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Speaker says labor has an ally in the NLRB

The struggle between organized labor and business is swinging labor's way in Washington, D.C., a speaker told the Chamber Forum gathered in Medford Monday.

While union membership among workers has declined from 36 percent in 1953 to 11 percent today, organized labor is adopting new strategies and has an ally in the National Labor Relations Board, Glenn Spencer, representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Workforce Freedom Initiative, told the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County audience at Rogue Valley Country Club.

"These regulators on the loose are taking actions that could have a major impact on the way you run your business, based on what comes out of Washington, D.C.," Spencer said. "There is really no way to sugarcoat this: The majority of the board and the general counsel are very supportive of unions and want to see them grow, and have made dramatic changes to well-established policies that business have become used to over the past decades."

Among courses of action recently or soon-to-be implemented, Spencer said, are: short-notice elections and reductions in employee privacy; expanded joint-employer liability; targeted micro-unions within a workplace; employee handbook challenges; and new overtime regulations.

Since April 14, the time needed to vote on unions has dropped from 38 days to 23, Spencer said. Once a union has filed a petition for a certification election the NLRB allows employers seven days to file a position statement, covering such matters as who should vote, size of the bargaining unit and the identity of supervisors. 

"Anything you don't include in that statement, you waive," he said "You cannot raise that later on."

Employee personal information, including home addresses, telephone numbers, personal email addresses, shift schedules and work locations must now be turned over to union organizers, even if employees don't want the information passed on.

"There is no opt-out, by law you the employer have to turn it over in a very short time frame," Spencer said.

He said the NLRB has adopted a new standard that will create difficulties for businesses dealing with third-party contractors and franchisers and franchisees.

"What the board is trying to do here is to hold businesses liable for workplaces they don't actually control and for workers they don't actually employ," Spencer said.

When it comes to employee handbooks, the NLRB has challenged phrases and terms that could "reasonably" restrict concerted labor activity.

"They have found a number of different common sense policies, probably found in almost all your handbooks, to be illegal," he said. "Things like courtesy in the workplace. There have been actually several cases where the board has looked at an employee handbook and said this policy requiring people to be courteous to each other, customers and to management, that's illegal."

Recent NLRB rulings have allowed unions to target portions of the workplace for organizing, rather the entire business. In one case, he said, only the bakers of a Panera Bread franchisee with multiple restaurants were targeted for membership, and the NLRB approved the action.

He said Congress is dealing with an appropriations bill this week, including policy riders affecting the NLRB.

"This bill would actually cut the NLRB's budget," he said. 

—Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.