A late 2011 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) now allows for “micro-union” formation, a move opposed by business groups that warn the decision is unfair and overturns more than a half-century of labor law precedent.
In May 2012, the NLRB allowed the women’s shoe department of a Neiman Marcus retail store in New York to form a union without a vote from the total retail workforce of the store or company. Subsequent “micro-unions” are being pursued by maintenance employees at a Nestle-Dryer Ice Cream plant and behind-the-counter employees at a Dollar Thrifty car rental location.
Allowance for the union formation was the result of a NLRB decision that said, “the petitioned-for unit is an appropriate unit for collective bargaining, and the employer has not established that employees in a store-wide unit or in a unit of all sales associates have an overwhelming community of interest with the petitioned-for employees.”
National and state business groups are crying foul.
More than a half-dozen business groups are asking Congress to roll back the NLRB decision allowing for the smaller bargaining units.
“The micro-unions decision overturns more than 50 years of precedent and would create division in the workplace, increase operational complexities and costs, while also depriving employees of the flexibility and cross-training opportunities they seek. For example, under the micro-union decision organizers could cherry-pick a small segment of employees within one department of one location and target them in an organizing campaign,” said a letter signed by leaders of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation and others.
In Arkansas, State Chamber of Commerce CEO Randy Zook warned that the NLRB decision could be detrimental to local employers.
“The prospect of Arkansas small businesses dealing with multiple collective bargaining units with more than five employees each will wreck havoc on the state’s economy,” said Zook, whose group represents hundreds of Arkansas employers.
“Recent losses by organized labor across the country, and the desire to see some payback from the Obama Administration, has pushed the leaders of America’s labor movement to seek ‘backdoor’ regulations to find new dues-paying members,” Zook added. “We feel it is time for Congress to act and push back on President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board.”
But labor officials say recent developments are not unprecedented.
Alan Hughes, president of the Arkansas AFL-CIO, said that there are plenty of examples of smaller subsets of workforces at plants and businesses organizing.
“Right now, I know of places where maintenance was organized, but production was not,” he said. “In some situations, different unions represent different departments.”
The AFL-CIO represents tens of thousands of unionized workers in Arkansas.
Hughes said the union rules have worked both ways. Not only have some groups within workforces organized, but he cited an example of a timber production plant that saw clerical workers de-certify from the factory’s union.
He said he hopes the current rules are left alone and Hughes doesn’t think the “micro-union” efforts should be curtailed.
“To me, anyone ought to be able to organize a union,” he said.