Constitution Protects Majority Sign-Up

Seafarers Log, February 2011

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The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in mid-January announced steps it is taking to protect workers’ rights to choose union representation.


Specifically, the NLRB advised the attorneys general of Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah that recently approved state constitutional amendments governing the method by which employees choose union representation conflict with federal labor law and therefore are preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The states also were advised that the board has authorized the acting general counsel to file lawsuits in federal court, if necessary, to enjoin them from enforcing the laws.


Under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, private-sector employees have two ways to choose a union. They may vote in a secret-ballot election conducted by the NLRB, or they may persuade an employer to voluntarily recognize a union after showing majority support by signed authorization cards or other means.


The state amendments prohibit the second method and therefore interfere with the exercise of a well-established, federally protected right, according to the NLRB. For that reason, they are preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the board reported.


The amendments have already taken effect in South Dakota and Utah, and are expected to become effective soon in Arizona and South Carolina.


The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency vested with the authority to safeguard employees’ rights to organize and to determine whether to have a union as their collective bargaining representative, and to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by private-sector employers and unions.

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