Employers across multiple industries are facing a new type of union despite an earlier assurance it would not spread beyond the healthcare sector, according to a report Monday.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) authorized the use of micro-unions in a decision from 2011. Micro-unions organize a subgroup of employees within a workplace as opposed to everyone. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has found in a report that the board was wrong about micro-unions not spreading to other industries.
“The Board specifically denied that it had created new criteria for other industries,” the report stated. “Yet that assurance has proven to be false. In fact, the micro bargaining units enabled by Specialty Healthcare have surfaced in industries as varied as retail, manufacturing, rental cars, delivery services, and telecommunications.”
Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center was the employer at the center of the 2011 decision. Those opposed contested that the decision only served union interests by splitting up workplaces between union and nonunion. The NLRB assured critics that the decision would not spread beyond the healthcare industry.
“It did not take long for the reasoning behind Specialty Healthcare to spread from non-acute health care to additional industries,” the report said. “Within a few weeks of Specialty Healthcare, an NLRB Regional Director (RD) applied the new standard to a general aviation service business at the Teterboro, NJ, airport.”
General aviation service was just the first industry the new standard was able to spread to. Micro-unions eventually spread to retail, manufacturing, rental cars, delivery services and telecommunications. Unions traditionally had to get majority support from employees, but the new standard has allowed them to organize small fractions of workplaces instead.
“The attempt by the Board to implicitly sanction units reflective of little more than the extent to which unions had already recruited supportive workers was […] one of the most galling aspects of Specialty Healthcare,” the report argued. “In fact, such units are specifically outlawed.”
NLRB Member Brian Hayes was the only one of the five-person board that opposed the decision. He argued it was a dramatic change in policy and potentially violated existing law. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits bargaining units from being formed based solely on what the union can organize.
“This will in most instances encourage union organizing in units as small as possible,” Hayes wrote in his 2011 dissent. “[This is] in tension with, if not actually conflicting with, the statutory prohibition in Section 9(c)(5) against extent of organization as the controlling factor in determining appropriate units.”
Volkswagen was among several large companies that now has to deal with a micro-union. The United Auto Union (UAW) managed to organize a subgroup of 164 skilled workers at its manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The UAW only started targeting the subgroup when it failed to unionize all 1,400 workers at the plant.
“The most significant implication of this situation is that unions will be able to cherry pick which groups of employees they want to organize, even if the majority of employees at a workplace do not in fact want union representation,” the report concluded.
Micro-unions have also formed at T-Mobile, Macy’s, Nestle Dreyer’s and other large employers. The report notes lawsuits against the decision have been unsuccessful, but it urges action by federal lawmakers or the courts to reverse the decision.
The NLRB stated that the decision speaks for itself, and the board had no further comment when asked by InsideSources.