Soon after taking office in January, President Obama issued Executive Order 13496 requiring all federal contractors (with contracts in excess of $100,000) and their subcontractors to inform their employees about certain rights under federal labor laws. (See Employment and Labor Law Alert dated Feb. 5, 2009).

The Department of Labor has now issued a proposed rule intended to implement the Executive Order and specifying how contractors and subcontractors are to comply. As written, the proposed rule would require the posting of a notice that goes beyond merely describing employees' rights to organize and associate; rather, the notice would describe in detail what those rights mean and what kind of employer activities are prohibited. According to the DOL, the notice will "more effectively convey such rights to employees."

The proposed rule would require the notice to expressly state that "it is the policy of the United States to encourage collective bargaining." According to the proposed rule, the notice would inform employees that they have "the right to organize a union ... form, join or assist the union and ... it is illegal for [their] employer to prohibit [them] from soliciting for the union during non-working time ...."

The notice, however, would not mention employees' equal right not to join a union. The notice would also inform employees of their right to "join other workers in raising work-related complaints with [their] employer, government agencies, or members of the public," and their right to "attend rallies on non-work time, and [to] leaflet on non-work time in non-work areas." And while the notice sets out a number of examples of prohibited employer activities, only a few examples of prohibited union activities are provided.

The rule as written would almost certainly result in an increase in employee questions regarding union representation as well as an increase in union organizing efforts.

The DOL is currently requesting comments on the proposed rule. Comments must be received by the DOL on or before September 2, 2009, in order to be considered. Comments, identified by 1215-AB70, may be submitted via the internet through http://www.regulations.gov or by mail to Denise M. Bousher, Director of Office of Policy, Reports and Disclosure, Office of Labor - Management Standards, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Room N-5609, Washington, D.C. 20210.