Unionization of restaurants could be faster and easier under a key regulatory change

A majority of employees no longer have to vote 'yea' in certain circumstances for the whole staff to become part of a union.
unionization rules
The NLRB has made significant procedural change. | Photo: Shutterstock

Labor unions are widely expected to have an easier time of organizing restaurants and other workplaces as the result of a procedural change decreed Friday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that monitors union elections.

The revision creates a loophole in the requirement that a majority of employees agree to be represented by a particular union before the labor group can be declared their proxy in contract negotiations.

If a majority of a business’s employees present proof of their support for organizing, their employer can either recognize the union voluntarily or request that the NLRB schedule a vote. In the latter instance, the workers would then vote via secret ballot on whether to be fronted by the union.

Under the NLRB’s new policy, the union is automatically granted that shot at representation, regardless of how employees cast their ballots if their employer is found to have engaged in unfair practices that might have influenced the election’s outcome. Previously, the NLRB would have dealt with the situation by scheduling a second vote.

Accusations of employer malfeasance are common in a unionization drive, as Starbucks has learned in its tussles with Starbucks Workers United, the union that has organized about 340 of the coffee giant’s cafes to date. The labor group has frequently accused the chain of such illegal acts as firing union sympathizers, punishing pro-union employees by cutting their hours, and even spying on some workers. Every allegation has been denied by Starbucks.

The NLRB has upheld the accusations in a number of instances, despite Starbucks’ steadfast protesting.

Had the new procedure been in effect during the two years Starbucks Workers United has been trying to organize Starbucks, many of the coffee concept’s stores would have unionized more quickly. It is not known how many of the units that voted against unionization would have nevertheless been declared union shops.

The NLRB said the new “framework” for handling those situations is more likely to ensure that employees get the union representation they seek, without taking away employers’ option of asking for an election.

The new process was outlined in a 121-page decision handed down by the NLRB in a case it was hearing. Some criticized the agency for making such a significant change without going through the usual process for adopting regulatory changes. Usually, when a federal rule or regulation of any sort is changed, the proposed alteration is aired for public comment and adjusted accordingly.

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