NLRB Expected to Clarify ‘Micro Union’ Decision

Board controversially ruled in 2010 that individual departments of a shop could be unionized

Pro-union protestors / AP
December 19, 2013

National Labor Relations Board general counsel Richard Griffin is expected to issue a new legal interpretation of micro unions, which could have major implications for unionization moving forward.

Griffin, a longtime union lawyer, announced at the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations that the board will issue a guidance to clarify the controversial 2010 Specialty Healthcare decision. The Democratic board departed from years of precedent when it ruled in 2010 that workers could unionize by departments without a full majority of a shop’s employees signing on.

Former NLRB board member Peter Schaumber said that the decision could cause havoc for employers who could be forced to negotiate with multiple unions working toward multiple ends. While a traditional organizing effort would focus on all restaurant employees, for example, micro unions allow unions to form for bartenders, while a second union could organize busboys.

"This misguided standard threatens to balkanize the workplace, dramatically increasing an employer’s labor relations costs as it will have to negotiate and enforce multiple collective bargaining agreements," Schaumber said. "It demonstrates that the animating goal for the Obama Board is not stability in the workplace, which benefits the worker, the employer, and the economy, it is to increase union membership."

The NLRB allowed a small group of nurses at the Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Mobile, Ala. to organize a union without the consent of all nurses at the facility. Micro unions have since been formed in four more companies. Women's shoe retailers at Bergdorf Goodman, for example, were able to form a union without approval from employees who perform similar duties in other departments.

Republicans have set their sights on reversing the NLRB’s micro union decision through legislation. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) sponsored legislation in the Senate to ban these organizing tactics.

"Micro unions significantly tip the scales in favor of unions and neglect our nation’s long-standing precedents of collective bargaining. This unfair labor practice makes it easier for unions to gain access to employees, and makes it nearly impossible for employers to manage such fragmentation of their workforce," he said. "I have sponsored the Representation Fairness Restoration Act to reinstate the traditional standard for determining appropriate bargaining units, and I will continue to fight against micro unions."

Brian Newell, spokesman for the House Education and Workforce Committee, said that Griffin and the NLRB should work to protect workers and employers from partial unionization.

"The NLRB should stop enforcing a micro union scheme that will entangle employers in union red tape and undermine employee freedom in the workplace," he said. "Instead, the NLRB should restore policies in place for decades that served the best interests of both workers and job creators."

The anti-micro union legislation has stalled in the Senate. The NLRB is expected to issue the micro union interpretation in 2014.

Published under: NLRB , Unions