WASHINGTON -- After a judge struck down an earlier version in 2012, federal officials announced Wednesday that they will re-introduce a set of rules that streamline the labor union election process, likely making it easier for U.S. workers to join a union or decertify one.
While applauded by unions, the original proposal drew harsh criticism and a lawsuit from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country's foremost business lobby. The rules would essentially cut back the administrative delays that hold up union votes before and after they happen. Anti-union groups and many Republican members of Congress claimed the rules would let unions spring "ambush" or "quickie" votes.
The proposal faltered in federal court. In 2012, a judge ruled that the National Labor Relations Board, the independent agency that enforces labor law, had issued the rules without a quorum. But since that decision did not challenge the content of the rules themselves, the three left-leaning members of the now-full five-member board have decided to reintroduce them. The two right-leaning board members dissented.
Despite that split, Mark Gaston Pearce, the board's chairman, said in a statement Wednesday that all five members agreed the election process needed to be modernized.
"Unnecessary delay and inefficiencies hurt both employees and employers," Pearce said. "These proposals are intended to improve the process for all parties, in all cases, whether non-union employees are seeking a union to represent them or unionized employees are seeking to decertify a union."
The union election reforms are among several proposals and decisions issued by the labor board that have angered business groups and Republicans during the tenure of President Barack Obama. GOP lawmakers went so far as to try to defund the labor board and render it inoperable by refusing to confirm the president's nominees. The reviving of the rules will likely prompt a fresh round of criticism from the right and perhaps further House hearings on the issue.
Among other changes, the proposed rules would eliminate pre-election reviews that lead to delays, allow for the electronic filing of election documents, and defer some litigation until after an election takes place. Overall, the rules would shorten the amount of time that employers have to stall elections or otherwise dissuade workers from unionizing. The Chamber of Commerce argues that employers wouldn't have enough time to make their case to employees.
The business lobby expected that the rules might be rolled out anew, noting back in December that the labor board's decision to drop its appeal of the court's decision was no reason to celebrate.
"[I]t is apparent that the Board’s intent is to hold rapid elections at all costs and ask questions later," the chamber wrote in one of its blogs. "Such a scenario would allow unions to quickly secure representation."
The new proposal could prompt another lawsuit from the chamber or other business groups, although they couldn't argue that the board lacked legitimacy. After a bitter fight over presidential nominees in the Senate, all five members of the current board were officially nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the upper chamber last year.
The rules are still subject to a period of public comment before being finalized.
"No final decisions have been made," Pearce said.