17,000 workers impacted by Trump administration’s suspension of union elections at start of pandemic

UNIONIZED WORKERS at Blue Circle Nursing & Rehab in St. Louis, demonstrated outside the facility during a shift change on May 13, 2020, to demand paid sick-time for co-workers who have been exposed and infected with the coronavirus, and call for hazard pay for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. – Labor Tribune file photo

The Trump National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) suspension of union elections for a two-week period at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly 17,000 workers seeking to unionize, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The affected workers included many who had been deemed “essential” during the pandemic, with one in six affected workers in health or emergency services.

The suspension of union elections fits into a broader pattern of the Trump administration undermining workers’ right to a union and democracy itself, according to EPI’s Director of Government Affairs and Labor Counsel Celine McNicholas and policy associate Margaret Poydock, who authored the report.

“The Trump administration has consistently attacked workers’ rights. Just as the nation entered the pandemic, the Trump NLRB robbed workers of their right to a union, suspending all union elections.

This left many essential workers without a way to advocate for safer working conditions,” said McNicholas. “This is just one example of many where the Trump NLRB further rigged the system against working people, limiting unions’ access to workers and making it harder for workers who have won union representation to keep that representation.”

McNicholas and Poydock highlight additional actions taken by the Trump NLRB that reversed or seek to reverse reforms made under the Obama administration, including:

  • A decision making it easier for employers to manipulate and change the bargaining unit sought by employees, and by this gerrymandering, create a unit of eligible voters less likely to vote for a union.
  • Provisions that will make union elections take longer and be more likely to involve unnecessary litigation.
  • A proposed rule to make it even harder for union organizers to communicate with workers.

The decline in workplace democracy has ramifications for our overall democratic system, McNicholas and Poydock explain. As union membership has declined, policies supporting working people have lost out to policies supporting corporate interests.

To reverse these trends, McNicholas and Poydock recommend policies to safeguard workers’ right to a union and protect our democracy, including:

The federal Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would streamline the process of forming a union, bolster unionized workers’ chances of success at negotiating a first agreement, and hold employers accountable when they violate workers’ rights.

McNicholas and Poydock also urged the Senate to pass two bills that have passed the House of Representatives:

  • The John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act
  • The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which combined would prevent discriminatory voting policies and expand voting access.

“The right to vote at the polls and in the workplace is fundamental. But while nearly half of non-unionized workers say they would like a union in their workplace, the Trump NLRB has made it more difficult for workers to exercise their right to elect union representation,” said Poydock. “Lawmakers must prioritize policies that support working people and restore their right to workplace democracy.”



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