Authorization Cards are Awfully Tricky

Authorization cards are small cards signed by employees authorizing the union to act on behalf of the employee even though that employee is not a member of the union. These cards are contracts and cannot be undone. When enough authorization cards are signed (no matter what the employee was told to get his signature on the card), the union can demand an election to determine whether a majority of employees desire union representation.

Sometimes unions will have an informational session, serve pizza and beer, talk about the union, and at the end of the evening ask people to “sign this card” if you want to learn more about the union, be on the union’s mailing list, receive an invitation to the union’s summer picnic, etc. While employees may honestly just want to learn more about the union, unions can use those signatures to have the NLRB schedule a union election or worst. Before you know it, your company is organized all because some workers thought they were signing up to receive an invitation to the union’s summer picnic.

Here’s the “or worst”: Unions can (and do) get trickier with authorization cards than just scheduling a secret ballot election. They sometimes walk into the owner’s office with a box of cards, dump the cards on her desk, tell her that the union represents a majority of her employees, and asks her for dates to start negotiating a first contract. This is called organizing through card check. Executives in this situation should not touch the box or look at the cards. Rather, tell the union representative she denies his assertion and to leave the company’s premises. Employers should not know who signed authorization cards, so company executives should never pick up the cards and begin to read the signatures.

An employer that claims a signed authorization card does not reflect his current feelings towards unionization must prove he had a change of heart. However, authorization cards are valid for up to 1 year after they are signed, so despite the employee’s change of heart, an election may still be held. In fact, employees oftentimes ask for their authorization cards back only to have unions refuse to return them because their cards are needed to meet the minimum number of cards signed to trigger a union election.

Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at 614.285.5342 or email him at