New rules, appoinments and legal decisions likely to spark organinzing in healthcare
With union activity already strong in healthcare, President Barack Obama’s National Labor Relations Board has been nixing old rules and considering new tweaks in ways that experts say are clearly intended to invigorate organized labor.
As one of the board’s three Democrats saw her term on the labor board expire, the NLRB handed down a new rule last week that requires the posting of employee union rights in most workplaces, along with decisions in three cases that overturn long-held precedents on how new unions are formed.
Most notable for healthcare systems is the decision in one case in particular, Specialty
Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, which tossed out a two-decade-old rule that defined how new bargaining units can form in outpatient clinics, long-term-care facilities and other non-acute healthcare settings. The new process gives unions wide latitude to define small non-acute healthcare bargaining units, which critics say favor union organizers.
Far more profound changes in union organizing are on the horizon. And with another Democrat’s term expiring at the end of the year, the NLRB has a short window to act on them before losing its quorum.
In June, the NLRB commenced its first substantive rulemaking process in decades, and the board’s members are reviewing a deluge of public comment. The board is considering changes to how union elections are conducted and litigated, with an overall emphasis on speeding up the process and deferring pre-election controversies until after voting has ended.
Labor leaders say the changes bring muchneeded reforms to a process that employers frequently exploit to delay organizing and spread misinformation about unions. Critics counter that the adoption of 10-day “quickie elections” and the postponement of pre-election litigation essentially give unions the ability to launch a sneak attack on unsuspecting employers.
The proposed changes could have a significant effect on healthcare employers because their status as large community employers with stable workforces has made them a favorite target of union organizers over the years. The American Hospital Association went on record—in live testimony to the NLRB and with a 29-page comment letter to the board— strongly opposing the proposed amendments.
The final deadline for submitting comments to the board on the proposed rule changes is Sept. 6, and more than 69,000 comments have already been submitted, said NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland.
Although the board faces no specific deadline, many labor experts expect a decision before the end of December because the board is expected to drop down to two members and lose its legal authority to act, absent action from Congress before then. The board is supposed to have five members, all appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Critics say the Obama administration wants to provide the unions coveted changes after the failure to pass the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009, while the unions are eager to get what changes they can in place before the uncertainty of the 2012 elections.
Katheren Koehn, CEO of the 70,000member National Federation of Nursing, disagreed with criticisms that the changes were part of a Democratic payback to organized labor. “I think it’s just looking at what’s fair and what needs to be done, whether it’s Barack Obama there or someone else,” she said. “This is about basic fairness.”
National Nurses United workers strike in March. A legal decision now gives unions wide latitude to define healthcare bargaining units.