Blown Gasket

Workers will vote on union membership years after NLRB seized secret ballots

An American flag painted by New York artist Scott LoBaido on top of Lamons Gasket Company
An American flag painted by New York artist Scott LoBaido on top of Lamons Gasket Company in Houston / AP
August 14, 2014

Employees forced into a union by the Obama-appointed National Labor Relations Board in 2011 will be given a chance to decertify it next week.

Workers at a Lamons Gasket plant in Houston will hold a secret ballot election on Aug. 20 to determine whether or not they will remain in the Steelworkers Union.

They have been members of the union for three years after the NLRB, which oversees the unionization process, blocked their attempts to force a secret ballot election, according to the National Right to Work Foundation.

The union represented Lamons Gasket workers at several other American facilities before turning its attention to the Houston plant. Labor organizers attained recognition from the company through a card check campaign, in which unions collect signed cards endorsing membership. If an employer determines that the union has collected a majority of workers, it can recognize the union as the official bargaining agent of the workplace. The company approved the card check in 2009.

Critics have long alleged that card check campaigns can be tainted by intimidation and misinformation, as employees are forced to confront union organizers in person, rather than through the privacy of the voting booth. In 2007, the Bush-appointed NLRB ruled in Dana Corp. v. UAW that employees can force a secret ballot election within 45 days of a successful card check campaign.

Preventing employees the means to challenge contested card check campaigns, the board ruled, "fails to give adequate weight to the substantial differences between Board elections and union authorization card solicitations as reliable indicators of employee free choice on union representation."

"Unlike votes cast in privacy by secret Board election ballots, card signings are public actions, susceptible to group pressure exerted at the moment of choice," the decision said. "The election is held under the watchful eye of a neutral Board agent and observers from the parties. A card signing has none of these protections. There is good reason to question whether card signings in such circumstances accurately reflect employees’ true choice concerning union representation."

Lamons Gasket workers who objected to the Steelworkers filed for a vote to overturn the card check within the NLRB's prescribed window. They held an election in 2010, but the results were never released. Regional NLRB officials, responding to union complaints, seized the ballots.

The case was brought before the Obama's NLRB in 2011. Former union attorney Craig Becker, then chairman of the board, threw out the Dana precedent, forcing the workers to accept the union without voting on the matter.

"In no other context does the Board require that employees be given notice of their right to change their minds," the board ruled. "The [Dana] modifications have proved unnecessary to protect free choice and thus unnecessarily undermine the Act’s purpose of encouraging collective bargaining with employees’ freely chosen representative."

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, said that the August election will determine whether or not workers actually want union representation at the plant.

"Now that these workers finally have the overdue opportunity to determine their own union representation, this case proves once again that the Obama Labor Board’s contorted ruling to kill the Dana Corp. precedent is a complete farce designed to further empower union operatives to steamroll workers into union ranks," he said in a statement.

The union did not return requests for comment.

Voting will begin on August 20 and conclude on August 21.

Published under: NLRB , Unions