Massachusetts Passes Majority Sign-Up Legislation To Expedite Union Recognition Process
On September 27, 2007, Governor Patrick signed legislation that will require covered employers to recognize a union based on a showing that a majority of employees want to form a union. In doing so, Massachusetts joined a handful of states that have outpaced the U.S. Congress in enacting worker friendly legislation. Last June, a federal bill that would have extended similar rights to employees was derailed when Republican senators threatened to filibuster.
The bill, which amends c. 150A and c. 150E, applies to public sector employers, and to the limited number of private sector employers not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (such as race track workers and workers at quasi-public commissions). The main impact of the bill is the elimination of lengthy waits for elections conducted by the Labor Relations Commission. Prior to the passage, employers could require employees to submit to the LRC election process, which in recent years has grown more lengthy as the LRC’s staff and budget have been reduced. Now, an employer must recognize a union once a neutral determines that a majority of employees have given their written authorization for representation. The neutral must be appointed within 10 days of the union’s presentation of the authorization to the employer, and must complete the verification within 30 days thereafter.
Unfortunately, some employers may still attempt to drag out the process by challenging whether the bargaining unit sought by the union is appropriate. It appears that the LRC will still need to conduct hearings when there is a dispute regarding the bargaining unit.
In practice, the Massachusetts law will have as much symbolic as practical effect. The public sector in Massachusetts is already heavily organized, and, even when a group is unrepresented, towns and cities most often do not engage in the type of anti-union campaigns seen in the private sector. In the private sector, employers often use the time created by delays in elections run by the National Labor Relations Board to bring in anti-union consultants to pressure employees not to exercise their right to join together to advance their interests. This law will not impact those employers, but will send a message that Massachusetts stands behind workers rights.
On the federal front, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would have extended similar rights to the vast majority of workers in the country, and would have strengthened other worker protections in the National Labor Relations Act. That bill passed the House of Representatives in March, but, as noted, died in the Senate. The AFL-CIO has made passage of EFCA its primary legislative goal, and the Democratic controlled Congress has vowed to send the bill to our next president for signing in January, 2009. All of the major Democratic candidates for president have indicated that they will gladly sign the bill into law at that time.