Earlier this year, Catholic Health Partners filed an "RM" petition with the NLRB's regional office in Cincinnati, Ohio. An RM petition is a way for employers to initiate NLRB-conducted, secret ballot elections when the employer believes that a union representation issue exists. Catholic Health Partners sought elections in 44 different units at more than a dozen hospitals and nursing homes to determine whether employees in those units wanted to join the SEIU.

Significantly, according to the NLRB's press release, both the employer and the union agreed not to campaign against each other. The only materials distributed to employees were jointly-created documents explaining the election process.

The elections were held at the end of January. Despite the employer's neutrality, the SEIU won representation rights in only four of the 44 units. A total of 672 employees are employed in those four units. There is one unit in which the outcome is still uncertain.

For labor professionals, this is an interesting development for two reasons:

  • First, it is a good reminder that the NLRA contains a mechanism -- the RM petition -- by which employers can resolve union representation questions. Whether this is the right strategy in any given case will necessarily be fact specific.
  • Second, it is an interesting case study in the area of neutrality agreements. These agreements usually seek to silence the employer, while leaving the union free to campaign. They may also be combined with "card check" recognition, rather than a secret ballot election. Not surprisingly, the result is typically recognition of the union by the employer. The results of these elections suggest that if the concept of "neutrality" is approached differently, and the secret ballot is preserved, the outcome is less certain.