WASHINGTON — The federal agency that oversees union elections plans to speed up its review of cases where employees are fired during union organizing drives.
The National Labor Relations Board said Thursday it would act more swiftly in seeking federal injunctions to get workers reinstated when officials believe a firing was illegal.
It is against the law to fire workers because they want to form a union. But some fired employees can wait months or years to get their cases resolved.
"Firing an employee in the middle of a union organizing campaign can quickly destroy the campaign by creating a climate of fear in the workplace," said Lafe Solomon, the NLRB's acting general counsel.
The move won praise from labor leaders, though they would prefer to see Congress pass legislation that imposes stiffer penalties against companies that intimidate or fire pro-union employees.
"Until we can fix our broken system, the least we can do is provide swift justice to workers illegally fired," said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.
Glenn Spencer, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Workforce Freedom Initiative, called the decision another example of a board trying to tilt the balance in favor of unions under the Obama administration.
"They are trying to make it easier for unions to organize and harder for employers to defend themselves against union organizers," Spencer said.
Under current law, illegally fired workers are entitled to back pay. A bill backed by unions would require triple back pay for illegally fired workers and fine employers $20,000 per violation.
That bill – the Employee Free Choice Act – has stalled in Congress under threat of a GOP filibuster. Its most controversial provision would let unions organize by having a majority of workers sign cards instead of voting by secret ballot.
"There's a very concerted effort for unions to get as much as possible through the regulatory process what they couldn't get through Congress," Spencer said.