What’s Ahead for Union-Free Employers in 2018: 5 Developments You Need to Know

What's Ahead for UnionFree Employers

2018 promises to be a year of change for union-free employers. The National Labor Relations Board is undergoing a transitional period as a result of political and social change in the United States -- and employers currently free from union involvement will be affected. If you're a decision-maker in such a company, we've got 5 of the top developments you might want to keep an eye on, plus a few tips to make this year of shifts and change easier on your workforce.

1. Excelsior lists and worker classification

On December 16, 2017, the NLRB voted to certify the student union at Columbia University. One of the reasons unionization at Columbia succeeded was the availability of a so-called Excelsior list -- a list of eligible voters provided by an employer prior to a unionization process. Although the process at Columbia still faces opposition, this result bodes well for unionization efforts at Harvard University and other educational establishments around the country.

2. Uncertainty for micro unions

While unionization efforts at Columbia are going well right now, the same can't be said for those at Yale. The NLRB will be dominated by Republican members in 2018, putting Obama-era policies in jeopardy. Already, the NLRB has made policy changes that make it more difficult for smaller groups of employees to group together in so-called micro unions.

The 2011 Specialty Healthcare decision -- which set a precedent with regard to the creation of "micro units" within groups of employees -- has been reversed. There is now a reasonable chance that an appeal by Yale against the establishment of eight departmental unions will be upheld.

NLRB 2018

3. Major changes within the NLRB

The NLRB will push through several major policy changes in 2018 -- the result of a new political direction in the White House. As well as overturning the Specialty Healthcare ruling, the NLRB has reversed a 2016 ruling that made it more difficult for employers to change policies unilaterally. Changes to a company policy that are consistent with the employer's best practices will now be allowed.

Another change implemented by the NLRB relates to employee handbooks. Rather than implementing a standard for determining the legality of handbook policies, the NLRB will now review each case on its own merits -- in relation to both National Labor Relations Act rights and the employer's justifications for the policy.

4. What does this mean for unions and unfair labor practice charges?

The NLRB's policy changes in 2018 will give a degree of power back to employers. Policies that were prohibited under the previous administration will be allowed, giving employers the freedom to adapt them to their specific workplace needs.

At the end of 2017, the NLRB allowed Boeing to implement a new policy that prohibited video recording anywhere in the workplace. This decision was reached by weighing the requirements of the employer against the rights of Boeing workers as laid out under the NLRA. You should see this kind of policy decision more often in 2018.

5. What does this mean for company email accounts?

This more fluid approach to decision-making may have implications for employees' use of company email accounts, too. The NLRB recently asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to uphold its controversial Purple Communications ruling. This decision gave employers more of a say in how company email accounts could be used for nonwork purposes. Before the 2014 ruling, employees had no right to use company email accounts for anything other than the execution of their duties. This change in approach by the NLRB may make life more difficult for employers facing union organization drives.

What you can do now

If you're a union-free employer, 2018 could be a crucial year for your business. You can create a UnionProof culture by communicating internally and educating your workforce, as well as connecting externally with others in your industry via CUE or other associations dedicated to keeping their members union-free.

Keep your team informed by subscribing to regular labor news updates.

Educate your leaders and create your labor relations toolkit, so you're prepared with the resources you need, no matter what happens.

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