May 14th marked the one-month anniversary of the effective date of the NLRB’s Amended Representation Election Rules (“amended rules”). That day, the Regional Directors for NLRB Regions 2 (New York, NY), 22 (Newark, NJ), and 29 (Brooklyn, NY) discussed their offices’ experiences processing representation petitions filed since the amended rules took effect on April 14th.
With respect to the questions of how the amended rules are actually affecting representation petitions and elections, while one month may not be representative, the data to date does offer some insights that will be of interest to employers, unions, and practitioners. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that in these three Regional Offices, there were NO hearings held on petitions filed since the amended rules took effect. In every case, the parties entered into a stipulated election agreement or a consent agreement, or the union withdrew its petition. Out of a total of 32 petitions filed in these regions during the one-month period, eight went to an election and 24 were withdrawn without an election.
What is not clear at this point is how many of the petitions were withdrawn after employers filed Statements of Position challenging the proposed units as inappropriate. Under the amended rules, if an employer contends that the petitioned-for unit is not appropriate and should include additional classifications and/or locations, the employer must provide both the Regional Office and the petitioning union with the names, classifications, work locations, and shifts of the employees whom the employer believes must be included in the unit. Once a union receives that employee data, it may very well choose to withdraw its petition and then expand its organizing to include the additional employees. It is foreseeable that, in at least some cases, unions may be filing petitions with the expectation that the units will be challenged, in order to get such valuable data.
With respect to the question of how quickly votes are taking place under the amended rules, Regional Directors Karen Fernbach (Region 2), David Leach (Region 22), and James Paulsen (Region 29) reported that the elections based on petitions filed after the amended rules took effect were scheduled for between 25 and 30 days from the petition date. This data confirms the expectation that the amended rules would result in faster elections than under the long-standing rules that they replaced. Under the former rules, elections typically took place between 36 and 42 days after the filing of a petition.
The Regional Directors also reviewed the procedures under the amended rules, which were recently summarized in General Counsel Memorandum 15-04 issued by the Board’s General Counsel Richard F. Griffin, Jr. Under the amended rules, employers not only must post a notice informing employees of the filing of a petition within two days but also must provide the Board and the petitioning union with a list of the names and job titles/classifications of all employees in the petitioned-for unit and all other employees whom the employer believes should be included in the unit.
The fact that there have not been any hearings in these three Regional Offices in the first month of the amended rules is probably a reflection of the fact that the amended rules make it much harder for an employer to have a hearing. The Regional Directors confirmed the fact that employers that want to raise issues, whether about unit composition, supervisory status, or other issues, are generally being told that they may not call witnesses but rather should make offers of proof to establish a record and basis for future appeals and challenges to the Board’s findings.
The Regional Directors acknowledged that, even where employers wish to make offers of proof at pre-election representation hearings, hearing officers are under instructions not to burden the R case record with protracted offers of proof and not to allow parties to delay the hearing “unnecessarily.” Further, the Regional Directors stated that they were under orders not to allow hearings to go on for too long or permit any post-hearing briefs. All argument would have to be made orally at a hearing.
According to the three New York area Regional Directors, unless the employer has raised eligibility issues as to more than 20% of the total voter complement, all unit placement and eligibility issues will be reserved for the challenged ballot process at the election or for a post-election hearing. Obviously, if the challenged ballots are not determinative, issues as to those voters will never be heard. While this benchmark is not included in the amended rules, it has been mentioned on a number of occasions by representatives of the NLRB at various training programs conducted for the labor and management bars throughout the country. It appears that this 20% standard has now replaced the 10% threshold that the Board relied upon under the prior rules and procedures.
The employer’s Statement of Position must be filed and served on the union within seven days of the filing of the petition and not later than noon on the day before the hearing is scheduled. Any issues not so raised will be waived.
On Friday, May 15, the day after the Regional Directors spoke, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., heard argument on plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups challenging the validity of the amended rules under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). The hearing focused on the plaintiffs’ claims that the amended rules violate the NLRA and the Administrative Procedures Act. While it is generally not possible to predict from argument how the court will rule, Judge Jackson appeared skeptical that the plaintiffs had established that they were entitled to summary judgment at this stage, suggesting that the litigation is likely to continue.
The amended rules will present significant challenges for employers and their counsel. More importantly, all of this will be layered onto the much shorter period between the petition and the actual voting, requiring employers to focus year round on appropriate practices and communications to their employees concerning the benefits of maintaining a non-union status.