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Washington Labor & Employment Wire » NLRB Sues Arizona Over Secret Ballot Amendments; Suit Against South Dakota to Follow

NLRB Sues Arizona Over Secret Ballot Amendments; Suit Against South Dakota to Follow

On May 6, 2011, the NLRB filed suit against Arizona in federal court to overturn its recently-passed state constitutional amendment banning the use of the card-check process in union elections, asserting that the amendment creates an “actual conflict” with federal labor law and is therefore preempted. (NLRB v. Arizona, D. Ariz., case number not available, complaint filed 5/6/11).

In November 2010, voters in Arizona, South Dakota, South Carolina, and Utah passed constitutional amendments requiring secret ballot elections in all union elections. 

Section 7 of the NLRA permits workers to choose a union through two pathways: NLRB-conducted secret-ballot elections and voluntary recognition after a showing of majority support through the use of the card-check or majority sign-up processes. The state constitutional amendments would eliminate the latter pathway to union certification, preventing employers from entering into neutrality agreements with unions utilizing the card-check or majority sign-up processes and requiring NLRB-conducted secret-ballot elections in all circumstances.  

The NLRB initially threatened legal action against Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah in January 2011. In January 2011 letters to the attorneys general of those four states, NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon warned that the state amendments would pressure employers who previously agreed to voluntary recognition agreements to withdraw recognition from labor organizations representing their work forces and could lead to unnecessary litigation by workers challenging unions with majority support. In response, the state attorneys general asserted the legality of those amendments and pledged to defend them.  The NLRB’s May 6 news release announcing the suit against Arizona stated that the complaint against South Dakota will be filed “in the coming weeks.”

The state amendments are an outgrowth of the defeat of the Democratic-sponsored Employee Free Choice Act in the 111th Congress, which would have permitted the use of the card-check or majority sign-up processes outside the voluntary recognition context.  This year, Senate Republicans have introduced the Secret Ballot Protection Act, a federal bill mirroring the state constitutional amendments that would ban the card-check/voluntary recognition pathway and require secret ballot elections in all circumstances. With Democrats controlling the Senate, the legislation is unlikely to have majority support in that body, let alone the 60 votes needed for cloture.

NLRB Acting General Counsel Solomon was nominated by President Obama earlier this year to a four-year term as General Counsel on a permanent basis. His nomination is currently pending in the Senate.