Unionization Bill May Require HR to Hone Skills in Labor Relations

Article excerpt

WHEN PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN broke the air traffic controllers union in 1981, it accelerated the decline of collective bargaining. Today, only 7 percent of private-sector workers and 1 2 percent in the overall economy are organized.

For the last generation, many HR departments haven't had to pay much attention to labor relations. The situation may change drasti- cally if the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law - a prospect that improved dramatically with the vic- tory of President-elect Barack Obama and increased Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill.

The bill would allow a collective bargaining unit to form if a majority of employees sign cards authorizing one. It is the top priority for organized labor, which spent tens of millions of dollars on grass-roots campaigning to put Obama and Democrats in office.

Under current law, companies can insist on a secret-ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. Other provisions of the bill would send first contract negotiations to binding arbitration within 120 days if an agreement is not reached and substantially raise fines for companies trying to impede union campaigns.

Even if the bill doesn't pass as originally written, observers expect that Obama will sign some form of it. For instance, the card-check requirement might be dropped in favor of a provision mandating union elections within a few days of a petition being filed.

The pressure is on HR departments to get up to speed on union organizing. "Corporations are about to face a shortage of people who have experience in this area of human resources," says Stan Wilson, managing partner of Elarbee Thompson in Atlanta.

Snap union elections will force employers to conduct education campaigns at a moment's notice. …