exhorted employees to sign a “Protection of Secret Vote Agreement”, which would prospectively revoke any union authorization cards signed in the future. The complaint further alleges that a district manager threatened employees with job loss if they refused to sign the agreement.

The alleged events occurred in the fall and winter of 2009-2010, at a time when legislation was pending in Congress that would have required employers to recognize a union if a majority of employees signed authorization cards. It has not been enacted.

I have not done the research to conclude whether Regis’s pledge is legal or illegal. But, as this case illustrates, under the current pro-labor NLRB labor practices that come close to the line scrutinized before being put into practice. As the NLRB is currently constituted, this federal agency is a hostile audience for employers accused of anti-union measures. When dealing with labor unions or employee concerted activities, employers should view their measures through the same labor-tinted glasses as will the NLRB.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Who is Craig Becker and why should you care?

Craig Becker is President Obama’s nominee to the National Labor Relations Board. He is also the Associate General Counsel of the Service Employees International Union, the country’s fastest growing labor union. SEIU President Andy Stern is one of the most outspoken proponents of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Prior to being the SIEU’s in-house lawyer, Mr. Becker was a law professor at UCLA. During his academic life, he authored a 1993 article in the Minnesota Law Review, in which he argued:

  • Traditional notions of democracy should not apply in union elections.

  • Employers should be allowed to challenge union elections, even with evidence of union misconduct.

  • Employers should be prohibited from placing observers at the polls to challenge ballots.

  • Employer captive audience meetings should be grounds for overturning elections, and must grant unions equal access to company property.

It is unclear which of these ideas – including the EFCA for which the SEIU so strongly advocates – Mr. Becker things he could accomplish by administrative fiat as a member of the NLRB.

On February 9, Senate Republicans successfully filibustered Mr. Becker’s nomination, effectively blocking his appointment. In the words of Senate Republican Ben Nelson:

Mr. Becker’s previous statements strongly indicate that he would take an aggressive personal agenda to the NLRB and that he would pursue a personal agenda there, rather than that of the administration. This is of great concern, considering that the board’s main responsibility is to resolve labor disputes with an even and impartial hand.

Now word has come that President Obama may make Mr. Becker a recess appointment to fill the three-year-old vacancy on the NLRB. This news comes on the heals of Vice President Biden’s comments to the AFL-CIO that the administration will “get [the EFCA] done.”

All of these developments should be sobering to businesses. And, the fact remains that statistics show that labor unions don’t need the help. According to recent NLRB data [pdf], labor unions win-rates in secret ballot elections is at its highest level in decades, at 66%. If Mr. Becker is appointed to the NLRB, expect his number to increase dramatically.

What can you legally do to prepare for the wave of union organizing that is on the horizon? Consider that according to the AFL-CIO Union Handbook for Organizers, the following 6 factors are likely to lower the chance of a successful organizing campaign:

  1. A belief by employees that the boss is not taking advantage of them.

  2. Employees who have pride in their work.

  3. Good performance records kept by the employer, which reinforces the recognition and appreciation of employees’ efforts and their feelings of job security.

  4. No claims of high-handed treatment, but instead firm, fair, and warranted discipline.

  5. No claims of favoritism, other than that is earned through work performance.

  6. Supervisors who have good relationships with subordinates.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus. For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or

Monday, July 20, 2009

Is “card check” really dead?

Okay, so today is not “Best of…” as I had promised on Friday. This story is too important to pass on. The New York Times is reporting that Senate Democrats may have worked out a compromise on the Employee Free Choice Act that would eliminate its controversial card check provisions. The equally controversial mandatory arbitration provisions remain in the floated compromise.

For more info on this evolving story, check out what some of my fellow bloggers have to say:

Before we all get excited that card check might be going the way of the dodo, let me suggest that Senate Democrats floated this story to the Times as a trial balloon to see if enough moderates would bite to pass some form of labor reform this year. In other words, the only way we’ll know if there is a compromise is if and when President Obama signs the law. Stay tuned for more information on this story as it develops.

The rest of the week … best of (I think).

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or

Monday, April 27, 2009

What’s your five? A question for my readers and fellow bloggers.

