Obtaining Authorization Cards

In order to petition for a union election, the union must show that at least 30% of employees may be interested in being unionized. Employees indicate this interest by signing authorization cards.

For the union to petition the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) for the right to hold an election, it must show that a sizable number of employees may be interested in organizing. The next step is thus, for union organizers to try to get the employees to sign authorization cards. Among other things, these usually authorize the union to seek a representation election and state that the employee has applied to join the union. Thirty percent of the eligible employees in an appropriate bargaining unit must sign before the union can petition the NLRB for an election.

During this stage, both union and management use various forms of propaganda. The union claims it can improve working conditions, raise wages increase benefits, and generally get the workers better deals. Management can attack the union on ethical and moral grounds and cite the cost of union membership. Management can also explain is track record, express facts and opinions and explain the law applicable to organizing campaigns. However, neither side can threaten bribe, or coerce employees. And an employer may not make promises of benefits to employees or make unilateral changes in terms and conditions of employment that were not planned to be implemented prior to the onset of union organizing activity.

Steps to take

Management can take several steps with respect to the respect to the authorization cards themselves. For example, the NLRB ruled an employer may lawfully inform employees of their rights to revoke their authorization cards, even when employees have not solicited such information. The employer can also distribute pamphlets that explain just how employees can revoke their cards. However management can go no further than explaining to employees the procedure for card revocation and furnishing resignation language. The law prohibits any material assistance such as postage or stationery. The employer also cannot check to determine which employees have actually signed or revoked their authorization cards.

What else can you do to educate employees who have not yet decided whether to sign their cards? It is an unfair labor practice to tell employees they can’t sign a card. What you can do is prepare supervisors so they can explain what the card actually authorizes the union to do. For example, the typical authorization card actually does three things. It lets the union seek a representation election (it can be used as evidence that 30% of your employees have an interest in organizing) It designates the union was as a bargaining representative in all employees matters. And it states that the employee has applied for membership in the union and will be subject to union rules and bylaws. The latter is especially important. The union, for instance may force the employees to picket and fine any member who does not comply with union instructions. Explaining the serious legal and practical implications of signing the card can thus be an effective management weapon.

One thing management should not do is look through signed authorization cards if confronted with them by union representatives. The NLRB could construe that as an unfair labor practice as spying on those who signed. It could also later form the basis of a charge alleging discrimination due to union activity, if the firm subsequently disciplines someone who signed a card.

During this stage unions can picket the company, subject to three constraints: (1) The union must file a petition for an election within 30 days after the start of picketing; (2) the firm cannot already be lawfully recognizing another union; and (3) there cannot have been a valid NLRB election during the past 12 months. Unions today use the Internet to distribute and collect authorization cards.