Submitted by Deryl McCarty, (former) Small Business Owner, South Hill, Wash.
In both the military and the small business space, people operate best when they have confidence in the women and men at their sides and for whom or with whom they work. Without it, suspicion, distrust, and failure run rampant.
The Biden administration and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are sowing the seeds of suspicion and distrust throughout the small businesses in the U.S. by pushing forced neutrality agreements as a means to boost union membership. These agreements raise significant concerns about the infringement of free speech rights for employers and the deprivation of critical information for employees during union elections.
Neutrality agreements, as defined by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, are “contract between an employer and a union wherein the employer agrees to remain neutral while the union attempts to organize the employer’s workers. Typically, neutrality agreements require employers to remain silent during union organizing efforts and even prohibit employers from providing facts to workers to correct false or misleading statements made by the union.”
These agreements go against the basic principles of open and fair democracy.
To begin with, they contradict decades of legal precedent. In the 1941 case of NLRB v. Virginia Power Co., the U.S. Supreme Court clarified that the National Labor Relations Act does not prohibit employers from expressing their views on labor policies, as long as this expression doesn’t include threats or promises in exchange for votes. Subsequently, Section 8(c) of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act extended these free speech protections to employers, a provision consistently upheld by the Supreme Court.
Neutrality agreements restrict employers from providing important information to workers, such as past union scandals or union political donations; information that is highly relevant to the outcome of a union election. Employers may not even answer clarifying questions from workers under neutrality agreements. They have to sit there with their mouths shut. This in turn deprives employees of their right to access all information during a union election.
Even worse for employees, neutrality agreements mean the end of their right to a secret ballot in a union election. One of the critical issues with neutrality agreements is their association with card check campaigns. Employers often find themselves compelled to accept card check instead of an election conducted by the NLRB, further jeopardizing the integrity of union elections.
Why would employers willingly sign on to these agreements?
In some cases, they have no choice. Actions by the Biden administration and federal agencies have sought to impose neutrality agreements on employers. The U.S. Treasury Department, for example, is exploring ways to manipulate the tax code that would discourage so-called anti-union campaigning and impose employer neutrality. Other agencies have promoted neutrality agreements among contractors. Federal grant solicitations, like those from the Department of Energy’s “Home Energy Efficiency Contractor Training,” encourage applicants to remain neutral in organizing campaigns. This effectively asks employers to waive their statutory right to discuss potential negatives of unionization with workers. Instead, employees receive only one side of the story, that of the union. The current administration and the General Counsel of the NLRB appointed by it have made it clear that they aim to restrict employer speech through legislative and regulatory actions.
In light of these concerns about neutrality agreements, it is crucial for Members of Congress like Senator Maria Cantwell to act in defense of workers’ and employers’ rights by putting an end to them. These agreements not only curtail essential freedoms but also undermine the principles of fairness and informed decision-making in union elections.