As a member of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s Employment Law Committee, I was asked to respond to the following questions:

What would you say the top 5 labor & employment issues are that HR professionals and employers (large and small) would like to know more about or are struggling with in this economy?

What can be changed/done to make such labor & employment issues less onerous for employers?

Here’s my list:

  1. Job losses, job creation, and managing workforces to ensure, as best as possible, as much work as possible for as many people.

  2. The risk of increased unionization in the face proposed federal legislation and a down economy.

  3. Layoffs and the litigation risks that flow from them.

  4. The threat and proliferation of wage and hour litigation.

  5. Rising health care costs.

Figuring out what can be done to fix these problems is a much harder question to answer. Any program designed to aid employers has to start and end with training and education. Being proactive is the best measure to guard against these potential problems.

To my readers and fellow bloggers, if you had to list the top 5 labor and employment issues facing employers in 2009, what would they be? Perhaps more importantly, what can be done to limit or temper these issues for businesses? I’m very interested in what everyone has to say. Please comment. If you post on your own blog, please email a link. I’d like to update this post next week with everyone’s thoughts.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Employers should be planning for the Employee Free Choice Act

Even the most ardent supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act agree that passage in its current form is unlikely. The Cleveland Plain Dealer quotes Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown:

Although Brown backs the legislation in its current form, he says it won’t get enough votes for passage in the Senate now that former backers including Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter have withdrawn their support.

He said he expects a compromise will be reached to continue the secret-ballot elections, but require them to be conducted swiftly and handled in a way that doesn’t inordinately favor businesses.

Despite these delays and possible changes, employers should be vigilant about preparing for its passage in one form or another. As Texas attorney Michael Maslanka points out on, “Some version of EFCA will be the law no later than next year at this time. Advice: Avoid ostrich-like attitudes of self-delusion.”

What can you do, as employers, do to keep your heads out of the sand? Plan on attending KJK’s next Breakfast Briefing, How to Stay Union Free in a Union-Friendly World. The event will be held May 13 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and it is totally free. If you would like to attend or for more information, please contact Andrea Hill, (216) 736-7234 or

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or

Monday, March 23, 2009

Make every day “Associate Appreciation Day” to avoid unions

Wal-Mart has labeled today “Associate Celebration Day,” in honor of its announcement of $2 billion in financial bonuses and other awards to its hourly employees. USA Today has the details.

It should not come as a surprise that Wal-Mart, which fights union organizing as hard or harder than any other American employer, is against the Employee Free Choice Act. My cynical side cannot help but think that Associate Celebration Day is a subtle reminder to potential union members that Wal-Mart is a good place to work and takes care of its own.

Keeping a place of employment union-free is not a one-shot deal. I do not think that employees’ choice to unionize can be bought and sold with one-off bonuses and merchandise discounts. To stay union-free, employers should make every day Associate Celebration Day. To be prepared for the EFCA if it becomes law, companies should actively strive to be workplaces of choice for employees and not workplaces of opportunity for labor unions.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Employee Free Choice Act to be Introduced in House next week; President vows support, the blog of the National Association of Manufacturers, is reporting that the Employee Free Choice Act will be introduced next Monday, March 9, in the House of Representatives. This news is not that surprising. The EFCA will likely pass that half of Congress, where the Democrats enjoy a sizeable majority and the Republican minority cannot filibuster. The real fight, which could be unlike anything we have seen in a generation, will be in the Senate, where the EFCA’s supporters will face a fierce battle to reach the 60 votes they need to ensure its passage.

Until this week, the White House has been quiet on this issue. On Tuesday, in pre-recorded remarks to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, President Obama gave his support for the EFCA:

I want to repeat something that those of you who joined us for the Task Force announcement heard me say: I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. To me, and to my administration, labor unions are a big part of the solution. We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests – because we cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement….

And as we confront this crisis and work to provide health care to every American, rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, move toward a clean energy economy, and pass the Employee Free Choice Act, I want you to know that you will always have a seat at the table.

