“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” says the old adage.  So why is the National Labor Relations Board thinking of “tampering” with its time-tested booth-and-ballot box voting procedure for holding union representation elections?  No one is complaining about the current method.  Unions certainly should not; they have been winning a sizable and growing share of these contests.  Nevertheless, and despite the President’s professed vexation with things technological, his recently installed pro-labor NLRB wants to go hi-tech in conducting these elections, or at least use mail or telephone balloting routinely. 

The NLRB has published a Request for Information to explore possible sources for “secure electronic voting services” and is soliciting information about “proven solution[s]” for other techniques, as well.  Here is the text:

The NLRB’s requirements are for the acquisition of electronic voting services to support conducting secret-ballot elections to determine representation issues. Specifically, the Agency requires a proven solution that supports mail, telephone, web-based and/or on-site electronic voting; that includes the necessary safeguards to ensure the accuracy, secrecy, observability, transparency, integrity, accountability, and auditability of Agency-conducted elections; and that has demonstrated experience in protecting similar type elections from both deliberate misconduct and simple error. With respect to electronic voting capabilities, the Agency specifically requests information, to the extent available, relating to what safeguards, if any, could be implemented to ensure that votes cast remotely were free from distractions or other interferences, including undue intimidation or coercion. The Agency also requests, to the extent available, information relating to experience regarding the level of participation achieved through remote electronic voting technology (vs. traditional on-site elections, whether manual or electronic).

The combination of the NLRB’s continuing technological modernization, the numerous locations and size of offices, and varying end-user competency levels may add complexity to the electronic voting services solution.

Obviously, the Board recognizes that these procedures are far more vulnerable to misconduct and are more likely to subject employees to interference, undue intimidation and coercion.  From working with computers, moreover, we know that any safeguards likely will be effective only until the next determined malefactor thinks up ways of getting around them. 

So why bother?  Unions are still smarting over their failure to push through EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act).  They are looking for ways to achieve administratively what they could not in legislation.  Perhaps unions see in new NLRB voting procedures an opportunity to further leverage their power.  They can target individual, dispersed workers more effectively and diminish the influence of employers in opposing organization.   

The Board is fast-tracking this RFI.  It wants responses by June 29. 

The system may not be broken, but with a union-friendly administrative agency in place, we have not heard the last of an idea that may benefit organized labor.