By Nelson Cary and Micah Dawson

Earlier today, the NLRB formally published their new election rules in the Federal Register.  Chairman Pearce (D) and Member Becker (D), whose term ends next week, voted in support of the new rule. Member Hayes (R) withheld his vote. Member Hayes can vote against finalizing the rule and publish a statement of dissent any time before the rule takes effect on April 30, 2012.

As expected, the new rule makes significant changes to union election procedures, including:

  • Empowering the hearing officer to limit evidence produced at the initial hearing to only that necessary to determine whether a question concerning representation exists;
  • Eliminating the automatic right to file briefs with the regional director after the initial hearing;
  • Eliminating a party’s right to appeal the regional director’s determinations to the NLRB prior to the election, and providing for only a single appeal, after the election, and then only over issues that the election hasn’t rendered moot;
  • Eliminating language in the NLRB’s regulations providing that elections are typically not scheduled for a date sooner than 25 days after the election petition has been filed;
  • Clarifying the standard for seeking special permission to appeal to the NLRB from a regional director’s decision; and
  • Making NLRB review of the regional director’s decisions discretionary, rather than mandatory.

The rule, which has increasingly been referred to as the “ambush election” rule by those opposed to it, significantly limits employers’ legal right to object to the petitioned-for unit prior to a union election.  By shortening the amount of time between petition and election, it also curtails employers’ ability to communicate with workers during the union election process.  With less ability to communicate, the rule limits the time during which an employee is certain to hear both sides of the story:  both the case for and the case against union representation.   

Even before the NLRB announced that it would publish this final rule, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sought to nullify it.  On December 20, 2011, the Chamber filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new rule. The lawsuit attacks the validity of the new rule, stating that it violates Board procedure and denies employers’ free speech rights. In addition to asking the court to vacate the rule, the Chamber’s lawsuit (pdf) seeks a preliminary injunction barring the rule from being enforced.

For the labor professional, the final rule is a major development.  Employers that are currently non-union should carefully consider the implications of the rule in light of their individualized circumstances.  Those employers may want to revisit their strategies given this development. 

The Chamber’s lawsuit adds an additional level of complexity for the labor professional.  After business groups filed court challenges against the NLRB’s notice posting rule, the NLRB delayed the effective date of that rule.  It is uncertain whether a similar delay will be announced here, given that the NLRB is at risk of losing one of its three members, and thus being unable to act.