As union membership continues its slide, the National Labor Relations Board is proposing—for the first time in its 75-year history—to require employers to notify employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
The proposed rule, published Dec. 22 in the Federal Register, would apply to all private-sector employers (including labor organizations) whose workplaces fall under the NLRA.
The NLRA applies to most private-sector workplaces. Employers of airline, railroad, and agricultural workers are not covered.
The new proposed rule was issued in response to a petition to the NLRB submitted in 1993 by Charles Morris, Professor Emeritus of Law, at Southern Methodist University.
The rule would require employers to post the notices where other workplace notices are typically posted. The notice states that employees have the right to:
• Act together to improve wages and working conditions;
• Form, join and assist a union;
• Bargain collectively with their employer; or
• Choose not to do any of these activities.
The notice provides examples of unlawful employer and union conduct and instructs employees how to contact the NLRB with questions or complaints.
Federal Contractor Rule
The proposal follows a similar new rule, effective Dec. 13, 2010, for federal contractors and subcontractors. That rule requires that federal contracts valued at more than $150,000, and subcontracts valued at more than $10,000, must include a clause requiring the display of a poster detailing employees’ rights to:
• Form, join, or assist any union;
• Bargain collectively through representatives of their own choice;
• Act together for other mutual aid or protection; or
• Choose not to engage in any of these protected activities.
That rule implemented Executive Order 13496, which President Obama issued on Jan. 30, 2009.
Employees ‘Unaware of their Rights’
The NLRB “believes that many employees protected by the NLRA are unaware of their rights under the statute,” according to the new Notice.
“The intended effects of this action are to increase knowledge of the NLRA among employees, to better enable the exercise of rights under the statute, and to promote statutory compliance by employers and unions.”
If an employer communicates with employees primarily by email or other electronic means, the notice would be posted electronically as well. The notice would be available from the agency’s regional offices and could also be downloaded from the NLRB website.
National Labor Relations Board Member Brian Hayes dissented from the issuance of the proposed rule, arguing that the board “lacks the statutory authority” to promulgate or enforce it.
Public comments on the proposed rule are due by Feb. 22. They may be submitted electronically to www.regulations.gov, or by mail or hand delivery to Lester Heltzer, Executive Secretary, NLRB, 1099 14th St. NW, Washington DC 20570.
Union Numbers Decline
Union membership is waning in the United States.
In 2010, the union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union—was 11.9%, down from 12.3% a year earlier, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January.
The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million.
By contrast, in 1983—the first year for which comparable data are available—the union membership rate was 20.1%, and there were 17.7 million union workers.
Among the highlights of the 2010 figures:
• The union membership rate for public-sector workers was 36.2% (7.6 million workers), compared with just 6.9% (7.1 million workers) for private-sector workers.
• Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (21.8%), telecommunications (15.8%), and construction (13.1%).
• Black workers were more likely than white, Asian or Hispanic workers to belong to unions.
• Among states, New York had the highest union membership rate (24.2%), and North Carolina had the lowest rate (3.2%).