In an unpublished decision, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has denied an acute- care hospital’s request to stay a representation election based on the COVID-19 pandemic. Crozer-Chester Medical Center, Case 04-RC-257107 (Apr. 23, 2020).
The union’s representation petition was filed on February 28, 2020. The union, which did not represent any of the other employees in the hospital, sought to represent separate units of all unrepresented technical and professional employees employed at the hospital. The hospital argued that only the union that represented the other hospital employees should be permitted to represent the unrepresented employees. After a hearing, the Acting Regional Director for NLRB region four issued a Decision and Direction of Election on March 23 in favor of the union.
In his Decision and Direction of Election, the Acting Regional Director wrote that the details of the election, including the date, would be determined by the regional office “after consultation with the parties.” The union requested a mail ballot election; the employer opposed the union’s request. However, the Acting Regional Director agreed with the union. (NLRB elections were suspended at the time but were reinstated as of the week of April 6.)
On April 7, 2020, the hospital filed an appeal (request for review) of the unit determination and the decision to hold a mail ballot election. In that appeal, the employer also requested the election be stayed pending the NLRB’s decision on the unit determination portion of the appeal. The hospital argued that the COVID-19 pandemic was “an extraordinary circumstance justifying a stay of the election” and that the hospital “expects a huge influx of sick patients in the coming days and weeks.” More specifically, among others, the hospital argued that its operations and human resources personnel should not be focused on an election campaign during a national emergency; that an election would be unfair to the voters, who, as healthcare employees, should not have their attention diverted by an election campaign; and that the hospital should not be deprived of its right under Section 8(c) of the NLRA to effectively express its views to its employees regarding unionization.
The NLRB denied the appeal of the Acting Regional Director’s unit determination and mail ballot election order. It also refused to stay the election. In denying the stay, the NLRB “acknowledge[d] that . . . conducting an election [at an acute-care hospital] during the COVID-19 pandemic raises significant challenges for the employees, the Petitioner, and the employees, as well as for Regional personnel.” Nevertheless, the NLRB denied the appeal based on its “general obligation … to maintain operations to the extent that it is safe and feasible to do so.” The NLRB acknowledged that there might be circumstances justifying the postponement of an election but decided that those circumstances were not present in this case.
Regarding the NLRB’s refusal to stay the election, it appears the decision was the result of the employer’s failure to provide arguments sufficient to convince the NLRB that a postponement was warranted. Although doing so may be difficult, employers should not give up hope — a more specific argument, perhaps supported by statistics, may yield a different result.