Saturday, April 20, 2013

Developments at UM: Chartwells petitioned for, and was denied, an NLRB election. What does it all mean?

On Wednesday April 17th, Chartwells, the company that employs the food service workers on the University of Miami campus, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election in which the workers can vote on whether they want a union. The circumstances in which an employer can call for such an election, rather than a union, are very rare and it is hard to imagine that Chartwells took this step without the approval of someone at the university.

On Friday April 19th, the NLRB rejected Chartwells' petition, as was expected. But why did Chartwells take this extraordinary step? And why is it a good thing that the NLRB rejected the petition for an election?

We cannot really answer the first question. Perhaps they were hoping to buy a few days, and run out the clock till the end of the semester. Or perhaps they were jockeying to position themselves as the champions of democracy and freedom of choice. 

But we can answer the second question. While NLRB elections sound good in theory, in practice they strongly favor the employer. There is a period of 30 days before the election can take place, during which the employer has ample time to find excuses to fire activists among the workers. The employer has constant access to the workers and can subject them to anti-union propaganda. The ballot itself may be held in the offices of the employer. After the election, results can be appealed and contested, delaying a resolution for literally years. For this reason, unions generally prefer a method of determining the workers' will that is fast and fair. You can read more about the different methods of unionization on Picketline, here and here.

Every day of delay is another day in which members of the UM family, workers at the largest private employer in the the country's third poorest city, are condemned to live on a pitiful $10,000 per year. Every day of delay is another day in which UM relies on taxpayers around the country to subsidize the university by providing food stamps, housing benefits, and Medicaid to the workers UM allows to be paid so poorly.

When a delegation of faculty, representing the signatories to the petition viewable here, met with President Shalala and Provost LeBlanc on Monday April 15th, they were encouraged by the President's commitment to a fast and fair process to resolve the situation of the Chartwells workers. The President assured the delegation that there would be no delays. In the light of this, we can only assume that the university administration must be relieved that the NLRB has denied Chartwells petition.

We reiterate: let there be a fast and fair process to settle this issue. If UM calls on Chartwells to follow the same path it follows elsewhere, and to follow the same path UNICCO did in 2006, this dispute could be fairly settled in a matter of days.

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