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Policy Watch- Labor Management Relations

Private sector unionization rates continue to decline. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6.7 percent of people working in the private sector in 2015 were members of a union. Furthermore, the overall U.S. workforce union membership rate was 11.1 percent in 2015, down from 20.1 percent in 1983, with global union membership rates mirroring this trend.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) states that a union can be certified as the exclusive collective bargaining agent for an organization’s employees in one of two ways: a secret-ballot election or, under limited circumstances, a “card check” process in which a majority of employees in a specific work unit sign a card authorizing a union to represent their collective interests. With union membership rates declining, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have promulgated numerous workplace rules and decisions to make organizing easier, including a focus on nonunion workplaces and increased scrutiny of whether employer policies interfere with employees’ right to organize under the NLRA. 


Current Issues

The following specific issues are of particular concern to human resource executives and the organizations they serve:

  • Joint-Employer Standard. In August 2015, the NLRB decided the Browning–Ferris Industries of California, Inc. case, overturning a three-decades-old standard in which two employers were found to be “joint employers” only when they exerted direct and significant control over the same employees or jointly determined the essential terms and conditions of employment. Under the new standard, the NLRB will consider “indirect control” to be the main factor in determining whether a joint-employer relationship exists.
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  • Persuader Rule. In March 2016, DOL issued a final regulation significantly narrowing the “advice exemption” under Section 203 of the Labor–Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). The change to the “persuader” rule expands an employer’s obligation to report the financial expenditures for consultants and others they hire to provide the employer advice on unionization matters.
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