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NLRB Petitioned to Strengthen Equal Time Provision, Cut Down Captive Audience Meetings

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In a recent article for In These Times, writer Shaun Richman argues that a recent petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which calls for reforms to union election laws could limit the effectiveness of captive audience meetings.  The equal time provision, which would allow unions to spend the same amount of time with employees in advance of union voting, would stifle a most effective anti-union tool. 

Captive audience meetings, during which employees are forced to hear anti-union messages, often devolve into misinformation and misinformation.  A group of 106 labor scholars, including law professors, historians, and industrial relations experts from universities across the country, filed the petition.

According to In These Times:

In a 2009 study, labor relations scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner found that nine out of ten employers use captive audience meetings to fight a union organizing drive. Threatening to cut wages and benefits in 47 percent of documented cases, and to go out of business entirely in a staggering 57 percent, these captive audience meetings correlate with an unsurprising 43 percent union win rate when used.

For a brief time in the 1950’s unions were given a fair opportunity to respond to captive audience meetings, it was an NLRB rule.  The NLRB has actually gone on the record calling for unions to have the equal time rules restored since 1966.  Yet, there has been little traction on the subject.

Equal time has an uphill battle, but its impact can not be questioned.  The effect the new rule would have is addressed in detail by Richman:

This new rule, while a narrow tweak of an otherwise broken law, would be a big deal if adopted by the NLRB. First, because it would cause many employers to abandon the captive audience tactic altogether rather than make time for organizers to state the case for forming a union on the company’s premises and on the company’s time. Since these meetings are one of the boss’s principal tools for beating unions, that’s a good thing.

Other employers will likely continue the captive audience meetings and simply refuse to comply with the equal time requirement, since the only punishment for violating the rule would be a rerun election. This will particularly be the case while the new rule is inevitably challenged in the courts. In my experience, the new expedited election procedures that the NLRB instituted last May—which have increased both the number of union election petitions filed and the percentage of elections won by unions—have made employers more likely to engage in brazen violations of the Act in order to win delays before the union election. Determined to “win” at any cost, they have less fear of unfair labor practices and rerun elections, because while the legal bills will add up, at least they get to impact the election timeline.

Equal time is by no means a cure-all for declining unionization.  It could be a powerful tool in the toolbox of change, however.  As Richman concludes:

When it comes to revitalizing the labor movement, there might not be a lot of new ideas, but there are clearly lots of good old ideas that we’ve somehow forgotten.


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