Union advocates applauded two decisions by the National Labor Relations Board last week, one of which protects the right of employees using work email for union communications. The other decision revises rules for union elections and could shorten the union election process. In the first case, that of Purple Communications and Communications Workers of America, the board ruled that employees communicating with each other on work computers – but not on work time – are free to discuss union activity. The decision did not address communication with non-employees, however.
Aaron Nisenson, chief counsel for the American Association of University Professors, said via email that the decision as it pertains to higher education has particular relevance to faculty members, who frequently communicate via email. “The ability to use email to communicate is essential to faculty, particularly contingent faculty, who are often dispersed and may not be able to speak directly to each other regularly,” he added.
Referring to the second decision, in which the NLRB issued a final rule to modernize representation-case procedures, Nisenson said: “Given the speed at which elections will be conducted under the revised election rules, the ability to communicate via email is extremely important to ensuring that faculty members are fully informed.” The new rule, which takes effect in April, provides for electronic filing and transmission of election petitions, requires that contact information for all eligible voters be included in voter lists – which is especially important for contingent faculty members – and attempts to streamline others aspects of the election process.
“Previously, the results of elections could be tied up for years in pointless litigation, delaying the results of a democratic process, a situation that would be intolerable in any other context,” Nisenson said.
William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, housed at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said both decisions were “good for advocates and union members,” although he said that tenure-track faculty members at private institutions are generally unprotected from the email decision under current case law emanating from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1980 decision in NLRB v. Yeshiva University. According to that decisions, tenure-line faculty members at private institutions have managerial responsibilities and therefore are limited in their ability to form unions.
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