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NLRB moving to electronic elections?

June 15th, 2010  |  Matt Pavich

When Republican senators filibustered President Barack Obama’s nomination of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board, they usually cited his alleged support of changes to the NLRB election process that would have offered a choice between unions, not between representation, or no representation. Becker’s opponents suggested that the former SEIU counsel would do whatever he could to tilt the labor election battlefield in favor of his old colleagues. As it turns out, those Senatorial worrywarts may have been right to be concerned.

On June 9th, the NLRB issued a Request for Information (RFI) on “industry solutions regarding…secure electronic voting services for both remote and on-site elections.” In other words, the NLRB is exploring the possibility of conducting elections through electronic/internet voting, a change that would represent a dramatic departure from the current manual ballot election process.

Use of a remote online voting process, like the one used by the National Mediation Board, presents many concerns, some of which the NLRB appears to acknowledge in its RIF. Such elections are ripe for outside interference, and the RIF asks for information on existing safeguards that are employed to prevent vote manipulation. Electronic or internet elections also lack the benefit of a pre-designated voting location, which tends to be a convenient room in the workplace, thus creating the potential for decreased voter participation. Again, the NLRB appears cognizant of this concern, as the RIF asks for comparisons on participation levels in traditional and electronic elections.

This early in the process, the RIF also poses numerous questions. When would this election procedure be used? Would it entirely replace the traditional election? Or would it be used only when in-person voting is impractical, due to the dispersion of the workforce? If the NMB is the model for the NLRB is in this regard, the answer is likely that the NLRB means to replace the old model, not supplement it, as the NMB uses this model exclusively.

Which brings us back to Member Becker. Unions have been agitating for speedier elections, which they believe will decrease an employer’s ability to dissuade workers from opting for representation. Electronic/internet elections could be set up to take place within a very discrete period of time and, free from the prying/curious eyes of their peers, workers might feel more comfortable casting a quick vote. If speedier elections is the goal of the prospective change, then perhaps Becker’s opponents were right to be concerned.

Especially if this is only the first of many changes wrought by the Obama NLRB.