Amid the ever-increasing impact of the COVID-19 crisis across the country, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) announced on Wednesday that the two-week freeze on representation elections currently in effect would end on April 3, 2020. In the weeks leading up to the nationwide postponement of elections, which included both manual and mail ballot elections, the Board implemented an agency-wide telework policy and announced the closure of several Regional Offices. According to the Board’s website, at least six Regional Offices remained closed as of March 30, 2020, with another 14 Regional and Subregional Offices closed to the public.
In the press release announcing the moratorium on elections, the Board stated that the two-week suspension was “necessary to ensure the health and safety of our employees, as well as those members of the public who are involved in the election process.”
Concerning the resumption of elections, NLRB Chairman John Ring stated on Wednesday that the Board’s “General Counsel now has advised that appropriate measures are available to permit elections to resume in a safe and effective manner, which will be determined by Regional Directors.” Neither that announcement nor any other documents made public by the NLRB to date have explained those measures, though most observers anticipate that the NLRB will move to a greater if not exclusive reliance on employees voting by mail ballots.
In a letter to Chairman Ring the day before the NRLB announced that it would resume elections, Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) urged the Board “to permit Regional Directors to direct elections to take place as soon as practicable if, in their discretion, the elections can safely be done, especially when considering the possibility of mail ballots.” The announcement the Board issued the following day, however, does not require that forthcoming elections be conducted by mail ballot only, or provide any specific parameters for conducting elections as the effects of the COVID-19 crisis continue to mount.
As a practical matter, mail ballot elections appear to be the most likely manner of conducting elections in the immediate future given the growing restrictions implemented by the Federal, state, and local governments to curb the spread of COVID-19 cases. Informally, some NLRB Regional Offices have indicated that they are preparing guidance regarding procedures for the resumption of elections, and will release such guidance once finalized. Other Regional Offices have indicated that they are not presently scheduling any elections, even as the two-week suspension of elections concludes. At least one Regional office has begun informing parties that the ballots will be counted via Skype conferences and not in person following the voting by mail.
Given the differing routes that Regional Offices currently appear to be taking, as well as the varying impact of the COVID-19 crisis in different areas of the country, it appears that Regional Offices will evaluate local conditions and resume elections based on pertinent circumstances.
Employers and advocates should remain up to date on the legal restrictions applicable to the areas in which workforces are located, as well as any guidance issued by Regional Offices, and be prepared to navigate the Board’s representation procedures, implement communication strategies, and monitor the election process without the in-person interactions normally accompanying election proceedings.