Businesses work better when situations are relatively stable. But a change in administrations can bring numerous changes. Such is likely to be the case in 2021 under a Biden administration.
Candidate Joe Biden pledged to “Check the abuse of corporate power over labor and hold corporate executives personally accountable for violations of labor laws; encourage and incentivize unionization and collective bargaining; and ensure that workers are treated with dignity and receive the pay, benefits and workplace protections they deserve.”
One of the major thrusts of the new administration will be to increase union membership by making it easier for employees to organize, shortening timelines for union election campaigns and reducing the bargaining period between certification and the first collective bargaining agreement. The Biden administration will likely seek to bring about these policy changes, using a combination of legislation, executive orders and revisiting Trump-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decisions. Major changes will require the passage of Congressional legislation such as embodied by the comprehensive Protecting the Right to Organize Act (known as the PRO Act), previously passed by the House of Representatives in early 2020. The bill was received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. It has not been brought up for a vote.
A major goal of the Biden administration will be the elimination of secret ballot elections for union certification. Labor organizations have lobbied for years to eliminate the secret ballot and have a union certified if a majority of employees sign an authorization card, empowering the union to represent them. Card solicitation is often carried out in the presence of one’s colleagues or an employee’s family.
Union organizing will also be facilitated by two additional measures. First — the reversal of the NLRB decision restricting the use of business email for business matters. A reversal would permit employees to use work email accounts for union organizing, even if the employer has a policy prohibiting non-work-related use of work email accounts. Second — reinstatement of the use of “micro-units” when evaluating potential bargaining units. This action would permit union-organizing efforts to target a smaller group of an employer’s workforce, allowing a union to gain a “toe-hold” in an employer’s operation from which it can later expand its representation.
While these changes will likely affect only a small percentage of businesses, if the Democrats win control of both houses of Congress, even bigger changes could be in store, including the prohibition of right-to-work laws at the state level and a $15 nationwide minimum wage. The Biden administration also hopes to establish a federal right to union organizing and collective bargaining for all public sector employees to make it easier for those employees to both join a union and bargain collectively.
Even without legislative action, the changes that can be implemented by executive order or the regulatory process will warrant some timely business thinking about how employees are managed. Attempts to unionize come from employees who feel they are treated unfairly, aren’t listened to, have inept supervision, lack job security and are exposed to dangerous or unhealthy work conditions. Companies can head off the potential effects of the changes discussed above by taking several actions:
- Implementing policies that are well communicated and uniformly enforced
- Treating all employees with dignity and respect
- Building trust through open communication with employees at all levels
- Establishing a well designed employee orientation program for new hires
- Maintaining wages and benefits that are equitable within the organization and comparable to the external labor market
- Providing training for first-level supervisors in how to develop positive employee relationships and address employee grievances and concerns
- Making development and promotion opportunities available to all employees
- Ensuring that employee health and safety is a priority
To rephrase the title of the well known Bob Dylan song, “The times, They Will Be A-Changin’ — Again.” Now is the time for employers to prepare.