Unions to the federal government: Help us make union elections electronic

Stephon Johnson | 5/21/2020, midnight
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, unions want to hold elections, one way or another.
Polling station voters sign Nia Sanders

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, unions want to hold elections, one way or another.

Earlier this month, multiple unions including the Communications Workers of America (CWA), AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers, and SEIU, sent a letter to House and Senate leadership and urged them to include funding for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and a directive to develop a system and procedures for conducting union representation elections electronically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter signed by more than a dozen unions and addressed to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stated that social distancing has made it harder for employees to organize and Congress, along with the National Labor Relations Board, needs to assist them in creating electronic elections.

“Yet, at the same time, COVID-19 has also made it extraordinarily difficult for workers to form unions,” read the letter. “The need for physical distancing wherever possible makes it impractical for in-person representation elections to take place in many situations. Meanwhile, a number of employers have objected to holding mail ballot elections since the crisis started. In this context, it makes no sense to deny workers access to a safe and efficient process for conducting representation elections.”

Last month, the NLRB halted all union representation elections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic dismissing using mail-in ballots, telephone or internet voting.

CWA Director of Government Affairs Dan Mauer said it is important that union business operate as normal as possible during the pandemic.

“During the COVID-19 crisis, many working people are facing dangerous and uncertain conditions on the job,” stated Mauer. “It is more critical now than ever that workers have a safe method to exercise their right to form a union during this time—and that means the NLRB must begin allowing electronic representation elections.”

According to the appropriations passed by Congress in December, “None of the funds provided by this Act or previous Acts making appropriations for the National Labor Relations Board may be used to issue any new administrative directive or regulation that would provide employees any means of voting through any electronic means in an election to determine a representative for the purposes of collective bargaining.”

The AmNews contacted the NLRB for comment, but a spokesperson for the agency said the situation was a problem for Congress.

According to NewsGuild-CWA member and Florida Times-Union reporter Andrew Pantazi, Congress needs to make sure that companies don’t use the pandemic as an excuse for mass layoffs.

“Now more than ever, workers must have a voice,” stated Pantazi. “At my company, Gannett has used the coronavirus as an excuse to cancel three union elections, all while the company forces furloughs and fails to provide necessary protective equipment for journalists. Workers want safety for themselves and for their communities.”