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Union petitions and support on the rise

Americans’ support of unions is on the rise, and the number of union petitions has gone up as well — including petitions involving big, well-known companies like Starbucks and Amazon.

For many years, membership in unions in the private sector had been going down and, in 2021, the unionization rate in the private section was 6.1 percent.

But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) reported that between October 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, labor unions filed 57 percent more representation petitions than during the same time period in the prior year.

Meanwhile, a recent Gallup poll found that only 48 percent of Americans approved of labor unions in 2009 as compared to 68 percent in 2021 — the highest since the mid 1960’s.

At the start of his presidency, President Joe Biden supported House passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021, which involves several measures that would support unions.

Biden has also appointed two members to the NLRB, and both have continued to support union organizing in their legal interpretations.

NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has argued that companies shouldn’t be able to force employees to attend “captive-audience” meetings where the company voices its perspective on unionizing or other statutorily protected activity. The issue might come before the NLRB in a case involving Amazon.

Meanwhile, for five decades, the NLRB has allowed employers to mandate “secret ballot elections,” which means employees must vote anonymously to gain union representation.  Abruzzo has voiced a desire to overturn that rule. If that happens, an employer will have to recognize a union if a majority of its workers signed union authorization cards.

What employers should know

Given the currently favorable union environment, manufacturing employers should be aware of the implications for their workplaces.

When employees join a union, the NLRA mandates that the employer work only with that union on issues involving bargaining, including wages, hours, and conditions of employment.

The employer is also mandated to give the union notice and the chance to bargain prior to altering any policies that affect a mandatory subject of bargaining.

Companies must also be aware that employees have a right to strike under the NLRA.

Also, workers sometimes use unions as a way to have a say on working conditions, wages and hours, especially in companies that don’t provide open communication with their workers.

As a result, it could benefit employers to evaluate their existing communications plans.

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