The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) is the governmental agency responsible for overseeing union-management relations in the United States. It is responsible for investigating and prosecuting unfair labor practices by companies and unions as well as implementing the process by which unions become certified or decertified as the representative of the employees at an employer. On October 24, 2008, Chicago’s Regional Director reported that the number of elections held nationwide by the NLRB has continued to decline. Representation elections are elections for employees to decide whether to be represented by a union and decertification elections are elections for employees to decide whether to end representation by a union. The statistics show the following decline:

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The trend has continued into fiscal year 2008, with 782 representation elections held during the first six months. The decline has also been experienced in the Chicago Region, one of the most active regions of the country. The number of petitions filed for either a representation or decertification election fell, as follows:

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In the meantime, the number of unfair labor practice charges filed throughout the United States has declined. These cases involve alleged violations by either unions or companies, including discharging employees allegedly engaged in union activities as well as picketing and violence by unions.

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These statistics occur in an environment in which unions are fighting for fundamental labor law reform. Congress will consider the Employee Free Choice Act (“EFCA”), which will change the way unions become the representatives of employees. As an alternative to a secret ballot election, a union could become the representative by merely collecting signatures on membership cards from 50% plus 1 of the employees working in one or more job classifications. The EFCA would also increase penalties for employers who engage in unfair labor practices and require employers to (a) bargain with a union within 10 days of a union’s request for bargaining and (b) participate in binding arbitration, if the employer and union do not reach an agreement within 4 months of the start of bargaining for a first contract.

Editor’s Note: The Regional Director appeared at a meeting of the NLRB Subcommittee on Practice and Procedure of the American Bar Association, of which Alan M. Kaplan is a member. Mr. Kaplan notes that unions are concerned that, without labor law reform, the ability of unions to organize workers will continue to decline, although unions will invest heavily in organizing attempts in the coming years, no matter which party prevails in the November elections.