Workers who want to organize a union can now take the first step on the internet in the privacy of their own homes.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel in September issued guidelines establishing procedures for authenticating union authorization cards that have been electronically accessed and signed via e-mail, a social media account, or a mobile phone.
The International Association of Machinists (IAM) has already set up a website that allows Boeing workers in North Charleston, South Carolina to use their electronic signature when signing union authorization cards.
The North Charleston Boeing plant employees 3,000 production workers and is in the midst of a union organizing campaign.
Union authorization cards are a way for workers to express interest in forming a union. The NLRB is authorized to hold a union representation election when at least 30 percent of an employer’s potential bargaining unit–for example, production workers in a factory– sign authorization cards or a petition.
The use of electronic signatures is one several reforms that the NLRB has implemented to make union representation elections more streamlined and cost efficient.
By creating the electronic signature option, said NLRB board members, they are following the lead of Congress, which has encouraged federal agencies to use electronic forms and signatures when practicable and cost efficient.
In his September 1 memorandum establishing guidelines for authenticating electronic signatures, Richard C. Griffin, Jr., the NLRB’s General Counsel, said that Congress encourages agencies to use electronic forms and signatures because this new technology benefits the public.
He acknowledged that critics of the new technology are concerned that it will make it easier to submit fraudulent authorization cards, but he noted that the new electronic signature guidelines “are more stringent than what is currently required for non-electronic signatures.”
Unlike traditional authorization cards, authorization cards that are accessed and signed electronically must contain personal contact information such as an address, phone number, and an e-mail address, which will allow NLRB staff to contact signees should there be a question about the authenticity of signatures.
(The guidelines also expressly forbid electronic authorization cards from asking for a social security number, date of birth, or other information that might result in the improper use of a signees’ identity.)
In addition, Griffin’s guidelines require that signees receive a notification acknowledging that their electronically signed authorization card has been received. Such an acknowledgment also can be used to determine a signature’s authenticity.
The organizing campaign at Boeing in South Carolina appears to be the first time that electronic authorization cards have been used.
Boeing has shifted some work from its unionized plants like the ones near Seattle that employ 35,000 workers to its non-union plant in South Carolina.
As a result, the IAM, which represents Boeing workers, has been trying to organize Boeing’s workers in South Carolina.
The Boeing Workers website shows that Boeing union workers make higher wages even when cost of living differentials are taken into account and union workers have a far superior health care plan than non-union workers.
But Boeing has mounted an aggressive campaign to keep its South Carolina plant union free.
The IAM is hoping that it’s new electronic authorization card will allow workers to express their desires to join a union in private without having to worry about retaliation by the company.
Using the new technology also makes it easier for workers to involve their families in their decision-making process.
“It’s easier for workers,” said IAM spokesman Frank Larkin to the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier. “Very often, this is a family decision, and now it can be made with the family sitting around the kitchen table in the privacy of their own home. It’s a matter of convenience and acknowledges the growth of digital technology.”