In recent years, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) has issued some notable decisions that impact both union and non-union employers nationwide. In the past month, two important pronouncements have been made by the NLRB. Both are controversial; however, anyone that has been following the last several years’ NLRB activity, neither was unexpected.
The first pronouncement is found in a holding of the NLRB issued on December 11, 2014 in Purple Communications, Inc., 361 NLRB No. 126. In this matter, Purple Communication’s electronic communications policy, which prohibited employees of Purple Communications from using the company’s email and communication systems in activities on behalf of organizations that had no professional or business affiliation with the company, was found unlawful. In holding that the policy was unlawful, the NLRB overruled Register Guard. Under Register Guard, employers could prohibit employees from using the employer’s email system, provided that the ban was not applied discriminatorily. Under the new Purple Communications standard, there is now a presumption that employees who have been given access to the employer’s communication system are entitled to use that system to engage in concerted protected activity during their non-working time. Employers who can show special circumstances can justify a ban on this kind of communication, but the burden will be high and the ban must be supported by evidence that there is a specific business interest at issue.
The second pronouncement comes from the issuance of a final rule, on December 12, 2014, when the NLRB amended representation election procedures. The new rules become effective on April 14, 2015. Pursuant to the final rule, the time period between filing of a union election petition and the date of the election is reduced and expedited. What normally would have taken six to seven weeks, will now be accomplished in 10-21 days. Further, issues related to voter eligibility and bargaining unit inclusion are resolved after the election. Notably, an employer will now be required to submit a “Statement of Position” prior to the pre-election hearing, and will be found to waive arguments concerning the election that are not raised in the Statement of Position. This new rule will most certainly make it easier for unions to organize and reduce the time an employer previously had to communicate with its employees in advance of a union petition requesting a vote.
Based upon these two developments and others in the past year, you can be virtually certain that the NLRB will continue with its controversial ways in the coming year. It is clear to this author, the NLRB would like to make it easy for unions to assert greater influence and stem the tide of the continued decline in membership.