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OR Labor Groups: NLRB Rules Would Level Playing Field

July 18, 2011

EUGENE, Ore. - The National Labor Relations Board hears testimony today on proposed changes to its election rules that could make it easier to form workplace unions. Oregon union members are weighing in, signing petitions and filing comments

One of the biggest changes would allow workers to have their election first - and then address any challenges by employers. Now, says Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Research Center, the NLRB is required to hear any appeal before a vote - which means companies file a lot of them.

"In the current Labor Board system, it creates an incentive for frivolous legal delays, which is the standard operating procedure of anti-union management. They say, 'File every legal objection you can. Delay always works for you because we have a great advantage over the union the longer it drags on.'"

The proposed rules also would require companies to share eligible workers' contact information with union organizers promptly, and to use e-mail in addition to paper communication.

In Bend, the support staff members at St. Charles Hospital say their recent efforts to unionize illustrate the need for changing the NLRB rules. They were successful, says Dorothy Vibbert, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 49 and a food and nutrition worker at the hospital - but from the time they filed their intent to have a vote, many months passed.

"Then you have management kind of delaying it, having a lot of meetings, forums, talking to employees. There's a little bit of a fear factor, whether it's implied by management or just, from each individual, possibly losing their job or something like that."

Passage of the rules, Lafer predicts, would trigger another round in a fierce battle he believes will continue in Congress.

"These are important changes, but they're very modest. And when you see how dug-in and how dedicated the business lobbies - and the Republicans who they fund - are to preventing even a modest improvement in the fairness of the system workers have to go through to form unions, that seems pretty striking to me."

Union representatives say the new changes will mean more fair elections, but those who are anti-union say they'll put businesses at a disadvantage. The NLRB takes written comments on the rule changes until Aug. 22.

Read the proposed rule changes and file comments at regulations.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR