Private sector employees unhappy with their union can initiate a decertification process through the National Labor Relations Board. If successful, this process removes the union as the employees’ exclusive bargaining representative and relieves them of the obligation to pay dues or other fees. Once the union is out, employees can deal directly with their employer concerning terms and conditions of employment.
Common reasons union members vote to decertify their union are they don’t believe the union is worth the dues, they prefer to resolve issues directly with management, or the union is no longer useful. Employees can also decertify their union to replace it with another union.
No Company Involvement
Companies cannot be involved in the union decertification process. Efforts to decertify a union cannot occur on work time, in work areas, or while using company equipment. If management assists in any decertification procedures, the employer may have committed an unfair labor practice. Employees wishing to decertify their union can seek outside assistance.
Employees may only attempt to decertify their union at certain times.
Employees cannot try to decertify a new union until one year after its certification. Once a year passes, employees may only ask for decertification during a 30-day “window period.” This window is typically open between 60 and 90 days before the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement. For healthcare institutions, the window period runs from 90 to 120 days before contract expiration.
Once a collective bargaining agreement expires or remains in effect longer than three years, employees may ask for decertification at any time.
The process of decertifying a union begins with a petition demonstrating the desire to decertify. Any employees in the bargaining unit, including non-union members, may sign the petition. Signatures must occur off work time and at a non-work location. The petition must bear the signatures of at least 30% of the bargaining unit for the NLRB to conduct a secret ballot election. (In some cases, an employer may withdraw recognition of the union if at least 50% of the employees in the bargaining unit sign a properly worded petition demanding withdrawal.)
Employees should submit this “showing of interest” petition to the NLRB regional office. Then the employees must serve certain forms on the employer and the union. The required documents can be electronically filed and served, mailed, or delivered in person.
Following receipt of a valid decertification petition, the NLRB will administer a secret ballot election. If at least half of the employees vote against the union, it will no longer represent the employees.
Employers and unions cannot ask how employees are voting. Harassment or threats by either side about voting can constitute unfair labor practices and may overturn the election results.
Since the National Labor Relations Act only covers the private sector, employees of public employers must follow different procedures. A recent Supreme Court decision (Janus) could create a wave of public sector union members walking away from unions (at least by withdrawing financial support). If so, private-sector employees might become more eager to do so as well.
Remember that management cannot organize a decertification effort. Companies who learn of employee interest in potentially removing a union should consult with experienced labor counsel to review applicable parameters. Any violations of the National Labor Relations Act by supervisors could unduly undermine employees’ ability to choose to be union-free.
For more on what it means it to have a union in your workplace, check out this webinar on Union Basics for Employers.