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National proposal to make ousting a union easier highlights Pennsylvania’s shortcomings


Private sector and public sector workers have different rules when it comes to unionizing. The first group is governed by a 1935 federal law, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA then became the basis and influence for mid-20th-century laws at the state level that allowed government workers to unionize.  

Now, it turns out, the influence is going the other way.  

The 2018 Janus ruling freed government employees from having to pay labor unions a fee in order to work. In short, government workers now have more freedom of association than their private-sector counterparts. 

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is now looking to improve the situation for the nation’s private-sector workers. The board is considering changes to make it easier for employees at factories or phone companies, for example, to remove, or decertify, their unions. (These workers are often in large national unions such as the AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, and Communication Workers of America). 

Currently, private-sector employees can petition their union to decertify any time. The procedure for doing so varies, but culminates in a vote to install, remove, or keep a labor union as workers’ official representative. However, there is currently an NLRB rule that allows a union to pause a decertification election by simply accusing the employer of an unfair labor practice.  

Union attorneys regularly take advantage of this loophole to hold on to representation of a workplace. It’s known as the “blocking charge policy.” The tactic allows the incumbent union to block a fresh workplace vote on union representation, and it’s one of the barriers to union removal that the NLRB is considering changing. 

As it turns out, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, which governs public sector workers in our state, has had its own version of a “blocking charge” policy since the 90s, (see Section 95.58(b) of the PLRB’s regulations). That is, unions are allowed to block union decertification in a workplace simply by accusing the employer of an infraction. 

However, because of the historical influence that the NLRA and its board, the NLRB, have on state laws, there’s a chance the PLRB could institute reforms as well. As law experts have noted, numerous policy provisions in Pennsylvania and other states are actually direct citations of foundational NLRB documents. 

While we wait for better rules that secure workers’ freedom, we will continue educating teachers to know their labor rights and options. One is the option of going “local-only”–disaffiliating from remote, massive unions like the NEA or AFT, and making your local independent. 

To do so, we recommend three steps: 

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