Hearst staffers have finally been given the green light to hold a union election, but it is yet to be decided if this can happen by mail as they work from home amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Labor Relations Board, the federal body charged with making a judgment on if and when a vote can take place since Hearst Magazines refused to voluntarily recognize the union, ruled Friday that employees can have their election as one single strong bargaining unit.
The decision will no doubt come as a big relief to hundreds of Hearst employees at titles including Elle, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar, who have been trying to get an election since November.
It’s not been an easy battle, with Hearst execs presenting a number of counter arguments to the NLRB, including that the union should be broken up into six separate units and that some staffers aren’t eligible as they are supervisors. In the end, though, the NLRB decided that the bargaining unit does not need to be broken up.
But before they can vote, Hearst staffers have to wait for one more decision from the NLRB on how this can actually happen during a pandemic.
For its part, the Writers Guild of America, East, the body that staffers want to unionize with, wants a mail ballot. Lowell Peterson, executive director, said: “To move the process along, a decision must be made about how to conduct an NLRB vote. It is impossible to imagine in-person voting in this pandemic so we hope the company will agree to a mail ballot.” Even if Hearst doesn’t agree to a mail ballot election, it’s understood that the NLRB could still decide to hold one.
Last week, a coalition of labor union leaders wrote to House and Senate leaders, urging them to provide funding and a directive for the NLRB to develop a system and procedures for conducting union representation elections electronically after a number of employers have objected to holding mail ballot elections since the crisis started.
“We urge you to correct a mistake made in past legislation that precludes NLRB representation elections from being held electronically,” it said. “Indeed, the National Mediation Board has successfully held representation elections electronically for over a decade. The next COVID-19 response bill must include funding and direction to implement the changes needed for the NLRB to adopt an electronic representation election process.”
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