This language can be viewed one of two ways – pandering remarks to a partisan crowd, or a promise to pass and sign the legislation. Given the President’s words on this issue just prior to his inauguration, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle:

Regardless, there are certain steps companies should be taking now to prepare for the EFCA:

  1. Foster open employee communication. Do what you can to give employees a reason not to look outside the workplace for a voice to air their concerns.

  2. Train supervisors in how to deal with employee issues. Fairness, evenhandedness, and responsiveness are crucial in preventing unions from gaining a foothold.

  3. Implement a no-solicitation policy to minimize union’s access to employees.

[Hat tip: Pennsylvania Labor & Employment Blog]

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Employee Free Choice Act officially kicks off, but does anyone care?

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO delivered to Capitol Hill a petition of a claimed 1.5 million signature in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. The union also held a rally on the Hill in support of its cause that drew a crowd of thousands. The rally is meant officially to kick off the unions’ efforts to have the EFCA enacted.

The open question, however, is whether anyone really wants unions in the first place. According to the results of two different polls released yesterday, support for the EFCA may be waning, if it ever really existed at all.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace surveyed 1,000 likely general election voters, including 477 who voted for President Obama last November. The poll’s key findings are as follows:

  • 73% of Obama voters are opposed to EFCA.

  • 86% of Obama voters believe that a worker’s vote should be kept private in a union organizing election.

  • 81% of Obama voters believe that secret ballot elections are the best way to protect the individual rights of workers.

  • 81% of Obama voters believe that Congress should focus on other issues like jobs and health care before dealing with EFCA.

  • 68% of Obama voters believe the binding arbitration provisions in EFCA are risky and unwise.

  • 61% of Obama voters would be less likely to vote for a Member of Congress who voted to take away the secret ballot from workers.

The conclusion, by Brian Worth of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace:

Obama voters did not go to the polls last November to eliminate the secret ballot, and Congress should think twice about taking it away from millions of American workers. This bill is opposed by Democrats, Republicans, Independents, rank and file union workers, and President Obama’s voters by roughly the same margins. The only support card check has is among the leaders of Big Labor who are willing to sacrifice worker privacy and put our economy at further risk to boost their membership roles.

Meanwhile, the Center for Union Facts released the findings from another poll, which found that 82% of non-unionized American workers do not want their jobs to be unionized. The poll of more than 3,000 people reported the following results:

1. Are you or someone in your immediate family in a labor union?
     YES 20%
     NO 79%

2. Would you like your job to be unionized?
     YES 13%
     NO 82%

Regardless of petitions, signature, or rallies, or polling data, businesses should be preparing themselves as if the EFCA is going to become law. Employers should foster open communication between employees and management, train managers and supervisors on how to effectively deal with employee issues, create an environment of inclusion of employees in corporate decision making, and implement or update non-solicitation policies.

Companies should strive to be workplaces of choice for employees and not workplaces of opportunity for labor unions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Unions should not bet on the EFCA as a sure thing

As President Obama was taking the oath of office, inside some office in some executive office building in Washington D.C., someone flipped a switch and turned on the new website for the White House. It is drastically different, as President Obama is becoming the first president to fully embrace the internet as a viable means to communicate with the public. It has all of the typical history, civics, and biographical information one has come to expect from the White House’s website. However, it also has extensive information on President Obama’s agenda for the next four years. You’ll find information on suggested changes to the FMLA and paid sick leave, proposed new laws to protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and his plan to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

What you will not find, though, is any mention of the Employee Free Choice Act. While it was featured prominently on, the President’s transition website, it has been completely scrubbed from Perhaps this recent interview of President Obama by the Washington Post sheds some light on this curious omission:

Q: The Employee Free Choice Act - a timing question and a substance question: in terms of timing how quickly would you like to see it brought up? Would you like to see it brought up in your first year? In terms of substance, the bills that you talked about in your floor statement on the Employee Free Choice Act problems with bullying of [inaudible] people want to join unions. Is card check the only solution? Or are you open to considering other solutions that might shorten the time?

Obama: I think I think that is a fair question and a good one.

