How are Union Representation Elections Conducted?

A union representation election occurs after a union organizing drive, after a union files an RC Petition, and both the union and employer campaign for the employees’ votes. Representation elections are conducted by secret ballot on the employer’s property, although some elections have been done by mail-in ballots.

The election is overseen by the NLRB and scheduled to occur when the greatest number of employees have the opportunity to vote. Elections are regularly held during shift changes so incoming and outgoing employees can both vote. When an employer operates three or more shifts per day, an election period will be held during each shift, even though this means some people will vote in the middle of the night.

Election formats are consistent in just about every election conducted by the NLRB. An NLRB field agent sets up a voting booth in a discrete location away from the general public and high-traffic areas. No one from management or the union is allowed to hang around the voting booth, and in fact, employers should ensure that the union personnel does not remain on company property during the voting.

Management and the union each select an employee to act as an observer. The observer’s responsibility is twofold. First, the observer makes sure that only appropriate employees vote by either knowing the voter personally or confirming the voter is who he says he is before allowing the voter to vote. Each observer can challenge the vote of someone whom they believe should not be voting. Challenged votes are set aside and only counted under certain circumstances at the end of the voting period. Second, the observer is tasked with ensuring that the other side does not engage in election misconduct like campaigning at the voting booth.

The NLRB takes impartiality and secrecy very serious, so voting occurs inside an election booth that the Board Agent brings with her to the voting site. These booths are enclosed on all four sides, and provide a greater level of privacy than the voting booths I use to case political votes in Central Ohio.

The voting period usually occurs in one or two hour segments. After the last voting period ends, the Board Agent literally counts the votes in open and all members or management, employees, and union personnel are invited to listen and watch as the votes are counted. Only if the number of challenged votes could change the outcome of the election will the challenged votes be counted. For example, if 100 employees voted and the employer won 73 votes to 20 votes with 7 challenged votes, those 7 votes will not be counted because they would not affect the outcome of the election.

When an employer wins an election, the union must wait one year before filing another RC Petition and getting another representation election. When a union wins a representation election, bargaining for a first contract typically begins within a few weeks of the election. Of course, both the union and the employer are free to formally object to the election and its results, under certain circumstances, with the NLRB, which may result in another election if the winning side’s election activity greatly tainted the election results.

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