Controversial new union election regulations went into effect on Tuesday, curtailing the ability of employers to educate workers about the effects of unionization.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversees the union ballot process, will begin implementing new rules that could force companies to hold elections within two weeks of a petition being filed.
Business groups slammed the board for tilting the scales in favor of organized labor.
Professional labor organizers can spend months and even years persuading employees about the benefits of unionization. Employers are limited to the time between the petition’s acceptance and the day of the election to mount a campaign explaining the potential downsides of organizing, according to David French, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation (NRF).
"This change will significantly restrict both employees’ and employers’ participation in the union organizing process and severely compress the union election cycle," he said in a release. "It muzzles the rights and voices of employees who want to understand the benefits and consequences of union organizing as well as employers who want to rebut and respond to union-backed charges."
The Republican-controlled House and Senate each passed resolutions that would have blocked the NLRB’s amendments to the process, but President Obama used a procedural veto to secure the rule in March. Congressional leaders decried interference from the White House.
"The President’s partisan veto will further empower powerful political bosses at the expense of the rights of middle-class workers," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said in a statement. "Republicans believe workers have the right to make their own, informed choices when casting a ballot in the workplace; we don’t think powerful political bosses should rush or force that decision on them, as the ambush rule proposes."
Labor regulators have spent weeks getting ready for the new rules. NLRB officials even held a March training event at the Manhattan headquarters of the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest and most politically powerful labor groups in the country.
Those lessons could have come in handy for top NLRB lawyer Richard Griffin, who forgot the new election timeline while testifying before Congress on March 24.
The new regulations speed up the election timeline and force employers to hand over personal contact information for all workers to labor groups. Employees will have no say in who has access to their home addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
"I’m disappointed the president wasted this opportunity to prevent the board’s rule from infringing on every employee’s right to privacy and every employer’s right to free speech," Senate Labor Committee Chairman Lamar Alexandar (R., Tenn.) said in a release.
The Chamber of Commerce said that the veto subverted the legislative process and congressional intent regarding the National Labor Relations Act.
"By rejecting Congress’ effort to overturn the ‘ambush election’ rule, the president is choosing special interest unions over the rights of American workers and refusing to restore much needed balance and fairness to the NLRB," said Randel K. Johnson, the Chamber’s senior vice president, in a statement.
French, the National Retail Federation spokesman, said that the implementation of the rule is "a gift to the White House’s allies in Big Labor."
"These rules are similar to the ‘hurry-up offense’ where one side hopes to catch the other off-guard with misdirection and a hurried pace. In this case, employers will be put on constant defense and always placed at a disadvantage," he said.
Having been blocked in Congress, employers are seeking relief in the courts. The NRF and Chamber of Commerce have formed a coalition to sue the NLRB over the rules, while the National Federation of Independent Business has filed a separate suit.