Here's my basic principal that wages and incomes have flatlined over the last decade. That part of that has to do with forces that are beyond everybody's control: globalization, technology and so forth. Part of it has to do with workers have very little leverage and that larger and larger shares of our productivity go to the top and not to the middle or the bottom. I think unions serve an important role in that. I think that the way the Bush Administration managed the Department of Labor, the NLRB, and a host of other aspects of labor management relations put the thumb too heavily against unions. I want to lift that thumb. There are going to be steps that we can take other than the Employee Free Choice Act that will make a difference there.

I think the basic principal of making it easier and fairer for workers who want to join a union, join a union is important. And the basic outline of the Employee Fair Choice are ones that I agree with. But I will certainly listen to all parties involved including from labor and the business community which I know considers this to be the devil incarnate. I will listen to parties involved and see if there are ways that we can bring those parties together and restore some balance.

You know, now if the business community's argument against the Employee Free Choice Act is simply that it will make it easier for people to join unions and we think that is damaging to the economy then they probably won't get too far with me. If their arguments are we think there are more elegant ways of doing this or here are some modifications or tweaks to the general concept that we would like to see. Then I think that's a conversation that not only myself but folks in labor would be willing to have. But, so that's the general approach that I am interested in taking. But in terms of time table, if we are losing half a million jobs a month then there are no jobs to unionize. So my focus first is on those key economic priority items that I just mentioned.

To read the tea leaves, no one should think that President Obama has softened his position on the EFCA as a matter of policy. He was an early supporter of it as a Senator, and it is fair to conclude that the ascension to the Presidency has not altered his ideology. However, he is a shrewd politician, and he must know: 1) that given the current state of the economy the timing is not right for the EFCA, and 2) the EFCA in its current form is too divisive to ever come out of Congress. In other words, the EFCA is off the table for now, but once the economic ship has been righted, look for this administration to push for a compromised, less controversial, Employee Free Choice Act.

[Hat tip: Connecticut Employment Law Blog and Workplace Prof Blog]

Monday, January 5, 2009

A few predictions for 2009

Since I ended 2008 with a look back at the top stories of the past year, I thought I’d start 2009 with a look forward at what to expect in the new year.

1. Sexual Orientation will Become a Protected Class.

Under current federal and Ohio law, it is not illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. President Obama will seek to change this omission. One need only look to, President Obama’s administration’s website, to glean that he will target the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity:

The Obama-Biden Transition Project does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other basis of discrimination prohibited by law.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the litany of classes protected from discrimination in employment by Title VII. Note that in the 6th Circuit, discrimination on the basis of real or perceived gender identity is already illegal as sex discrimination. Eliminating discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should pass with ease. The facet of the ENDA that focus of gender identity is much more controversial, but at least in Ohio, is largely unnecessary in light of Smith v. Salem. Nevertheless, the ENDA should become law this year.

2. Family Responsibility Issues Will Receive Special Attention from President Obama.

In September, Governor Strickland and Senator Sherrod Brown persuaded union leaders to remove the Ohio Healthy Families Act from November’s ballot. If passed, it would have required all businesses with 25 or more employees to grant all employees seven paid sick days per year, with a prorated amount for part-time employees. The same measure will be introduced on a national level in this Congress, it will pass, and President Obama will sign it into law.

President Obama also favors making certain key changes to the FMLA. He will seek to loosen the definition of “employer” from 50 or more employees to 25 or more employees. He will also seek to expand the categories of covered leave to include elder care, children’s school activities, domestic violence, and sexual assault. It is a safe bet that some of these FMLA amendments will become law at some point in the next four years, if not this year.

3. Employment Litigation Will be Hot in 2009.

2009 will test my theory that the strength of the economy is inversely proportional to the number of lawsuits filed against employers. By all accounts, the economy will continue to slump well into 2009. As more employees lose their jobs, whether by layoff, plant closures, or good old fashioned terminations, they will look to the OCRC/EEOC and the courts for help. I expect age discrimination, WARN Act, and wage and hour claims to fuel this litigation boom.

4. The Employee Free Choice Act will Face an Uphill Battle.

A Senate filibuster blocked the EFCA on its last consideration. As the Democrats will not reach the magic super-majority of 60 Senators necessary to block a Republican filibuster, this controversial law will face stiff opposition. Despite all of the doom and gloom prognostications, I do not believe that the EFCA will become law in its current form. The only way it would ever defeat a Republican filibuster is if it was presented in a compromised, watered-down form.

