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Workers-rights flier draws controversy

Thursday, September 1, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rhette Baughman
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Workers-rights flier draws controversy
Employers must put up notice of workers' rights Nov. 14

Under a new federal rule that will be published Friday, most employers - regardless of whether they have union workers - must post a flier that spells out employees' rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

That includes the right to organize a union, the right not to join a union and how to contact National Labor Relations Board about complaints. Employers must begin posting the notices Nov. 14.

The requirement applies to all private-sector employers subject to the National Labor Relations Act, which excludes agricultural, railroad and airline employers. It also excludes very small employers. While the rule doesn't give employees any new rights, it drew predictable responses from labor and business groups. Unions cheered the decision, and some business leaders say it's another sign of government intrusion into the workplace. The rule could lead to more labor-board complaints, one analyst said.

It's unclear whether the notice will have anything beyond symbolic power.

The ubiquitous employee bulletin board at many offices has similar federal notices, from discrimination hotlines and workplace-safety placards to information about minimum-wage laws.

Paul Smiley, a Goodyear business owner, was unsure that the rule would apply to him because his employees work at federal work sites. But in the four years that he's owned Sonoran Technology and Professional Services -- and had federal and state notices up - nothing has come of it.

"We are a small business and we really invest in our employees, the level of benefits they get," Smiley said. "How they are treated is my primary focus."

A Tucson businessman, however, criticized the rule as red tape.

"The government continues to pile a never-ending stream of small burdens on business owners that eventually crush their desire to continue," said Joe Higgins, owner of Sports Buzz Haircuts.

Arizona is a right-to-work state and the community is sensitive about maintaining its business-friendly climate, said Garrick Taylor, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Under Arizona's right-to-work law, workers can't be forced to join a union in order to get a job.

There is already some tension between local business groups and the board. In April, the panel announced plans to sue Arizona to block an initiative passed by voters in November that requires workers who want to organize a labor unions to have a secret-ballot election.

"In the face of this sputtering economy, how does this create one new job?" Taylor said about the new rule. "I don't see how requiring employers to jump through another hoop does anything to help their bottom line."

In a letter to the Labor Relations Board, the chamber's CEO, Glenn Hamer, also argues that the notice is biased in favor of unions and doesn't include other information, such as the right to decertify a union. It also doesn't spell out the disadvantages of union representation, such as an individual worker's inability to bargain directly with management, he said.

A local labor union was pleased about the new rule. However, it will probably have limited impact in the workplace, said Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO.

"I am not sure what the big fear factor is for the business community," she said. "I will tell you, it does not take that much time to update the poster board. It's not a time constraint or a fiscal constraint."

There are many similar notices at worksite bulletin boards and workers typically look at them when they have a question or concern about a workplace issue and they need to know who to contact.

When the new posters go up this fall, "I don't think that you will see a flock of employees standing around those boards, reading the notices," Friend said.

The National Labor Relations Board is a panel that investigates unfair labor practices and oversees issues that impact worker and unions. The board also prosecutes complaints and has judges who hear cases.

Many employers that don't have union workers probably don't realize that they are regulated by the Labor Relations Board, said Julie Pace, a Phoenix lawyer who represents businesses.

"The NLRB can take action whenever employees allege that a company took action against them because, together, those employees opposed or wanted to change a company employment practice or policy," Pace said.

The board has ruled that many common items in employee handbooks aren't legal, including rules that prohibit workers from posting certain information on social-media websites.


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