(Bloomberg) — A new rule that would allow quicker elections in union organizing efforts would make it harder for small businesses to oppose them, a business trade group’s lawyer said during a Senate hearing.
Current union election processes take a median of 38 days, while the new regulation would allow votes in as few as 10 days, National Federation of Independent Business lawyer Elizabeth Milito told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Wednesday.
The National Labor Relations Board rule “will accomplish nothing more than holding of elections at lightning speed, while reducing employees’ chances of making informed decisions,” Milito said during the hearing in Washington.
The NLRB rule, scheduled to take effect in April, would speed up the union election process by allowing electronic filing of petitions and other documents, and by allowing parties to delay some disputes about whether a worker is eligible to vote until after the election.
The new rule is necessary because the current system “gets distorted” by such delays, said Caren Sencer, an attorney who represents labor unions, said after the hearing.
The regulation is fair to employers because they “have the right to speak to their employees whenever they want from the time that they’re hired,” said Sencer, a partner with Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld in Alameda, California.
Some Senate Democrats urged the labor board in a letter last month to “vigorously defend” the regulation, while many Republicans support a resolution to block its implementation.
Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Labor panel, and 15 other U.S. senators wrote to the labor board that the new rule would protect union elections from “intimidation and stalling tactics.”
Labor Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are among Republicans who introduced a resolution that would prohibit the rule from taking effect.
Alexander called the regulation an “ambush election rule.”
“It forces a union election before an employer has a chance to figure out what is going on,” Alexander said during the hearing.
The regulation would give small businesses little time to get outside legal help during a union election campaign, Milito said in her testimony.
The regulation also would require companies to provide union organizers with employees’ telephone and e-mail contact information. Murray and other senators who support the regulation said that would help modernize the election process, because previously employers only needed to provide workers’ home addresses.
“Using cell phones and e-mail to transmit important information in the 21st century is just common sense,” Murray said at the start of the hearing. She accused Republicans of “rushing to the defense of the biggest corporations” in their efforts to block the rule.
The NLRB approved the regulation on a 3-2 vote in December. In January, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups challenged the rule in a federal court in Washington, saying it curtails the opportunity to debate unionization.
With assistance from Andrew Zajac and Jim Snyder in Washington.