New Unions, New Tensions: The Complexities of Union Decertification

by | Aug 14, 2023 | Bargaining/Negotiations, Hospitality, Industry, Labor Relations Ink, Labor Relations Insight, Legal, NLRB, Retail, SEIU, Trending, Union Organizing, Unionized Company, Unions

In the past year, workers in various industries and locations have made headlines by forming unions and demanding better working conditions and benefits. However, not all of them are happy with their union representation. Some have filed petitions to decertify their union and end their relationship with the union as their collective bargaining representative.

Why are some workers trying to leave their unions?

What is union decertification, and why are some workers pursuing it? Here are some key points to understand from this emerging trend:

  • Union decertification is the process of removing a union as the exclusive bargaining representative of a group of employees. The employer, the union, or the employees themselves can initiate it.
  • To start a decertification petition, at least 30% of the employees in the bargaining unit must sign a written statement indicating that they no longer want to be represented by the union. The petition must be filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which will then review the validity of the petition, and, if appropriate, schedule a secret ballot election to determine the majority preference of the employees.
  • Some of the reasons why some workers want to decertify their union include:
    • Dissatisfaction with the union’s performance, such as lack of communication, responsiveness, transparency, and accountability;
    • Disagreement with the union’s demands, such as willingness to force a strike over unrealistic wage, benefit, and staffing requirements;
    • Frustration with delays in bargaining due to union demands for non-mandatory bargaining demands like remote bargaining or bargaining over subjects unrelated to wages, hours, or working conditions;
    • Misunderstanding and frustration with how collective bargaining works;
    • Preference for a direct relationship with the employer in the interest of more flexibility, autonomy, and individuality.

Removing a Union is Tricky

However, decertifying a union takes work. Some of the challenges that workers face include:

    • Opposition from the union, which will often pressure the employees to withdraw or vote against their petition;
    • The NLRB often dismisses petitions based on technical issues or alleged but unresolved unfair labor practice allegations.

How Unions Respond

Here are some examples of how unions have reacted to recent attempts by workers to leave their unions:

  • In Utah, where some Starbucks workers filed a petition to decertify their union in July 2023, the union accused the company of engaging in an “aggressive attack” on workers’ rights. It claimed that the petition was based on “misinformation and intimidation.” The union also alleged that the company violated labor laws by interfering with workers’ free choice and threatened to file charges with the NLRB.
  • In New York, two petitions to decertify unions at different Starbucks locations were filed in June 2023; the unions denounced the petitions as “anti-worker” and “anti-democratic.” They blamed them on “outside forces” trying to undermine workers’ solidarity. The unions also vowed to fight back and mobilize workers to support their union.
  • In Virginia, where an employee at Union Kitchen filed a petition to decertify his union in July 2023, the union representative dismissed the petition as “B.S.” and said it was orchestrated by management. The union representative also said he had evidence of the employer’s illegal conduct and would file charges with the NLRB.
  • In New Jersey, more than a year after some workers at a Medieval Times castle voted 26 to 11 to unionize with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AVGA), employees have filed a petition to hold a decertification election.
  • Although no decertification petition has been filed, some workers at Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Massachusetts, have expressed frustration with the actions of the independent union leading efforts to get a collective bargaining agreement at their location. Employees say that union leaders have evaded questions about their ties to established unions such as Workers United and SEIU and marginalized all crew members except those backing the union. Keep an eye on this situation for further developments.

Buyer’s remorse becomes real, especially during the complex and lengthy negotiation process often required for a first contract. On average, it takes 465 days to get a contract in place, and there is nothing to guarantee that a union will ever get a contract.  Around one-third of first negotiations never result in a contract. As the reality of the process sets in, many union supporters become frustrated and sometimes look to decertify the union.

Union decertification is a complex process. On the one hand, it can give workers who are dissatisfied with their union representation a path to remove the union. But workers also face significant hurdles and opposition from unions aiming to preserve their status.

Recent decertification petitions by some newly unionized employees have spotlighted tensions within the labor movement. They reflect some buyer’s remorse against the prevailing pro-union sentiments at these unionized locations. Unions frequently allege employer interference as the motivation.

Whether these early decertification attempts will gain momentum or fizzle out remains to be seen.  Many of the petitions, especially those filed by Starbucks partners, could be blocked by the NLRB due to the high number of ULPs filed by the SBWU union.  However, the petitions have generated a lot of publicity indicative of a stirring debate on relevance within newly organized workplaces where little progress has been made in collective bargaining.  For now, the prominent backlash from major unions signals they are gearing up to defend their turf aggressively. But if more workers come forward, this could suggest deeper divisions emerging that unions must address.

The decertification trend presents a nuanced picture. While major unions maintain solid loyalty among many workers, problems bubble beneath the surface for others. This division will be an important narrative for managers and business leaders to continue monitoring in the months ahead.


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