On the heels of union-busting accusations against large companies like Starbucks and Amazon, the National Labor Relations Board is considering changes that would make it more difficult for companies to avoid or disrupt union activity.
NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo suggested on April 13 a return to the Joy Silk doctrine, which would ask employers to voluntarily recognize employee-formed unions without a formal election needed. Abruzzo explained the would-be changed in a Twitter thread this week. The precedence stems from the 1949 Joy Silk Mills case which required an employer to recognize a union “that showed evidence of majority support” without a formal election needed.
This rule was followed until it was abandoned in the 1970s and this week Abruzzo filed a brief to the board asking them to reinstate it, among other requests for change.
“The board should […] reinstate the doctrine under Joy Silk Mills, Inc. because the Board’s current remedial scheme has failed to deter unfair labor practices during union organizing drives and provide for free and fair elections,” Abruzzo said in the brief. “The board should reinstate Joy Silk in its original form, with the employer bearing the burden to demonstrate its good faith doubt as to majority status without requiring an increased threshold of ‘substantial unfair labor practices’ to demonstrate the lack of good faith.”
Elsewhere in the brief, Abruzzo also called for tighter restrictions on employers “misrepresenting an employee’s right […] to deal directly with their employer after selecting an exclusive bargaining representative.” The brief also argues for the overruling of a previous case and to make sure that employers know that they cannot threaten to close down a place of work or “other serious coercive conduct” in the absence of employer rebuttal of unionization.
If these measures are passed, the board would also ban repercussions of not attending mandatory meetings between employers and employees concerning their right to unionize.
“The Board should conclude that an employer has convened a captive- audience meeting when it asks employees to attend a meeting on paid time without providing assurances that the meeting is voluntary as described below,” the brief explained. “In such cases, employees will reasonably perceive a threat of reprisal for failure to attend, whether or not such a threat is openly stated. Even if the employer does not expressly make the meeting mandatory, reasonable employees understand that acceding to their employer’s implied wishes while they are on the clock is a part of the job.”
As more Starbucks stores continue to unionize (the number is now up to 20 nationally, with 200+ elections in the works), the accusations of anti-union behavior continue. Starbucks has utilized meetings with employees to discuss employee concerns and to express the company’s stance that unions are not necessary to have a healthy employer-employee relationship.
This month, interim CEO Howard Schultz has been meeting with employees in collaboration-style meetings with employees where employees expressed their concerns honestly about where the company stands on values and store-level challenges.
Schultz has been blunt in his feelings about unions, saying in a letter to employees that they are “aggressively sowing division” while “attempting to sell a very different view of what Starbucks should be.”
As of yet, it is unclear what the consequences will be for companies like Starbucks and Amazon that are upfront about their disdain for unions, if these measures were to pass.
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