Nevertheless, it is not too early for businesses to start planning for the possibility of card-check union recognition. The best defense against a labor union is a combination of positive employee relations, an open door for employees to air grievances, and a fair, even-handed management. If the EFCA becomes law, it will too late to fight a union once the cards are signed. The only way to combat an organizing drive, especially one that you do not know about, is to proactively make your work environment one that employees will not want to unionize.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More Employee Free Choice Act ads

Business organizations have decided to fight fire with fire, putting out their own advertisements on the dangers of the Employee Free Choice Act. Below is a very clever advertisement put out by, a non-profit union watchdog organization:

Click here for more information on the Employee Free Choice Act.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Employee Free Choice Act publicity machine ramps up

Last week, I was jarred out of a comfortable evening of family television by the following commercial:

We’ve grown accustomed to endless political ads after a presidential campaign that seemed to go on forever. It’s one thing to see an ad for a ballot measure that we all get to vote on. It’s another to see an ad for a bill on which only 435 Representatives and 100 Senators will have any say-so. It’s a testament to how well-funded and savvy this union-backed campaign is.

There is a very compelling story to tell on why the ECFA is simply bad policy. It’s un-democratic in doing away with secret ballot union elections. It’s draconian in imposing first contracts through binding arbitration. It’s bad economic policy in adding significant costs to companies that are struggling to make it by as is. Does anyone doubt for a second that huge labor costs built into collective bargaining agreements are a big part of the Big 3’s big problems? I’ve yet to hear one person express why the EFCA is good policy for anyone other than the labor unions. I’ve also yet to hear one EFCA supporter in Congress explain why it’s okay to oppose NAFTA provisions that did not mandate secret ballot union election in Mexico, but it’s not okay to have the same protections for our own workers.

It is important to contact your Representative and Senators to tell them to vote against the ECFA. (How to contact your Senator; Write your Representative). The EFCA is not a done deal just because we have a Democratic President and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Let our elected officials know that a yes vote for the EFCA as quid pro quo for union support will result in a vote for the other party in the next election.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Are you ready for the return of labor unions?

Statutes are famous for their creative names. For example, did you know that the [USA] Patriot Act is actual short for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act? The Employee Free Choice Act (ECFA) is no exception. After all, in a democracy who's against people having a free choice? If you are an employer of a non-union shop, you best decide that you are against it, and figure out a plan to cope with it if it becomes law.

Under current federal labor law, the tools used to recognize a union as employees' exclusive bargaining representative begin with a employee petition for representation by a union, and in most cases end with a secret ballot election. If more than 30% of employees, but less than a clear majority, sign petition cards requesting representation, the cards are submitted to NLRB to hold a secret ballot election. If more than 50% of employees certify their desire for representation, a union can choose to form based on the cards alone. An employer, however, does not have to recognize the card check petition and can require a secret-ballot vote overseen by the NLRB. Because most, if not all, employers will insist on a secret ballot election if given the opportunity, there are very few unions that end up being certified without an election being held.

The EFCA, however, will change this process by removing the secret ballot election. Under the EFCA, an employer would no longer have the opportunity to demand a secret ballot election. In other words, a majority of cards will be enough to certify a union.

Is there anything less democratic about people not being able to state their opinion via a secret ballot? I can't put it any better than Representative John Kline of Minnesota:


This bill has passed the House, but was held up by a filibuster in the Senate. Regardless, President Bush has already gone on record with a promise to veto it if it ever comes in front of him. Unsurprisingly, Barack Obama is in favor of the EFCA, and John McCain is against it. Even if McCain wins in November, this issue will not go away, as Congressional Democrats will continue to aggressively push for its passage.

For now, and even if the EFCA becomes law, the best defense against a labor union is simply being a good place to work. Having competitive wages and benefits, maintaining open lines of communication between employees and management, making personnel decisions for legitimate, non-arbitrary reasons, and fostering a sense of community all go a long way to deterring employees from even considering brining in a union.