Yesterday, in his first public address since being confirmed by the Senate, NLRB Board Member Kent Y. Hirozawa shared with the attendees of EBG's 32nd Annual Client Labor and Employment Briefing his views on the current Board and what to expect from it.
His address, coming the day before Halloween, had all the "BEWARE" foreshadowing of a good ghost story; unfortunately for employers, the potential horrors may not be tricks or treats.
Board Poised For an Active and Productive 2014
As we noted here, when Hirozawa was confirmed as part of a package deal in July the Board had its first full complement of 5 confirmed members in over a decade. During his address Hirozawa explained how important it is for the Board to have confirmed members as it provides them a greater ability to efficiently and freely issue decisions without disruptions. He also noted that having a full complement of 5 members enables the Board to be 67% more productive.
Although acknowledging that the new Board has needed some time to get up to speed, something certainly not helped by the government shut down, Hirozawa asserted it is now poised for action. Hirozawa commented that the Board has a large backlog and that the Board is committed to reducing it quickly. He made it clear to the audience in attendance that there were cases in the pipeline and that parties and practitioners should expect the decisions to start issuing.
Given its current composition, an active and productive Board is likely not a good thing for employers.
Hirozawa Discloses Board Agenda
Hirozawa's remarks went on to discuss the areas where the Board was likely to focus in the coming months and into 2014. Specifically, he noted that Chairman Pearce was likely to drive the Board back towards rule-making. As we discussed here and here, the Board has previously attempted to impose a requirement that employers post a Notice of Emplooyee Rights but the rule was rejected by the Courts. A new fully confirmed Board may take another stab at it.
Hirozawa specifically noted that the Board is likely to readdress election procedure regulations. Although Hirozawa did not talk is such terms, the attendees understood this meant that the so called "Ambush Election" may be on the horizon again. As readers will recall the Board's last attempt at streamlining the election proceduce was invalidated on a technicality. Again, now with a fully confirmed, and arguably more pro-labor, Board, employers need to beware of what new election regulations might look like.
In addition to rule-making, according to Hirozawa, the Board is likely to continue addressing (and likely expanding on) the same issues that plagued employers under the unconstitutionally consisted Board of the last couple years. Specifically, Hirozawa noted that the Board is likely to issue more rulings on asserted infringements on Section 7 rights in arbitration agreements under D.R. Horton, Inc. and work rules like at-will, off-duty access, social media, confidentiality and other policies. In fact, the clear implication was that the Board very well may find even more categories of seemingly benign employer policies which "chill" or interfere with an employee's exercise of Section 7 rights.
Ultimately, Hirozawa's first public address established him as firmly in control of his new role, informed and engaged, however, it also made clear that employers could expect an active and likely unfriendly 2014 from the Board.
- Employers should expect the frequency of Board decisions to pick significantly in the coming months and those with cases pending should be prepared to receive their ruling sooner than they may have expected.
- With NLRB rule-making back on the front-burner, non-union employers should examine their union avoidance strategies and programs and explore proactively inoculating against organizing before the rules shift even more in favor of labor.
- All employers should take a close look at their policies and work rules from a Section 7 perspective.