Government Intervention in labor relations, notably through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), has recently been scrutinized. Critics like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argue that the NLRB’s active promotion of union activities may be overstepping its bounds and disrupting the balance in labor relations.
The Biden administration provides other support as well. Last week, Blue Bird Corporation workers, an electric bus manufacturer based in Fort Valley, Georgia, voted 697 to 435 to join the United Steelworkers. Several federal programs funded the plant’s construction in the Deep South and included language to incentivize unionization by requiring neutrality and card check.
NLRB’s Active Role
The NLRB has shown support for union organizing, even leading to instances where it has tripped over itself in this pursuit. A perfect example is its fervent backing of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the largest unions in the U.S.
The Board has also been instrumental in returning to traditional standards for evaluating employee misconduct during protected concerted activity.
Simultaneously, the NLRB raised the bar to discipline workers for ‘abusive’ conduct, making it harder for employers to penalize workers based on subjective interpretations of their behavior. This opens the door to employers being forced to tolerate egregious behavior in the workplace.
Shifts in Legislation and Rules
New regulations and decisions around joint employer status will have significant implications for businesses, especially in the tech industry and those relying on franchising or subcontracting, such as McDonald’s. Recently, McDonald’s lost a bid to remove an NLRB member from a crucial joint employer case.
The government has also been considering measures to strengthen independent worker action, with an antitrust shield gaining momentum.
A significant victory for organized labor came when Michigan repealed its ‘Right-To-Work’ law. This repeal represents a noteworthy shift in labor policy and could boost union membership in the state.
Surveillance and Workers’ Rights
In an era where employee monitoring is on the rise, the NLRB has focused on the conditions under which video cameras can create an ‘unlawful impression of surveillance.’ This is driven mainly by General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, raising scrutiny by the NLRB on employers and their use of cameras and other work monitoring technology.
Remedies and Employee Rights
Enhanced remedies may now apply to bad-faith bargaining, with the NLRB detailing potential remedies for repeated or egregious misconduct. This approach signals that the Board continues to follow its trend of increasingly punitive and extraordinary remedies imposed on employers.
The NLRB also seeks to ban so-called captive audience meetings, where employers hold mandatory meetings to dissuade employees from unionizing, which GC Abruzzo has encouraged the board to find unlawful.
However, it’s not all smooth sailing. Recently, the agency has faced criticism and investigation, notably from Congressman Comer, into the NLRB Inspector General’s alleged efforts to obstruct Congressional oversight.
The Future of Unions and the NLRB
Republicans have introduced potential labor law reform through the Employee Rights Act, but it is unlikely to go anywhere in Congress. The role of government incentive programs and the NLRB in shaping the future of union organizing will continue to evolve.